Let’s talk interoperability

July 28, 2016

Whilst interoperability would seem to be a straightforward concept, the specifics of what information is collected, how it can be exchanged and how it can be subsequently updated, mean that in practice good interoperability can be quite tricky.


Interoperability or the ability of a system or a product to work with other systems or products and 'talk to each other', is a hot topic within the research community. Researchers have always been asked to provide information on the outputs of their research, usually as large final reports, but increasingly funders, research organisations and third parties have asked for more frequent and more detailed information. As the information requested can be very similar, this has led to calls for those collecting the information to make the collection as easy as possible, and find ways to reuse existing information wherever possible.


Integration with ORCID


Researchfish includes an integration with ORCID that allows researchers to associate their ORCID and Researchfish accounts and choose to move publications between the two. This was introduced in January 2016 and over 13% for Researchfish users had done this by July 2016.


Reducing the burden


Researchfish has a longstanding commitment to reduce the burden of reporting for researchers, whilst improving the quality of the data collected and ensuring that it can be easily reused. Some examples of this include: helping over 60 funders from a range of disciplines harmonise on a single question set, adopting standard identifiers and look ups to ensure that researchers are only asked for information that isn’t already readily accessible, and building a system where a researcher can report an output once and attribute it to many awards. (See here for an example of this.) 


Did you know?


Most funders have a requirement to acknowledge the funding that helped a publication in the text of the publication. E.g. This work was supported by the Medical Research Council [grant number xxxx](1). If an author includes this information then it can be harvested and added automatically in systems such as Researchfish. In 2015 Researchfish found over 30,000 publication attributions and added them into researcher’s awards on their behalf.



University Systems


Over the last few years there has been a growth in the number of UK university systems to track the outputs of their researchers, particularly publications. This has led to calls for greater interoperability between these systems and Researchfish to save researchers from having to enter the same information in many different systems. Research organisations who subscribe to Researchfish can pull information into their own systems through downloads or via the Researchfish API. Some research organisations want to be able to collect information in their own systems and push that information into Researchfish.


Learning to fly


Over the past few years Researchfish has run a number of pilot exercises to explore the feasibility of taking information from university systems and uploading it into Researchfish. Some funders have been hesitant about this kind of exchange, because when other systems implemented this in the past they saw lower quality data and less data reported in publications and other output types. The focus of the pilots has been to understand and solve the technical challenges of exchanging this data as well as understanding the best practices used by research organisations in managing their side of the pilot, and ensuring that researcher behaviour is not adversely affected (that they don’t have to spend time “undoing” work meant to help them, or result in them not reporting other important information).


Navigation for the current pilot


The current pilot has a steering group composed of many leading UK universities and funders and is jointly chaired by Ian Viney (Director of Strategic Evaluation and Impact, Medical Research Council) and Hamish Macandrew (Head of the Research Office, University of Edinburgh). The pilot began in 2015 and is scheduled to end in 2017, covering two large data submission periods.


The working group


The first phase of the pilot was comprised of six research organisations; Imperial College London, University of Bristol, University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow and the University of St. Andrews, and ten funders; AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, STFC, NC3Rs, Academy of Medical Sciences and Cancer Research UK. The research organisations supplied information on publications linked to awards at their organisation and Researchfish validated the data and uploaded it into Researchfish. In 2015 around 2,500 publications were added as part of the pilot.




In June 2016 a paper(2) was presented at CRIS2016 explaining the pilot and its findings in more detail. There are also five RCUK “town hall” meetings open to all UK research organisations in July - September 2016 covering future output collection plans, and presentations on the pilot from Researchfish and pilot research organisations.


Next Steps


The second phase of the pilot has already begun and the six research organisations will now provide information across their whole organisation for all funders using Researchfish at the end of 2016. In 2017, if the pilot is judged successful then the functionality to upload publication information into Researchfish will be widened to include all subscribing research organisations.


(1)  http://www.rin.ac.uk/system/files/attachments/Acknowledgement-funders-guidance.pdf

(2) 2016. Let’s Talk – Interoperability between University CRIS/IR and Researchfish : a case study from the UK.  Anna Clements, Gavin Reddick, Ian Viney, Valerie McCutcheon, James Toon, Hamish Macandrew, Ian McArdle, Sophie Collet, Juergen Wastl http://dspacecris.eurocris.org/bitstream/11366/492/3/CRIS2016_paper_41_Clements.pdf


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