Research analytics service: Defining the problems and refining potential solutions

Introduction

Jisc members are increasingly looking at the opportunities of using data to inform their planning and the way they pursue their own diverse missions. At Jisc, we’ve been looking at the potential of analytics services related to research that can support universities in making better decisions. In a recent blog post – Jisc, research analytics and metrics – Neil Jacobs gave an overview of such analytics services provided by Jisc and the potential of research analytics. This year we’ve been looking again at what Jisc can offer. Already, our Analytics Lab team have worked with academics, university professionals and research funders to prototype research analytics dashboards in the areas of research impact and reproducibility, sector workforce, equality, diversity and inclusion, estates planning, and the impact of Brexit. 

Research Analytics Service 

Following an internal audit of Jisc services, that are or might be relevant to research analytics, we are now looking to define what a research analytics service from Jisc would look like and what sources of data could be used to help to solve some of the problems identified by our members and stakeholders. A research analytics service offer from Jisc is not limited in scope to data just from Jisc services and might also be based on data from HEI services, and/or third party (sector and commercial organisations, etc) sources as well. A significant factor in focussing on research analytics now is Jisc’s closer integration with HESA. We want to develop a research analytics service similar to the way we developed a learning analytics service. However, prior to starting a project to develop such a service, we will be running a short discovery phase, working with our members and funders to explore the options for a coherent Jisc offer.  

Discovery Phase 

The main purpose of the discovery phase is to define the problems in research analytics and refine potential solutions, which might then be developed as a research analytics service. This phase is split into two parts: 

Problem definition 

In this stage we engage with stakeholders and around 5 institutions as case studies to discover insight into the problems around research analytics and then define the area to focus on, refining down to smaller, more manageable problems that can act as the starting point to possible solutions. A key part of this phase will be to determine whether to focus on a discrete Jisc product or on a more sector-wide programme including other organisations, a wider community, advice and guidance, relationships with commercial organisations, etc. This work needs to be seen in the context of Research England’s plans about the future of research assessment, the Metric Tide report and the Forum for Responsible Research Metrics. Some of the areas where we foresee a possible role for research analytics might include: 

  • Developing research strategy and planning
  • Understanding and evaluating research performance
  • Strengthening collaboration and knowledge exchange
  • Preserving research integrity
  • Promoting compliance with legal, regulatory or funder requirements
  • Supporting researcher development and career progression

Solution refining 

Once we have defined the problem(s) we will look at the possible solutions that could be designed to solve these problems and narrow down the ones Jisc should pursue. Narrowing down the solutions requires defining what data are in scope. What is the impact of different data models, such as interoperable services using open standards and proprietary systems with inaccessible data? What freedom does Jisc have to operate in this area? Do they align with the Jisc strategy and research strategy? What is the rationale for Jisc to act on the problem? It will require collecting evidence on which Jisc can make an informed decision on developing any solution.  

There is the possibility that there is no solution to develop and, therefore, nothing for Jisc to do. This situation would still be a valid outcome from this phase, but the evidence and supporting outputs will be produced to clarify this decision. However, any valid solution will require an outline of how Jisc could pursue that solution. This would include some initial thoughts on business model, vision, competitive landscape, alignment with political and international landscape, and technical approach. 

To ensure that the discovery phase is a success we will be engaging with Jisc members and funders (including the UK research base through UKRI, Research England, HESA, Universities UK, Russell Group, RLUK, SCONUL, ARMA, the Forum for Responsible Research Metrics, and library bodies, national academies and learned societies). We will be working closely with Research Consulting who are supporting Jisc in this discovery project.