Product Development

Meeting scientists’ changing needs in a digitized world

How Elsevier and Mendeley are working with researchers to facilitate their work processes

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Hesham Attalla, MD, PhD, is Customer Discovery & Innovation Manager at Elsevier.For scientists, the quest for information has always been an integral and essential part of their work. No information – no reliable research outcome. To know what information is out there, to draw from it and to build upon it is what makes for good research and, ultimately, sound science. But this process is a time-intensive one, and especially with the pressure of having to use public research funds as conscientiously as possible, scientists tend to have less and less of that. Time as a resource is becoming scarce. At the same time, the amount of information available is constantly increasing.

Digitalization has without doubt made many things easier for the research community. The expertise of colleagues who work halfway around the world is just a click away, and new developments such as laboratory automation make life easier for many scientists. At the same time, the speed at which information can be processed produces data galore. And it gets increasingly difficult for researchers to filter from this mass of data the information they really need. To make sure that they can spend as much of their time as possible on their research, and as little as possible on juggling today’s data masses, it is crucial to facilitate an efficient access to information.

Publishers becoming IT providers

Publishers are adapting to this development, and a transformation is happening. Rather than “just” peer-reviewing and publishing research, and thus being limited to providing information, they now face the challenge of also making this information accessible in a way that suits the needs of modern researchers’ workflows. From interlinking different tools to providing APIs for researchers to utilize data for their own applications, publishers are already doing a lot to support researchers in their daily work. But which tools are really necessary?

Developing tools for researchers, with researchers

At Elsevier, we try to answer this question while working with members of the research community. One way we do this is through the Elsevier Development Partner Program, an international network of five top universities in the Americas, Europe and Asia. The program tests concepts for online tools with the potential to improve research outcomes by facilitating researchers’ workflows. Participants are university staff at many different levels, from research managers to librarians to researchers from a wide range of academic disciplines.

The development of the tools goes hand in hand with the testing, directly incorporating the users’ feedback through an agile development process. Over the course of three test phases that are carried out both remotely and at the users’ offices, the developers select those concepts that display the highest potential to improve scientific workflows. These concepts are then intensively worked on and perfected, eventually being made available for researchers as minimal viable products (MVP).

A direct result of the Development Partner Program is the new My Research Dashboard tool, where researchers can see the readership and citation data of their article within days of publication.

To include even more researchers in the development process, a new phase was launched in 2015 – the establishment of an online community of advisers expanding beyond the five initial partners and including researchers from all over the world. This initiative goes beyond testing new products; by involving scientists from research institutes across the world and considering input and needs that may differ across borders, it fosters international collaboration while ensuring that only products that really serve the researchers, and thus the core user group, are being generated.

ReQuest Award for Early Career Researchers: The Mobile Researcher

When developing new scientific tools, it is essential to include early career researchers. Firstly, as digital natives, they can provide insight from a fresh perspective, bringing forward suggestions and input that more experienced researchers might not think of. Secondly, early career researchers are the scientists of tomorrow and therefore the next core user group. They know best what tools they will require to succeed, so meeting their demands is crucial to supporting the research of the future.

Without doubt, new technologies will play a huge role in this regard. This was underlined recently in the context of the ReQuest Award 2014, which regularly gives young researchers the opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge to practical examples, developing skills that will support them in their future careers and helping to develop new tools to facilitate scientific research. This year, teams of up to eight students focused on a topic put forward by the sponsor, Elsevier: “The Mobile Researcher – Applications, Workflows and Trends for an increasingly Mobile Scientific Community.” In the resulting research reports, the students identified a lack of time as the main challenge for researchers, anticipating a further aggravation of time constraints in the future. They concluded that the importance of mobile solutions enabling scientists to work remotely in order to stay flexible would keep growing.

ReQuest Award 2014: The winning team from the Cologne University of Applied Sciences with Claus Grossmann (far right), Regional Director for Research Solutions at Elsevier, in Düsseldorf, Germany.

“The ReQuest Award is a very exciting opportunity for us to work closely together with early career researchers,” said Jan Reichelt, CEO and Co-Founder of Mendeley. “It was impressive to see how many possible areas of application they identified for mobile technologies and what consequences this has for the capacity of mobile devices. Getting the participants’ perspectives on which tools are needed for today’s and also for tomorrow’s researchers is very interesting to us.”

Time constraints and information overload

As it turns out, their needs are not all that different. Two of the main challenges that could be identified for today’s researchers are a lack of time and an overload of information. What makes these issues even more pressing is the fact that they are mutually dependent – having to deal with a flood of information makes time scarcer than it already is.

It is against this background that the importance of mobile technologies will keep growing in the future. Enabling and furthering the development of mobile tools for researchers is one possible answer to time constraints. Mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets theoretically enable us to work whenever, wherever. A researcher who commutes to the lab every day for one hour on the train could use this time efficiently on his research. Or a sudden brainwave could hit at the supermarket or even the gym – inspiration does not care about regular working hours. By developing tools together with scientists, publishers can enable them to adapt their research infrastructure to their workflows – and not the other way around. With mobile technologies making their way, mobile researchers will do so as well.

Elsevier Connect Contributor

Dr. Hesham Attalla is Customer Discovery & Innovation Manager at Elsevier, a role that is focused on understanding customers’ needs and market demands. Hesham has more than 15 years of professional experience in medicine and medical research, which brings the voice and needs of researchers to the focal point of his work. At Elsevier, he works closely with various business units and product development teams to make sure they develop products that bring high value to end users. Hesham has a medical degree from Cairo University and MD and PhD degrees from the University of Helsinki.

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