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.
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