Friday, 27 February 2009

Connecting stakeholders and data

The first stage in the BRII project is to carry out a stakeholder analysis. A stakeholder analysis is a process that involves the identification of the project's stakeholders and an assessment of their interests and the ways those interests could affect or be affected by the project. Stakeholders could be people or organisations and their interests could be in favour or against the project.

As the BRII project is about gathering and using Research Activity data, our stakeholders will be people or entities who produce or use that data. For example, researchers, project managers, research facilitators and administrative staff. Also units, departments, institutes, colleges, where research is carried out.

The assessment of the stakeholders' interests will give us some light on the kinds of research activity data they produce and use for work. It should also be useful to investigate other related needs that are not fulfilled at the moment, but which could be covered by the project's outcomes. So, it is not only knowing who, but also what they do and what they would like to do. But more importantly it involves getting that precious data from them which we can use to build the Research Information Infrastructure.

In a previous post I wrote about finding potential stakeholders within Oxford complex organisation. I have also written a bit about the research management and research activity data we need from them.
In this post I would like to put these two concepts together.

I would like first to make emphasis on the importance of being able to connect stakeholders and their data between them. Research is an activity which is carried out within a research community. People from that community need to communicate between them, exchange ideas, collaborate, compare their research, assess the uniqueness of their contributions, etc, etc. One way of doing this is by accessing information about research that each other have, information which could reveal interesting opportunities, connections and collaborations that are happening around them.

I have an example that could illustrate this. During this "making sense of chaos" stage (which is still going on) I have been able to identify some links between units in MedSci and other departments in other divisions as well as with external bodies. I call them paths of cross disciplinary research collaboration. In the figure on the right two paths are shown:

1) Department of Cardiovascular Medicine - Centre for Research Excellence CRE (consists of research groups from across the University) - British Heart Foundation BHF (external funding body)

CRE is funded by BHF and promote cardiovascular research from all areas within Oxford.

2) ComLab (in MPLS) - Computational Linguistics Group (interdisciplinary group) - Phonetics Laboratory (Humanities division) - Babylab (MedSci).

I have come to know about some projects and collaborations happening across this path.

Like these two examples there could be many more paths out there which could be made visible through their data and BRII. Samples of paths like the above and other areas in MedSci will be good examples as they represent the heterogeneity of research in Oxford. Heterogeneous data will help BRII create richer ontologies which represent a variety of stakeholders and research their activity data in Oxford. Similarly, getting documented needs from a variety of stakeholders will help us to design web services which can demonstrate different uses.

BRII's expected output is a pilot of the research information infrastructure. Creating a pilot means creating a piece of software and data that we could use to demonstrate that the BRII strategy is feasible and useful. Having stakeholders representing different areas within the University (but mainly from Medical Sciences*) will help us to build a pilot which accounts for different kinds of data and needs (not all of them of course). That is, a pilot which can demonstrate a small set of services which account for diverse needs to serve an heterogeneous organisation.

* The Medical Sciences division is BRII's main stakeholder.

Monday, 16 February 2009

What is Research Management Data?

BRII's aim is to develop an infrastructure that captures research management information from different sources, which are published or which are classified as appropriate for open publication, and allow their sharing or dissemination in different contexts. As I mentioned in my previous post, I am planning a stakeholder analysis (which I hope to start soon!) to identify stakeholders and their needs in relation to research management data. Some stakeholders will also be sources of information. For example, BRII could use information in departmental websites, databases, or other kinds of documentation.

How do I know what information is relevant? BRII needs every sort of information that comes under the umbrella title of research management data.
So, then, what is research management data? In general terms, Research Management data could be defined as the metadata about research. This is not the data collected, processed or generated by the research process itself. It is the data that identifies each research activity, its components, elements, members and relationships. It tells you the who, what, when, where (and why?) of research in an institution.
Developing this definition more gets difficult in Oxford due to its organisational complexity. Different divisions, departments, units would have different perspectives which could depend on the aspects of research and/or the research fields they are involved with. These differences are also intensified by their autonomy, having independent business processes each. Also each unit will own different kinds of information, which are hosted in different sources and in different formats. Some could be written on yellow post-its stuck on somebody's whiteboard!

Anyway, the uses of research management data could be enormous. Two examples: external funding entities could use these data to assess research proposals and funded research. The data could also be used to produce reports for the Research Assessment Exercise (R.A.E.) or the future Research Excellence Framework (R.E.F.).

Besides my work at identifying potential stakeholder names, I also need to identify the kinds of information that I will need from them which equals to: the kinds of information that are relevant and available and that would be useful for our potential users. I am sketching a sort of map of research management data, from what I know about research and from what I have read so far since I took this post. What I have so far is the following list:

Research activity data: purpose or research, research field, research outcomes, website, institutional links, connections/collaborations with other research activities, Bids/Proposals, plans, research progress reports, project evaluation reports, other research proposals generated, people&roles, facilities, resources, technology, etc.

Social Data: people based (researchers, postsdocs, admin, etc) CVs, Bios, Publications, Interests, websites, etc.

Financial data: information about funding bodies, grants, budgets, time scales, extensions, overheads, etc.

Spatial/Geographical data*: where are people, projects located, laboratories, facilities, etc who works near who, who has access to facilities, etc.

Research Logs - things that happen in a project, issues, rules, changes in strategy --> don't think this would be classified as appropriate for open publication though

So one of my objectives will be to ask for these kinds of content in whatever format they are, and also, of course, I will need to ask stakeholders if they think there is something I should add to this list.

* Spatial/geographical data is a potential area for collaboration with the EREWHON project

Note: since I wrote this post the BRII team decided to use the term Research Activity data to describe data that will be harvested. Data from interviews from the stakeholder analysis and feedback from other sources shows that Research Activity data represents the kind of information which is usually made available online and which is of interest for most of our stakeholders.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Making sense of chaos

The Medical Sciences division (MedSci) in Oxford University is BRII's main stakeholder. BRII will work with several departments within that division and target data in their websites which have already been published or which are classified as appropriate for open publication. These data will be harvested, classified (using taxonomies and ontologies) and aggregated. Finally BRII will create a series of web services to expose the aggregated data, including a University Blue Pages supporting at least four biomedical departments.

How do I start all this work?
I will start by carrying out a stakeholder analysis.
A first stage in this stakeholder analysis would be to make sense of the Medical Science division organisational structure and dynamics of their research work. I have met with some people in that division who are helping me with that.

Building a picture of that division will help me to identify different profiles or roles which are related to research work and I hope to identify all or most research relevant roles. Then I will have to identify key people in each role through whom I can contact other people for the interviews. If I can do that I will have better chances at getting richer information from the interviews which covers all the spectrum of perspectives on the work carried out there and on the data that is available. Also, having richer information will allow us design an umbrella of new uses for that data.

Another parameter I will be using for contacting people, is the availability of online content. Several web sites within MedSci already contain valuable information which can be harvested by BRII. So the strategy is to find those sites (and the people who administer them) and connect that with my strategy for looking for stakeholders for the interviews and then with the outcomes of the interviews.

So far I have been able to draw the picture on the right, which shows how big this division is. The MedSci division has departments and within departments there are units or research groups (these are interchangeable terms). There are also Institutes and Themes which consist of research work carried out by people belonging/working in different departments and some times who belong/work* in other divisions (cross disciplinary work). This diagram is still work in progress. There are units and themes which are not represented there.

In my last meeting with Anne Bowtell, MedSci Project Manager and Web Manager, we talked about potential places/areas where I could look for stakeholders for the interviews and sources of information. These are encircled in the diagram. What is interesting is that as far as she knows these encircled areas have connections with other areas within the division, within Oxford University and also with external entities. Some connections are represented in the diagram. It could be as well that some information related to their work is hosted (or duplicated) by web sites in other departments. So the stakeholder analysis will involve looking for those hidden - lost connections. I have also drawn this huge blue bubble on the right-bottom, which represents the Oxford University Research Services. They are an administrative, central unit dealing with research carried out everywhere in Oxford Uni. Obviously they are potential source of rich research management data for us.

Also, there are other potential sources of information, areas which are already or will collaborate with ORA, the Oxford Research Archive Service, which is as well another source of data for BRII.

* These are ethereal concepts in Oxford, as the same person can be associated to different units, areas, etc, in terms of research, finances, administration, etc, etc, etc.... and also their personal, research work information could be located in one, two or all of these associated areas.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

A bit more about BRII

I am new in this post so I have been reading everything that comes to my hands which is related to this and similar projects in Oxford University. That includes websites and other kinds of documentation. For example, the project proposal and project plan which were written for JISC - the funders of the project - way before I joined the team. A summary of those is presented in our Project Website. I have also found the PowerPoint presentation below very informative. It explains the reasons for starting this project. The presentation was designed by Sally Rumsey BRII's Project Manager. From the presentation you can see there is a gap in data provision and lot's of inficiencies at managing research management information at Oxford. One of the main reasons for this would be the University's federated structure, with extreme unit independence and autonomy which leads to lack of communication between them.

Reading this documentation helps me to build my own picture of the context of the project, the needs it will be fulfilling and to understand my role in the project in detail.

As I see it the BRII project has two sides. One is the technical side which involves the creation of an infrastructure consisting of research management data digital repositories - harvested from different sources within Oxford - and a series of web services which will reuse those data in new contexts and for new purposes. The other side is the Advocacy side which will involve a stakeholder and a user-needs analysis. The aims of these will be to identify sources of data for the repository, establish connections between the people and objects represented by that data and establish new uses for that data based on the needs of our stakeholders. Both sides of the coin aim at gathering, collecting, and conecting together information from different areas in Oxford without interfering with the University's business processes.

I have also come across this interesting project called Scoping digital repository services for research data management... it's a long name but it is a big project as well. They are looking at digital repositories for research data generated at Oxford (as opposed to research management data which is the target of the BRII project.)

Monday, 2 February 2009

Welcome to the BRII Blog

Welcome to the Building the Research information Infrastructure (BRII) Blog. My name is Cecilia Loureiro-Koechlin, I am the Project Analyst for BRII. I work for the Systems and eResearch Service (SERS) part of the Oxford University Library Services (OULS). I am based at Osney One, Osney Mead in Oxford, a nice, quiet building not very far from the city centre.

The BRII project aims to gather research management information from divisions and departments of Oxford University so it may be available for a variety of different purposes. We will begin this task by undertaking a stakeholder and a user-needs analysis with the Medical Sciences division.

Due to its complexity and variety of activities that involve more than 20 departments and several hundreds of researchers the study of the Medical Sciences division will provide very valuable insights as to how research is been carried out in Oxford. We anticipate that these insights will influence future iterations of the project.

Data will then be adapted into userfriendly formats using ontologies and taxonomies based on Semantic Web technologies. We foresee that the data collected will come from disparate sources and in different unimaginable formats! These data would have been created having different purposes in mind and will display different perspectives (depending on who the owner is) as to what is the nature of research and its related activities. What we are trying to do in BRII is to convert all these data into a cohesive and interconnected unique repository of research management information. Using semantic web technologies to do this will allow us to create interconnections between the objects and people represented by the data. These can then be easily exploited by different research and administrative - purposed web services.