New FundRef initiative makes R&D investments more transparent

Collaboration with publishers and funding bodies provides a standard way of reporting funding sources for published research

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Research is big business. But identifying return on investment is not easy for research funders.

A 2012 study by the Battelle Memorial Institute, the world’s largest nonprofit research and development organization, forecasted that global R&D spending would grow by 3.7 percent in 2013 to nearly $1.5 trillion.

While R&D spending in the US and Europe will decrease this year due to weak economies, fast-growing nations such as China will boost R&D spending significantly.

With R&D spending of this volume, funding bodies are intent on making well informed strategic decisions about which research to fund in order to build high quality, high-impact portfolios. Many funding agencies seek out peer reviewers or have standing committees who evaluate grant applications. One of the key ways funding bodies seek to measure research output is by looking at the peer reviewed scholarly publications which result from their funding. But when it comes to tracking these outcomes, funding bodies face serious challenges.

While publishers almost always include an acknowledgements section in their journals, where authors credit their funding sources, the lack of standardization of funding organizations’ names and their abbreviations make it very difficult to use the information for reporting or analysis, explained Ed Pentz (@epentz), Executive Director of CrossRef, based in Oxford. Scholarly publications do not always include funding source information and when they do, the data provided is inconsistent.

For example, authors indicate the name of the funding body in the acknowledgements section, but there is no standard taxonomy of funder names so the same funder will be listed differently from publication to publication or even within the same journal. Publishers also organize this information in different ways, and when it is included in an article, it often times appears in different places. In addition, the funding source information is not easily searchable or discoverable because most publishers don’t tag the funding data separately in XML.

In response funding bodies have to mine publication data manually in order to track funding sources, which is a complex, painful process, Pentz said.

That’s where standardization comes in.

Several funding bodies and publishers, including Elsevier, are now collaborating with CrossRef to address this problem. The solution they came up with is FundRef, a joint initiative to standardize the names of research funders and add grant numbers attributed in journal articles and other scholarly documents. The collaboration will allow researchers, publishers and funding agencies to track the published research that results from specific funding bodies.

Following a successful pilot project in 2012-13, CrossRef just announced the launch of FundRef at the end of May. It’s expected to benefit a range of stakeholders:

  • Funding bodies, who will be able to better track the outcomes of the research they fund
  • Publishers, who will be able to analyze the sources of funding for their published content
  • Researchers, by aiding their compliance with funders’ requirements for acknowledgement of funding
  • The public, who will be able to see the results of R&D funding with greater transparency

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FundRef participants

The following publishers are participating in FundRef. An up-to-date list of participants will be maintained on the CrossRef website.

“While publishers generally provide authors with guidelines on how to attribute funding sources in their publications, researchers are often left to their own devices,” said Chris Shillum, VP of Product Management, Platform and Content at Elsevier, based in New York. “By helping to standardize this information, FundRef will make it possible for funding bodies to link their funding decisions to research outcomes on a large scale.”

As of its launch, FundRef is open to participation from any CrossRef member publisher. Funding organizations and other interested parties can search the FundRef database at

“Several publishers have already adapted their internal systems and will be integrating the FundRef Registry in the coming weeks,” said Kirsty Meddings, Product Manager at CrossRef, based in Oxford. “The more data we have, the more useful FundRef will be for funding organizations and indeed anyone with an interest in identifying the outcomes of funded research.”

How it works

FundRef participants have access to the FundRef Registry, a standard taxonomy of more than 4,000 funding body names, donated to the initiative by Elsevier. The FundRef Registry is based on Elsevier’s SciVal Funding tool, which includes a comprehensive database of funding opportunities from Australia, Canada, the European Commission, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. The SciVal list of funding bodies is freely available at, and as linked data via Elsevier’s APIs at The FundRef Registry can be downloaded from the CrossRef website.

Through FundRef, publishers can incorporate the FundRef Registry into their manuscript tracking systems. During the submission process, publishers would ask authors to select the correct funders and provide grant numbers for the awards that supported their research. Publishers send the standard funder information to CrossRef, and funders can query the FundRef database to match their grants to publication output. Publishers can then display the funding information on article PDFs and web sites. For more information, visit the CrossRef website.

As Elsevier and other publishers integrate the taxonomy into their manuscript submission processes, FundRef will help standardize how authors indicate the funding sources of their research, enabling funding bodies to more clearly track the results of their investments and communicate the impact of R&D spending to the public.

The FundRef workflow

Source: CrossRef

[divider] David Kross

The Author

David Kross is Senior Marketing Manager for Academic and Government Institutional Markets at Elsevier. He manages marketing and communications initiatives for Elsevier’s SciVal research management products and services and related research initiatives such as FundRef, which he writes about here. He is based in New York.

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