Introducing the beta Gateway to Research

Today (12 December 2012), Research Councils UK (RCUK) release the first phase of the Gateway to Research (GtR) portal and dataset –  a beta release.

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.

17 thoughts on “Introducing the beta Gateway to Research

  1. This is an extremely slick and rapid search tool! It covers a great deal of ground very well. What I find works less well for me as a potential user is:
    – the text describing the projects is rather dense, lengthy and unbroken making it hard to skim and assimilate. Could those writing it be asked to make it more “reader friendly” with paragraphs, maybe an opening summary, etc.
    – I am looking for a link to an email address or home page for the authors/project leaders but when I click on a name all I get is a list of their projects, etc.. This creates a bit of a sense of frustration for someone who wants ot convert from finding something interesting into making contact with the people involved. Of course there is always Google and LinkedIn…
    – similarly the list of publications can just take you to a website where a conference was once advertised, but not to anything that provides the article…

    • Hi Nick – thanks for the constructive feedback. This is the first release of a beta system and we are endeavouring to solicit feedback such as yours for ways to improve the user experience. On your specific points:
      – Yes, migration from the source systems does bring with it embedded problems that can render the text hard to read, and formatting is lost in some instances. We will be looking to address this in the next month or so.
      – Enabling contact with researchers is certainly an option, probably using webforms. You will appreciate that in today’s climate of data protection it is not straightforward to obtain agreement to show email addresses, although it is possible to obtain them through some of the local Research Council sites. We will be looking to establish a position on this shortly.
      – The publication data will hopefully improve, particularly once the Open Access requirements come into force. There are many publications that do have a resolving DOI or other link though – but not as many as we would like.

  2. Apart from some missing links (bottom of the home page: Licence, and Intellectual Property) the site does seem robust and (mercifully) quick.

    HOWEVER, I don’t think that the “About ths system” (or ideally the home page) makes it clear that the static dataset used is only a partial dataset. If I did not know otherwise I would get the impression that the large number (and value) of research projects listed have produced only a very small number of research outputs.
    Also the data dictionary suggests that other types of research outcomes (such as impacts) might be available, but I can only see a tab for research publications.

    A CERIF API is also mentioned… but no (obvious) way to access it?

    In terms of the ordering of the results… I wonder what the ‘Relevance’ algorithm is… this might become rather important in the future?

    Also, just a thought…. if I were looking for recent research, I might be more interested in ordering by End Date rather than Start Date?

    • Thanks Simon. On the individual points:
      – Both the Licence and IP links should work now (let us know if not, and what browser you are using)
      – Good point about the large dataset, and small number of Outputs. Of course, the Research Outcomes System has not even been live for a year yet, and data collection in this area continues to evolve. But as you say, it would be very easy for someone to get the impression that large swathes of Research Council funding had resulted in not a lot of outputs. I will look at the wording of that section.
      – More on the API shortly…
      – I’ll have a chat with the Tech team about the relevance algorithm. It essentially searches the title and abstract, but we will be looking to perhaps boost classification terms as well when we add these (next 6 weeks or so). So, for example someone searching for a RC classification would be able to return a list of relevant projects that have been classified as such, as well as other relevant projects.

    • Hi Clare – are you referring to open calls for proposals from individual Research Councils? There is nothing to stop us using RSS Feeds for example on a page within GtR that could alert people to opportunities across the Research Councils.

      Having said that, our focus over the next few months is getting the data right, building and testing the APIs, and running some hack days. BUT – we want to deliver a portal that people will use and will be looking for opportunities to do that. What you suggest has been raised before, and may fit with the vision that RCUK have for the portal going forward.

      • Hey Darren

        Yeah, that’s exactly what I meant. I feel like a lot of people would appreciate the functionality to see ‘at a glance’ what current calls for proposals are open. I understand that your current priority is (of course!) sorting out the data and functionality you already have… still, maybe one for the future as you say 🙂

    • Hi Kiran – thanks for your interest.

      Yes – there is definitely a duplication problem there. One of our highest priorities over the next 6 weeks will be to improve the quality of the data in the Gateway. We are aware of a number of grants that are missing abstracts, and some of the publication data has scope for improvement also. The project you have identified is interesting in that it is absolutely identical in every visible sense – we will investigate!

  3. We have received the following feedback via the email, and I thought it would be useful to answer it to a wider audience:

    “I can’t understand why the list of research results states the months but not the year in the date box.”

    – It does list the year, but perhaps it is not clear? Where (e.g.) it says Apr 07 – Apr 11 this is April 2007 to April 2011.

    “In response to a search request, the most obvious response is the “did you mean…..” box which tends to suggest that the search phrase is not recognised whereas, in fact, the list beneath is entirely appropriate.”

    – Yes, I see what you mean. It is intended as a both a prompt to look for similar words, or in case the spelling was wrong. We will look at the presentation.

    “The most useful search results are often those where the search phrase appears in the text rather than the title. Is it possible to direct a search in that way?”

    – The search is configured to look at both the title and the abstract, and we will be looking to extend it to the various outcomes text fields that are available and the classifications which we are adding shortly. So abstracts are picked up currently but it is not possible to search them to the exclusion of titles.

  4. Great search tool – really really useful – and it is already on my favourites list.

    A couple of suggestions – based on how I approached a search:-
    1) One I had enterered a key word, the secondary search of years came up in an random way – not chronological which was hard to get used to
    2) There needs to be a lower level of filter – or a description line of the filters that are in place – the tag of “remove” is too easy to ignore
    3) Using icons on the top level title would help – there were a number of abtracts that I tried to find that were missing – having an icon (abstract or missing abstract) on the top level would have saved me the effort
    4) Font – the font is very large and so scrolling takes a long time – having the 25/50/100 filter helps, but I am sure the font could be make smaller without significant reader complaint
    5) Active/InActive – again some kind of icon or colour coding would help fliter out nugatory files
    6) Finally – I put in the search for “systems engineering” and ended up with over 500 research items – in the first 15, I could find no reference to systems engineering – does the search work on the single words or the phrase? I guess the answer is single words, which is why I got so many results – could you therefore put in some boolean logic on search strings?

    • Hi Kate, thanks for the constructive feedback! The usability comments are valuable and we will be collating them all as part of a wider User Interface improvement.

      Regarding your last point, on searching for Systems Engineering, you are correct in that GtR will return results with both or either of the relevant terms (you get 7000 Grants). However, if you use quotation marks and search for (literally) “Systems Engineering” you get a much more focused return of 37 Grants. This is also, apparently, how Google works but I have only recently discovered this!

  5. An edited version of some interesting feedback from the GtR mailbox:

    I have searched for ‘University of Salford’ and this brings up a very long list of projects. Many of these are not of relevance. I thought at first that the search facility was just very sensitive and that the word Salford was just mentioned in the text even if the project is not directly linked to the University of Salford but this doesn’t appear to be the case. For example, the 5th project that comes up on the list is ‘PATT Travel for Oxford Uni’ and there are no references here. Is it simply bringing up everything with the word ‘University’ in?

    Following on from that, if in the list of projects I then click on the formal organisation link to the ‘University of Salford’ this does appear to then lead to the list of direct relevance to the University but once there you lose any further search options (e.g. by Research Council, project size, etc).

    This means that I cannot do a simple search to find, for example, all AHRC awards made to the University of Salford.

    Regarding your search, your first instinct was correct in that if you write a search term (without “quotes”) you get a return of all the titles and abstracts that contain all the terms. So as you suggest, the Oxford University project that you identify is returned because it contains the word ‘university’ in the title.

    If you search for (using the “quotes”) “University of Salford” you get a more focused return, but again this is only the grants with “University of Salford” in the title or abstract.

    The Gateway is not currently configured for you to be able to find out all the AHRC grants at e.g. the University of Salford, but if that is an important User requirement we will look to implement it over the following months. You can filter the project page by funder, but no other ones.

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