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ForSci – a repository for the forensic science community

Helen Kara by Helen Kara We Research It

Jisc is looking at how it can use the repository infrastructure currently being built for the research data shared service to meet use cases outside the traditional university institutional repository. In our first case we are working with the forensic science community to gather requirements for a research outputs repository for undergraduate and postgraduate students. Helen Kara summarises a survey from this community and highlights a requirements gathering workshop for this resource in Manchester on 29th June.

This is my first post for Jisc, I haven’t worked with forensic scientists before, and I have learned that they like to discuss things like corpse decomposition rates and ways to take samples from skin. While such topics may seem unsavoury to some, they are of course very important in supporting the justice system. And it turns out that a lot of potentially very useful research in such areas is being done by university students, but is not being collected or indexed. So some movers and shakers in the forensic science community enlisted help from Jisc in working towards an online repository for that research, and Jisc enlisted help from me.

Our first step was to conduct an online survey. The idea was to find out whether the wider community supported this idea and, if so, what kind of repository they would prefer. We received 100 responses, with a good spread of gender, academics and practitioners, those who teach and those who don’t. Two-thirds of responses came from England (n=67), with a surprising one-quarter (n=24) from around the world.

Over 90% of respondents said they would value a repository. The main reasons were: it would enable knowledge-sharing and staying up to date, increase accessibility of useful and current research, and be useful for students. Most people would use it to find out whether a topic has already been researched (87%), look for potential collaborators (66%), or in support of current casework (53%).

This high level of agreement gives a clear mandate for action. There was a good level of agreement in some other areas, too. However, there were six aspects of the putative repository on which there was much less agreement. These aspects were: licensing, security, registration level, assessment of deposits, embargoes, and workflow.

Creative Commons licensing is an obvious starting place to look at licensing for outputs. There are six levels of licensing, from the least restrictive (Attribution: work can be adapted and used in any context, even commercial, as long as the author is credited) to the most restrictive (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives: commercial use is not permitted and no changes may be made, though the work can still be downloaded and shared as long as the author is credited). The majority of respondents opted for the least restrictive, the most restrictive, or the third least restrictive option.

We didn’t ask a specific question about security, but concerns were raised in some of the open answers about security for both material deposited and personal information collected from repository users.

Most people thought material intended for deposition should receive an independent assessment of its quality before being accepted. But there was little agreement about who should make this assessment, and how. Should it be a university external examiner or a completely independent person? Should they use set criteria to be signed off, or make a fully independent assessment?

Most people wanted a flexible embargo period for material deposited with the repository.

ForSci Survey 2017

However, there was little agreement about the optimal length of embargoes, or about the criteria for them, though it seems at least one criterion should relate to commercial and/or professional sensitivities.

Again, we didn’t ask a question about submission to publication workflows as such, though we did ask questions about some aspects of workflow such as metadata (terms that can be used to search and filter material in the repository). Answers to these, and some of the responses to open questions, demonstrated a low level of agreement about how the repository should be operated and managed.

The good news is that we have arranged a workshop to discuss and resolve these outstanding questions. It will be on Thursday 29 June, from 10-4.30, in central Manchester. Discussions at the workshop will help to shape the repository that Jisc will then go on to commission. This repository has the potential to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the forensic science community: in universities and in practice, whether teaching or studying, working or researching. We would love you to come and help us to do this well. You can register for the workshop here. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Helen Kara is an independent researcher, founder and Director of We Research It Ltd, and author of books and journal articles on research methods. She is a Visiting Fellow at the National Centre for Research Methods. In October 2015 she was the first fully independent researcher to be conferred as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.