Next Generation Research Environments – recommendations and next steps

Background

At the end of 2016 we launched the latest co-design challenge. Two of the challenges had a research focus and aim to address some of the fundamental issues universities are facing with the advances of technology in research – Digital Skills for Research and Next Generation Research Environments. Following a period of consultation and community feedback, where support was shown for each challenge, both of these challenges were taken forward to the next discovery stage.

This post is an update on the Next Generation Research Environments’ discovery phase. The general message that came across, based on the feedback we received, was that this is an area that is important to tackle, but that we are at an early stage of understanding the problem and the potential solutions. To look into this in more depth, the next step was to work with a consultant with a brief to “Investigate the needs and requirements for a next generation research environment”. The main activities were to interview all voters and relevant experts to understand the requirements for a next generation research environment, bring this information together into a report and, from this information, make a number of recommendations as to what Jisc should do to support this challenge.

Report and Recommendations

The report is now available in the Jisc repository and makes a number of clear recommendations. These are as follows:

Recommendation 1: Jisc should not attempt to develop any kind of “NGRE as a service”. The clear message from interviewees is that NGREs will be extremely diverse, and made up of components operated by a very wide range of actors, and connected with each other in very varied ways. This does not lead itself to a service provision model.

Recommendation 2: Jisc should not attempt to develop domain-specific research platforms. This is best undertaken by the research community itself, and is best supported by a model that funds these researchers.

Recommendation 3: Jisc should not attempt to develop a cross-domain research platform as a service. Rather, it should continue to seek opportunities to engage with these platforms as they are developed elsewhere, to promote the adoption of concepts and standards that are beneficial to Jisc’s customers (see also recommendations 6-8).

Recommendation 4: Jisc should continue to support, where appropriate, the development of the underpinning standards and identifiers that are necessary to develop platforms and frameworks.

Recommendation 5: Jisc should consider the development of research environments – and the fit of its own services within research environments – on a global scale. International collaboration in research is the norm, and systems must be designed to support this. Jisc should continue to be involved in international activities that share experience, or support the development or harmonisation of approaches internationally.

Recommendation 6: Jisc should consider interactions with research platforms and frameworks as part of the design of all its services. Jisc’s services are part of the research environment, and by ensuring that these can be easily integrated into diverse VREs, e-Infrastructures, and platforms, they will be able to form key parts of the vision of NGREs.

Recommendation 7: Jisc should actively consider the integrations of its developmental Research Data Shared Service with other elements of the research environment. In particular, there appears to be demand for closer integrations between active research data and archival research data.

Recommendation 8: Jisc should seek opportunities to use the “University of Jisc” test environment to test or develop integrations between research environments and administrative systems. Jisc should monitor whether any research platform or framework should become part of the UoJ.

Actions

We’ve looked at these recommendations, discussed them within Jisc and determined that there are a number of actions that Jisc should pursue:

  • Perhaps the most important of these recommendations is that there is no demand for Jisc to develop a research environment as a service. It is clear that any research environment will be made up of diverse components from a wide range of providers.
  • Jisc should continue to engage with international groups working on developing VREs (including Science Gateways, Virtual Laboratories, e-Lab Notebooks) and promote the adoption of concepts, standards and identifiers that are beneficial to Jisc members.
  • Ensure Jisc services are developed in such a way that they can be integrated or accessed via APIs and standard interfaces as much as possible.
  • Present Jisc services to different stakeholders in such a way that researchers, for example, are more aware of what is on offer.
  • Investigate work required in the Research Data Shared Service project for closer integration between active and archival research data, and for integrating research data and research administrative data, testing this within the University of Jisc test environment. Jisc should monitor whether any research platform or framework should become part of the University of Jisc.

Feedback

Do you agree or disagree? We’re interested in your opinions and continuing the discussion so please leave a comment here, tweet using the hashtag #codesign17 or email Christopher Brown.

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