A vision for the information system supporting research

Making the research lifecycle more transparent and connected — and putting the researcher in control

Dominic Feltham, President of Research, talks with employees about research strategy at Elsevier. (Photo by Alison Bert)

These are exciting times for research. Discoveries unimaginable a generation ago are being uncovered every day. Technological advancement and the data revolution have helped push the boundaries of research. At Elsevier, we are excited about our role as a supporter of the research community, helping them share extraordinary breakthroughs, reshape human knowledge and tackle the most urgent global challenges. That is what brings meaning to everything we do.

While the technology revolution has brought significant advancements by making an unprecedented amount of knowledge available to researchers, this creates significant challenges, too. With evermore data sets available and evermore knowledge being extracted from that data, deciding which elements are relevant to a research project is nearly impossible. Staying current becomes increasingly difficult. For example, with over 3 million articles published this year across more than 42,000 academic journals, it’s not surprising that researchers tell me their creativity is constrained by the challenge to find, filter and read new research.

Researchers have also told me of the many other demands they are facing, including evaluating sources’ trustworthiness; finding collaborators; conducting experiments; gathering, structuring and sharing data; documenting findings; reviewing and writing papers, posters and talks; finding funding; demonstrating novelty and originality; and communicating research’s impact.

The “information system supporting research” – all the tools researchers have at their disposal to execute these tasks – has been around for more than 100 years. Today’s challenge is that the information system is outdated and fragmented across a myriad of applications and resources, often burdening researchers instead of supporting them.

In sum, the best minds of the 21st century are running on a 20th-century information system. Businesses like Elsevier bear some responsibility for this. In the past, putting the researcher first meant primarily publishing high-quality journals and books. While trustworthy content will remain critically important, that singular focus is no longer sufficient. Today, we have an obligation to broaden our work by putting the researcher at the center of the entire research information system. Doing so includes addressing many challenges, including enabling effective peer review, matching collaborators seamlessly, facilitating the securing of funding, and supporting the important task of demonstrating researchers’ beneficial impact on society. This is the same idea that underlies the core of the open science concept. All stakeholders have the responsibility to develop the information system supporting research together.

For more than a century, the information system has been based on trust in research’s method of inquiry, experiment, peer review and revision. It is important that this element of trust continue to be in place no matter how the information system evolves.

Through extensive conversations and feedback from researchers, managers of research institutions and funders, four core principles have emerged that will be critical to creating an information system that meets their needs:

  • The information system supporting research must draw on many different sources; that is to say, it must be source-neutral, incorporating tools, data and content from a great many universities, vendors, platforms and publishers. No researcher wants to rely on only a fraction of available sources.
  • The system must ensure that components from different providers work together. Such interoperability between applications, tools and data sets ensures that researchers can use whichever platform they prefer while maintaining a seamless workflow experience.
  • The system must be transparent. If an automated application makes a recommendation, researchers need to know how that recommendation was arrived at. If an application pushes an alert, the researcher should not only have the option to turn it off but must know what triggered the notification and why.
  • Finally, the system must put the researcher in control. We need to help create solutions that put user needs first; people should be able to set their own preferences and parameters, including the choice of whether to share data sets and conclusions. No one technology can, or should, make decisions on behalf of the researcher.

We see ourselves in a supporting role, working jointly with researchers, research institutions and funders to develop tools together that put researchers at the center and help them do their important work. We invite all stakeholders to co-create the answers for the future. We are ready to play our part in making every aspect of the research lifecycle more connected, more transparent and more inclusive.

Visit our resource center

We have created an online resource center to keep the research community informed of Elsevier’s activity on the information system supporting research.



Written by

Dominic Feltham

Written by

Dominic Feltham

As President of Research at Elsevier, Dominic Feltham drives the vision of helping research professionals and institutions make critical decisions to improve their performance. It includes responsibility for online services and applications such as ScienceDirect, Scopus and Mendeley; the Elsevier journals business; and research marketing and sales.

His career at RELX spans 25 years. He helped drive the transformation of Reed Business Information from print B2B publisher to global information provider of data and analytics, and he was CEO of Reed Business Information from 2014 with responsibility for all Reed Business Information’s global businesses. He assumed his current role in 2017.


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