Maintaining and supporting a research management digital ecosystem

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Jisc is inviting research managers from universities across the UK to attend a free webinar on 26 May

In an unpredictable and fast-moving environment driven by a wide range of influences – including the Research Excellence Framework (REF), Plan S, and an increasingly diverse range of funder requirements – universities face a huge challenge to maintain and support a portfolio of research management systems that remain fit for purpose.

Jisc is the UK’s higher, further education and research sectors’ not-for-profit organisation for digital services and solutions. At its heart is the super-fast national research and education network, Janet, with built-in cyber security protection.  Jisc also provides technology solutions for its members (colleges, universities and research centres) and customers (public sector bodies), helps members save time and money by negotiating sector-wide deals and provides advice and practical assistance on digital technology.

Jisc is now inviting research managers from universities across the UK to attend a free webinar entitled 'Towards an Integrated Research Management Digital Ecosystem' on 26 May, aimed at expanding on this complex situation and providing institutions with practical and impartial advice, as well as addressing the key considerations and challenges they face.

The use of research management technology, including systems to manage research grants and contracts, ethics systems, impact systems, repositories, and current research information systems (CRISs), is well established in UK universities. Such systems are crucial to an institution’s ability to manage its responses to funder, legal, ethical and good practice mandates around research. 

However, maintaining and supporting a portfolio of research management systems that remain fit for purpose places a significant burden on universities. 

In today’s scholarly communications environment the demand for effective management of research outputs, research information and research analytics continues to grow. However, there remains across the sector multiple examples of challenges faced by universities in managing an effective and sustainable research system ‘digital ecosystem’, particularly around system incompatibility and the need for the manual re-keying of information. 

These challenges exist for a variety of reasons, including:

• The use of a variety of systems procured over an extended time period, and for different purposes; 

• A historical lack of investment in suitable systems;

• The lack of available standards (eg around research grants management), or failure to use available standards (HEI or system vendor);

• A lack of implementation of interoperability functionality (especially between systems of different commercial vendors); and 

• Departmental ownership of each system within individual universities.

This results in the maintenance of effectively ‘standalone’ products where information or digital objects require manual input and/or export, and in many cases there are serious issues around the compatible nature of different systems and their ability to ‘talk to each other’.

One of the themes in Jisc's research strategy, which will be further explored in the webinar, is based around accelerating the achievement, delivery and monitoring of the journey to open research. Although some of the interoperability issues faced may not appear directly relevant to open research, an effective infrastructure for the management of research ensures research integrity, which is clearly aligned to the open research agenda.

Tamsin Burland, Head of Product within Open Research Services at Jisc, urged institutions to sign up to the free webinar and explained that the organisation is working with the sector to look at: identifying and maintaining standards; the sustainability of systems; the use of persistent identifiers (PIDs); and help with engaging with procurement and IT departments including advice on licensing, sustainability and ensuring that systems are fully interoperable.

She said: ‘Our vision is for the UK to have an integrated, sustainable digital research management ecosystem, which facilitates the use and sharing of research assets (including research information and outputs), both now and in the future, while adhering to relevant funder, legal, proprietary, ethical and good practice requirements and guidance.  

‘We can achieve this by supporting an environment that permits digital research information and objects to be shared seamlessly throughout the required procedures, services and platforms, including those used to manage research grants, contracts, HR, students, ethics, legal, finance, research impact, knowledge exchange, publishers, research outputs, discoverability and digital preservation.

Sue Starbuck, head of research services as Royal Holloway, University of London, explained that the main issue her organisation faces with research information systems, is not having the right combination of systems to address changing needs and priorities in the sector. 

This means that systems have to be adapted for purposes not initially envisaged (often where the supplier places a different emphasis on development needs). There are also issues around balancing the needs of multiple stakeholders (R&I, library, finance, IT, academic), all of whom have different drivers and priorities.

Royal Holloway’s current array of systems include: a research information system; a costing and pricing tool; An RDM solution using two systems (one for live data and one for storage and open access); an archiving tool; an ethics approval system – as well as subscription services such as Research Professional and Altmetric Explorer.

Starbuck explained: ‘At the moment we do not connect our research systems together, although we have feeds from our HR systems and from subscription services. We are working towards linking new costing and pricing and ethics tools with existing systems.

‘Undoubtedly, time and efficiency savings could be made. However it is unlikely that a university will be in the lucky position of procuring everything at once – there will always be legacy systems (usually with strong stakeholder support) which need to be maintained. The new system will have to work with, or around, our existing systems. 

‘Suppliers are running a business and with the best will in the world tend to have a “core” product and their other modules tend not to get the same level of development, which means that taking a “whole” package does not always make sense.’

Cardiff University is one institution that is implementing Jisc's new interoperable Research repository plus service, which provides a fully integrated workflow with their CRIS. This workflow is based on Jisc's new integration service, Research systems connect.

Jisc’s Tamsin Burland concluded: ‘Open research is as much about working (and being seen to work) with integrity as it is about sharing datasets and publications (or at least their metadata). Working with integrity requires systems and workflows that ensure (a) the correct information is collected, stored safely and shared appropriately, and (b) reporting is accurate and requires the minimum time and investment necessary to be done properly.’ 

Sign up for the free Jisc webinar here