By Laura Lugg, Head of Evaluation, AHRC.
Are Research Councils doing enough to facilitate contact with the research base? What are the barriers to collaboration? Is the Research Councils’ combined investment having a positive impact?
These are some of the questions explored in a recent RCUK survey of research users. The RCUK User Satisfaction Survey 2012, conducted by Pye Tait on behalf of RCUK, gathered the views of over 1,000 respondents working in the public, private and third sectors. These respondents, and others like them, use and engage with the research we fund so their views are very important to us. Feedback from the survey will help inform Research Council decision-making at all levels and further encourage the uptake of research outputs by the user community.
We are pleased to see that we are engaging new users year-on-year, as well as maintaining and enhancing our longer-term relationships – some of which stand at more than 50 years. The survey also showed that interactions with academics has both increased and become easier in the past two years for a significant number of users. This is a positive indication that researchers are thinking more about potential beneficiaries, and seeing user engagement as a key step in realising the benefits of their work. It is also encouraging to hear from so many users that they see the excellence of the UK research base as a unique selling point for their organisations, and that they are keen to continue their engagements with the Research Councils in the future.
The Research Councils play an important role in brokering relationships between academics and beneficiaries of their work. They are also driving a culture change that is seeing impact-generating activities such as user engagement becoming more valued, more frequent and of better quality. The survey findings suggest that there is a strong appetite from academics and users to work together, with both sides benefitting from the relationship.
A key development aimed at the user community is Gateway to Research. A web-based portal, it aims to give the public access to information about research funded by the Research Councils. It will also provide a mechanism for businesses and other interested parties to identify potential partners in universities to develop and commercialise knowledge, and to maximise the impact of publicly funded research. Users have told us that this will be beneficial to them in many ways, including locating expertise and building relationships. This is welcome validation that we are on the right tracks. A ‘beta’ version of Gateway to Research was released last week on 12 December, and the final system will be launched at the end of 2013.
Today (12 December 2012), Research Councils UK (RCUK) release the first phase of the Gateway to Research (GtR) portal and dataset – a beta release. http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk
In January, we agreed with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to to deliver a “proof of concept” by the end of the year.
We hope we have delivered more than a proof of concept. The portal is live, the data is real. This is the first time that it has been possible to use one location to explore the entire breadth of the RCUK portfolio that results from the investment of around £3 Billion of public money annually in research and innovation.
The beta is an early release which will enable users to try out the system under real conditions. It has gone through robust testing in-house and is close in look, feel and function to how we envisage the final product. We want to engage with users to ensure that the functionality and data we are delivering meets their needs.
A few points about the system and data:
- The dataset is currently a static dataset (i.e. at this stage it will not be routinely updated);
- A public interface is available (API) that will enable external users to use the data. This will initially be a simple CERIF (XML) API, based on an international research information standard but others will follow (REST, OAI and SPARQL) to maximise potential users. Data that is visible on all the detailed screens will be viewable in XML;
- We have used Open Source, Open Standards and adopted an Open Government Licence.
We intend to make user engagement a central part of the project’s development. Complementing this, there are a number of activities that we have identified which will enhance the user experience, enrich the information available, and help the Research Councils meet their obligations to make research information more open and better aligned with users’ needs. Some highlights of the next 12 months include:
- Expansion of the GtR dataset to include further Research Council information for example, studentships, all intra Council grants and linking to research datasets and publication repositories.
- Making the GtR dataset dynamic, reflecting changes in source systems rapidly;
- Further iterations of the User Interface based on feedback on the beta-system and changes prompted by the expanding dataset;
- Working with JISC to enhance the experience of HEIs and other data users in depositing and harvesting data from the Research Councils;
The next year should provide exciting opportunities to demonstrate the value of RCUK research information in diverse settings. Hack days are being planned for the spring, with at least two different providers to ensure a range of approaches. This project has involved the Research Councils working cooperatively on a complex project, and rapid agreement has been reached on the key decision points to date. The final phase of the project will build on this.