By Toni Aitken – Research Systems Officer

On 19th August, I attended the RCUK/Researchfish Regional Meeting at University of Edinburgh.  The presentations were delivered by RCUK, Researchfish and University of St Andrews who had recently participated in a Researchfish interoperability pilot study.

Before thinking about interoperability, why do we need to collect research output information?

The meeting began with a summary of the Researchfish process up to now.  It was recognised that while the Researchfish submission can be onerous and frustrating for researchers, the collection of output information justifies the need for funding, ensures accountability and possibly secures future funding.  The information collected is analysed to highlight; progress, quality and impact and as the information can be reused, efficiency is increased as researchers do not have to collect information at various stages of a project and the sharing of outcomes with business and community enables transparency. Attendees were reminded that a failure to submit outcomes has led to sanctions from the research councils who have removed researchers’ eligibility for funding and/or withheld payments for existing projects!

RCUK submission period (February-March 2016)

The UK Research Councils use Researchfish to gather information from researchers about the outcomes of their research.  The University of Stirling had a very successful return in the last submission period with 100% submission rate for research staff and 89% for PhD students.  We were advised that the average submission rates for the UK were; 95% research staff and 78% PhD students.

There are over 100 funders across the world using Researchfish to collect information on outcomes but they have different requirements for their submission period.  There is a significant need to make the Researchfish system inter-operable with university systems to; increase efficiency, improve data quality and reduce duplication of effort.

Inter-operability pilot study

The second half of the meeting focused on a pilot study conducted during the last submission period, to understand the feasibility of interoperability between Researchfish and the universities’ Research Information Systems. The pilot study, which involved 6 UK universities and 10 funders, aimed to transfer output data from the universities’ systems to save researchers significant time by reducing the need to add outputs manually.   The researchers involved were positive about the study as they felt that transferring the existing data really saved them a lot of time when making the submission – “The interoperability pilot saved a lot of time and having it automated really is the way to go. I’d say it saved me personally several hours and then time saved from chasing others to upload their stuff.” 

As a result of the pilot study, participants reported back the following lessons:

  • Reconciling university records helps ensure DOIs and award references are accurate for transferring data.
  • Acknowledging the funder by adding the award reference to publications improves integration of data.
  • Researchfish had very high levels of activity the week before deadline – researchers are encouraged to add outcomes to the system throughout the year.
  • Opportunity to back-populate information from Researchfish to the university system.
  • Communications were very complicated, there is a significant need to ensure emails are more brief and personalised.

The pilot study led to a number of improvements identified by Researchfish for future development, including: Improved APIs for Scopus and ORCID; Enhanced help documentation; New user interface; Self-service support tools; Multi lingual and Tablet support and Improved data sharing.

RCUK also reported that they had identified areas for improvement in line with the need for more clarity & less complication from students, simplification and consistency and an improved user interface, which they hope to implement in the future.

We heard that the pilot study will continue in 2017 and the number of funders involved will increase to 60.  Automated checking and uploading of publication data will be also introduced and if this is successful, then this will be rolled out to the other member universities.  This could mean that Researchers involved will only have to enter the information once onto university systems, meaning reduced effort to make submissions in the future.

Following this session I will take forward these lessons to improve the process here at Stirling, including a webpage with guidance specific to Stirling researchers.

If you have any questions on the above, please get in touch with me t.l.aitken@stir.ac.uk.  For more on interoperability check out let’s talk interoperability.