Friday, 11 September 2009

Making Sense of Research Activity Information

This week I attended the Operational Research OR51 conference at the University of Warwick. This is a big conference for the OR people. A very exciting event. I gave a presentation in the Information Systems stream, having previously submitted an abstract. We started conference activities on Tuesday morning, but there was dinner and a wine tasting welcome event on Monday evening. :)

The information systems stream was opened by Nick Davey, IBM Delivery leader with a presentation on Client Relationships.

I followed then. My presentation was titled: Making Sense of Research Activity Information. I talked about the findings of the BRII Stakeholder analysis: needs we need to account for and benefits that a tool like the Research Information Infrastructure RII can bring to researchers, administrators, strategists and disseminators. I was a bit ambitious and in the few last seconds of my presentation I suggested and idea for analysing in depth different stakeholders profiles in different contexts (creation and use of research activity data) by using the Model of Enactment of Technologies-in-practice by Orlikowski (i). This is a useful tool, a practice lens as she calls it, to look at the use of technology and the (social) structures that influence its use. These structures are not necessarily inscribed or embeded in the technology by designers but surround users in their daily activities. See the presentation and abstract below.

Note: the last slide is just an example of how agents and contexts can be modeled by using the model of enactment of technologies-in-practice. By separating the issues in each of the boxes (interpretative scheme, norms and facilities) we can understand better why technologies are used the way they are used. Understanding all these issues within the context of the University of Oxford would help us to design tools that use information about research activities in the ways our users find most relevant and useful.


Oxford University is a research-intensive institution. Research is carried out individually or in groups; within one subject field or in cross disciplinary collaborations. It also crosses organisational boundaries to other universities in the UK and abroad. Research expertise, resources and outcomes vary from discipline to discipline. Information about research activities is published in websites using independent systems belonging to academic units, research centres, institutes, projects and individual researchers. These systems and information have been designed to fulfil the individual needs of each area or research activity and accounting for outside needs is beyond their aims. Seen all together they look like fragmented, dispersed systems resembling Oxford’s federated, complex structure. From such heterogeneous sources of information it is very difficult to obtain a clear picture of research done in the University.

Research activity information needs to be visible and easy to access to increase the research impact of the institution, and to boost collaboration and funding. Efforts are being made to create a research information infrastructure to collect research activity data from around the University, to classify and connect those sources and to make them available in a consistent and organised way. This paper explores the perspectives and issues related to the use of research activity information and the systems through which this information can be made visible and kept updated in an accurate and consistent way. The paper is focused on a stakeholder analysis done on a sample of Oxford academic and administrative units involved in research and related activities.

Anyway, conference was good, saw many interesting presentations. We also went on a Shakespeare tour around Stratford upon avon :)

(i) Orlikowski developed her model of enactment of technologies-in-practice based on Giddens' ideas of structuration.
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