Integrating the future of research outputs

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, it turns out.

As the November 2018 launch date approached for the project formerly known as the Research Data Shared Service, one of the most urgent and contentious issues was what to call it. The project was ambitious— covering storage, preservation and reporting for research outputs—and aimed at helping researchers, research staff and universities comply with funder mandates and manage their research well.

This array of interconnected parts became the Jisc Open Research Hub (JORH).

So why did we choose this?

Problems and solutions

Around the globe, researchers are increasingly required to consider how they manage their outputs throughout the life cycle of a research project. Although processes around the publication of journal articles are relatively mature, data management planning and sharing is less so. In many places the value proposition for data management planning is still being investigated. Researchers are now often mandated to consider data retention or publication as a condition of funding, as well as how data can be shared with collaborators during or after the project. There is also an need for improved labelling and describing of data to enable discovery or support the reuse, verification and reproducibility of results. All this is a significant headache for a researcher who wants to be engaged with the research, not the admin.

It is also a concern for the university who employs the researcher. There is much at stake: compliance with institutional and government policies around the availability of research outputs, the security of sensitive data, and the prestige of both research and institution. Despite the provision of some discipline and funder repositories across the UK, there is a still a long-tail of research data without an obvious place to be stored and shared.

For more than 20 years Jisc has been funding programmes to develop useful tools, technologies and services with and in universities. This work culminated in the Research @ Risk programme, developed in partnership with Research Libraries UK, Russell Group IT Directors, the Society of College, National and University Libraries, and Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association, and informed by numerous stakeholder consultation events. The sector felt that the challenges involved in creating a research data infrastructure were too big, too complex and too expensive for HEIs to tackle individually. Instead, they asked for a national solution based on the requirements of UK research as a whole; providing research infrastructure for those who didn’t have it and improving interoperability between the systems of those universities who already did.

Requirements were gathered from researchers and research support staff from over 70 UK universities, then Jisc worked closely with 16 institutions (representing a diverse mix of UK HE and use cases) and sector bodies, funders, and systems suppliers, to create JORH—a cost effective, community governed solution utilising open standards and offering enhanced user experience by connecting to (theoretically) everything including institutional systems, storage, preservation and reporting functions.

The Hub was designed with research data in mind but built with a multi-tenanted repository option—a design which offers significant cost savings and a consistent framework of options and standards to tenants —and which, crucially, allows the deposit of any content. This means the Hub can handle more than just data and paves the way for a whole raft of possibilities across the open research agenda.

FAIR and Open

Recent years have seen the emergence of qualitative and, increasingly, quantitative international guidelines to help research outputs become more FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable/Reproducible). A recent Jisc report found the adoption of FAIR principles across research disciplines in the UK to be inevitably mixed. The native repository part of the Hub has been constructed with FAIRness in mind, offering a content submission workflow that ticks boxes around the findability of, access to and the reuse of research. The service is not predicated on a specific research discipline so researchers from any subject background can apply FAIR principles to their outputs simply by using the system. .

Interoperability is a crucial part of the Hub’s purpose. To be truly effective the service must slip neatly into the infrastructure gaps that an institution may have. It is vital that the Hub’s technology can communicate with what’s already there—such as repositories and research information systems—whilst simultaneously producing an open framework to which other software—such as live data stores and analytical tools—can be added. The Hub performs the functions that the institution needs and talks to existing services that already handle other key tasks, such as the REF or compliance reporting to UKRI.

The now and the future

JORH has been built for technical and operational flexibility. This makes it the perfect platform for further development into other areas of the research life cycle. Plans are underway to develop Open Access (OA) features, including integration with Jisc OA services, to enable JORH to function as a publications repository. This is on top of its data capability, which means the service offers a cost-effective hybrid environment that can handle multiple content types and link them together. This can extend the reach of the service for use in special collections and other archives.

Initiatives such as Plan S, and the Coalition of Open Access Repositories recommendations give technical and policy pathways across which JORH can travel. On top of this, there are still significant challenges in research sector which the JORH can be tasked to address including: storage for massive or sensitive data; cross disciplinary / cross-border collaboration; software preservation; and the need for researchers and institutions to demonstrate impact and compliance with the wider open agenda.

JORH has been named and built to achieve this.

The author would like to thank Tamsin Burland, Paul Stokes and Caroline Ingram.

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