Researchers and research managers will be familiar with stipulations around how research outcomes should be openly shared. Whether mandated by the bodies funding the research or a condition of being able to submit research for an assessment exercise, data, journal articles and conference proceedings will often need to be published in a specific form of open access. For example, for journal articles and conference proceedings to be eligible for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK, they must be deposited and made openly available. For other programs, research funders or countries, the requirements may be different or more specific.
Pablo de Castro, Open Access Advocacy Librarian at the University of Strathclyde and Secretary of euroCRIS, an international not-for-profit association that brings together experts on research information and research information systems, argues that for an institutional research office, it’s very important to keep track of what is being published via what channels and funded by which projects:
As a result of constantly looking into the links between projects, publications and persons, the research support officer ends up developing a mental database where all the institutional research projects and areas are connected to the persons, both internal and external, who work in them, and to the research outputs — publications and datasets — that arise from such work.
In a paper from earlier this year, Pablo argues that Current Research Information Systems (CRIS) hold the key to simplifying this process and in doing so can help drive the implementation of open science. The University of Strathclyde itself uses Pure – a research information management system developed and serviced by Elsevier – to do this in collaboration with the researchers themselves and with the institutional research office. Pablo says a platform like Pure is effective for this because it draws on the benefits of a connected ecosystem:
"Open access to publications has traditionally been applied as a one-off process, where a publication gets deposited in a repository or a payment is made for making it openly available from a journal. The change I’m advocating for in the paper is moving from the publication-driven perspective to a project-driven perspective, meaning that the key information is whether a paper does acknowledge a given funded project. Open access policies are usually associated to specific research funders, and different funders tend to have different policies, especially around open access funding. For funder policies that support open access funding, it’s critical to have an insight on the funding sources for a publication from very early on, as it will be necessary to ascertain its potential eligibility for funding."
With a CRIS, a research support officer knows in what form the outputs from a specific project should be published so they meet the requirements expressed by the research funder behind the project, Pablo explains: “It is far easier to discuss a specific publication with a researcher when this snapshot for the contextual information is available for checking in the institutional CRIS.”
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When institutions use a CRIS system, it can deliver substantial benefits in efficiency and the implementation of open science, including the possibility of linking specific outputs (publications or data) to the research equipment used in their production. However, Pablo argues that there are even greater benefits to be reaped from a national CRIS, which would accelerate open access to an even greater degree. Often, research is the product of multiple institutions working together, either nationally or internationally. Consequently, the research facilities and equipment used in a given research area are often away from the institution, and the funding sources are often coming from external collaborators who are not affiliated with the institution.
“This makes it almost impossible to code in the full contextual information in an institutional CRIS, where the external projects and the external facilities and equipment are typically missing,” Pablo says. “We could try to pool up all the information on funded projects and research equipment across institutions in a country – and there are valuable initiatives currently trying to do this, sich as the EPSRC-funded equipment.data in the UK – but the best way to do it is to have a national CRIS, where all this contextual information would need to be available as a complete dataset for it to be used by all institutions sharing the CRIS.”
That in turn would help make the implementation of open access more efficient, he adds. He points to the UK’s open access policy coupled to the national research assessment exercise (REF), which mandates that authors deposit the accepted author manuscript for a publication in an institutional repository within three months of its acceptance in a journal or for a conference.
“Given that most publications are cross-institutional co-authorships, this results in a massive duplication of effort,” Pablo explains. “You can have multiple institutions chasing the same full-text manuscript from their respective authors and only occasionally relying on the effort that their open access colleagues at the co-authoring institution have already made, by getting the full-text file from them instead of from the author. A national CRIS would make it much simpler to adopt a more rational and time-saving policy that would only require one institution to chase the full-text manuscript.”
Of course, research collaborations don’t stop at national boundaries, and to really drive a connected world, such a system would need to be international. An international CRIS might not be achievable, but there are other solutions to break down borders between institutions that collaborate internationally.
“The key concept for getting rid of those siloes is interoperability,” Pablo says, “and CRIS interoperability is progressing very effectively these days, thanks to developments like the growing implementation of the CERIF-XML guidelines for CRIS Managers jointly issued by euroCRIS and OpenAIRE.”
Patrick Crisfulla, Elsevier’s VP of Research Information Management Solutions (Pure), agrees with Dr. Pablo, emphasizing that interoperability is key along with putting the researcher in control:
The research ecosystem for managing information is immensely diverse, with companies, nonprofits, universities and researchers themselves creating new platforms and applications all the time. Yes, all these tools and platforms help researchers manage the unprecedented amount of knowledge and data that is available to them today. Yet each has its limits – there is no one-size-fits-all answer; there is fragmentation, with different data models and limited interoperability.
Pablo hits the nail on the head by saying that solutions across the research ecosystem need to improve to save research administration time and effort. At Elsevier, we also believe this. Whatever we build with the research community as the next information system supporting research – it needs to meet four principles: support a variety of data sources from a variety of data providers, be interoperable with other tools used in research administration and in researcher workflows, be transparent on how metrics are developed, and enable the researcher to remain in control of their research profiles and data.
We need to help create solutions that put faculty and researcher needs first; people should be able to set their own preferences and parameters, including the choice of whether, when and where to share data sets and conclusions. No one technology can, or should, make decisions on behalf of the researcher.
Pablo points to the way repositories can be harvested into a single, massive aggregation of their publications metadata and suggests that the contextual information contained in CRISs should also be able to be harvested into this single aggregation.
“That’s a way to get to distributed international CRISs without needing one specific system” he said. “That’s the kind of future we should be looking towards.”
About Pablo de Castro
Pablo de Castro is Open Access Advocacy Librarian at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. He is a physicist and an expert in open access and research information workflows and management systems, areas he recently explored as coordinator for the OpenAIRE2020 Gold Open Access Pilot at LIBER, the Association of European Research Libraries based in the Hague. Besides being passionate about the role embedded research support librarians have the opportunity to play at institutions for the implementation of open science, Pablo also serves as Secretary for the euroCRIS association to promote collaboration across the research information management community.