When I spot a problem then I start wondering what the solution is. It might be a bottleneck in some workflow, or a process that requires excessive effort to achieve a small effect. So I feel that there must be some way to improve the situation. Sometimes I can find a better way, other times I’m defeated – I throw up my arms and say “sorry – can’t help!”
In those cases, I sit down and write a blog post about it. This is one of those.
If you receive a grant or award from a research funding body then they usually require you to make a report on what you’ve done with the funding and what research papers, other outputs and activities have resulted. Several UK funders use the ResearchFish system to record this information, or rather they ask researchers to put their information into ResearchFish.
In theory it’s a good idea – if you have funding from multiple funders and each of them uses ResearchFish then you only need to put the information in there once but all the funders can draw it down.
In practice researchers seem to uniformly hate making their ResearchFish returns.
My Institute has recently signed up with Symplectic and we are about to implement the Symplectic Elements system to manage our research information better. It will have information about publications, about researchers, their funding and their activities. The system will interface with ResearchFish, and it will be possible to squirt bibliographic information from our Elements system into ResearchFish. This kind of information (about research papers) is well-structured and standardised (PMIDs, DOIs etc), so it’s reasonably straightforward to transfer it between systems.
When it comes to other types of research activity, achievement or output then these standards are much less well-developed, so it’s a lot harder to exchange metadata in a predictable manner. All of the research information system vendors we spoke to said they would struggle to exchange information about (e.g.) public engagement activities with ResearchFish because this information is unstructured.
The kinds of information I’m thinking of include things like professional memberships or honours, medals and awards, membership of journal editorial boards or scientific advisory boards, talks, lectures and public engagement activities.
This got me thinking – what can be done to improve the situation? It’s a problem that all researchers must face.
I think that for journal editorships and editorial board memberships the information could be there in Publons – though I think their coverage is still relatively low. Perhaps publishers could feed through this kind of information into Publons more routinely? Or publishers could expose this information on their websites in a way that could easily be harvested into an ORCID profile, or a research information management system (something like Symplectic Elements). Is there a reason this can’t be done? Perhaps it just needs a standard to be developed?
Gathering information about membership of other boards would be more of a challenge.
We would also want to gather science outreach activities (talks, lectures, festivals) undertaken by researchers. I can imagine a relatively simple standard metadata format could contain most of the information. If event organisers could be persuaded to create a little package of metadata then they could either email it to the researcher undertaking the activity or make it available for harvesting. The event details then could be added to an ORCID profile and/or a research information management system, eventually ending up in ResearchFish.
At a recent OA event I bumped into Laure Haak (Executive Director of ORCID) and shared my idle musings about all this. She told me that they have been looking at the same problem. She suggested that integrating ORCID with systems like Eventbrite could help and that gave me hope that there will be some developments.
I wonder if any other people are working on this issue? Perhaps Force11? Is it even possible? Is there an obvious solution I’ve overlooked?