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Next steps for the Jisc digital research community

In December we ran the first event of the new Jisc digital research community and published a discussion paper outlining possible aims for the community. The webinar and paper were the culmination of six months’ of discussion within the community’s council, a core group of over twenty volunteers representing various parts of the research community. In this post we’ll give an update on the webinar and invite further comments before we plan the next steps for the community. 

All the event resources including a recording, presentations and a full transcript are available on the event page.

There were over 300 bookings and over 180 attendees for the lively session, with attendees coming from a variety of backgrounds in research and research support: 

Attendees were asked which of the following roles described them best - this image summarises the answers: Research 11%, Research manager 12%, Library staff 35%, IT / RSE / Infrastructure engineer 16%, Society/institute rep 1%, Publisher 3%, Research developer 2%, Other 21%
Which of the following roles describes you best? Click to enlarge

Speakers

Dr Victoria Moody, Jisc’s research strategy lead, gave an overview of Jisc’s updated research strategy and findings from recent focus groups with national funders and academies that informed the strategy.

Victoria asked “where is Jisc best place to support research? We focus on seven themes which start from the perspective of researcher, institution and funder and build from there, requiring different configurations of provision and response to an increasingly demanding and agile research environment”. Jisc’s full research and innovation strategy has now been released.

For Victoria, the research community is the key to addressing questions around how leading edge technology will inform the development of the research environments for the longer term. 

Professor Balbir Barn, professor of software engineering, deputy dean, faculty of science and technology, Middlesex University London, outlined how the ongoing process of digitalisation of universities could impact on and shape the future of research environments from an operational and research viewpoint. The importance of tools, data and simulation-based research experimentation and the idea of the “digital twin” was emphasised.

Balbir gave an overview of digital transformation within organisations, saying “if universities were competitive organisations in the sense of commercial organisations, as we understand them normally, then, moving to a digital enterprise is all about building competitive advantage. But I think ours is more a co-operative advantage”.

Regarding the community Balbir said “As as a practising researcher, and also as a research  manager I’ve personally got a lot invested in making this community work for me. “

Professor Anne Boddington, professor of design innovation, Kingston University and chair of sub-panel 32 for REF2021. Anne gave her personal perspective on digital pain and digital heaven for researchers.

Anne focussed on culture, equality, diversity and inclusion saying “while I can understand the digital twin, there is nothing like a physical hug and analog and digital and the relationship between them is what I think we need to focus on, but also to ensure that we don’t lose one in looking at the other”.

As well as describing those people who are comfortable in the digital space, Anne went on: “There’s then those who are probably more like me who are really passionate about research, know exactly what I want from the digital space, and can’t get it, and don’t actually need some of the complexities of it. But do really struggle to get to where I want to get to and what I see elsewhere.  

And then those there are those who for whom the digital space is meaningless. The language is abstract at best, inpenetrable in others and actually where both research and the digital space become just a barrier to activity. 

So there are real struggles across that space, which I think are very serious and ones that we have to find ways of unlocking.”

Anne highlighted several areas of ‘digital action’ for the research community, around issues such as equality, diversity and inclusion, digital poverty and open access. 

Chris Awre, interim university librarian and associate director (collections, learning and research), University of Hull, looked at the connections between the use of digital technologies in the library and research areas, highlighting examples of where collaboration has supported these.

“Increasingly, we have to recognize that support for research and support for academics carrying out research is a task that is carried out by a multitude of different support bodies across a University, the library, the IT department, the research office, the skills support that maybe available in graduate schools, staff development, or whatever other titles these bodies have within their organization within different universities and colleges.  I think we’ve got to a stage where we there’s a mutual recognition that we all offer different elements of this.”

As well as bringing these different groups together, one of the things Chris would like to see the community try and explore further is the appropriate policy framework that is meaningful to support digital research “without it becoming a policing set of documents that simply police how digital research would take place, or so overbearing in terms of what they expect people to do in being able to take forward digital research.”

A vision for the community

At the webinar we presented the views of the community council on  the potential and possible activities for the community as well as the key themes it should address:

Purpose of community

  • Bringing communities together – looking outward across disciplines, roles (researchers, research managers, librarians) and sector (industry, heritage). Somewhere that can help to knit initiatives together and connect stakeholders.
  • A place to share research outputs and different examples of using technology for research
  • A place to address issues raised in key themes, possibly through building a toolkit and curating content for the community. Other potential outputs need to be discussed.

Key themes for the community to address

  • The skills agenda. How do we meet the training/development needs of all those involved in the research process: the next generation of researchers, mid-career researchers, research leaders, those that surround researchers and research community (e.g. research managers, librarians)? How do we ensure that what we do locally for training/ CPD/ embedding skills etc can feed into national initiatives? Can we work towards building national standards of what researchers (and others) should know?
  • The policy agenda. The government’s industrial strategy is important, however, how can technology help realise the potential of universities and increase perceived value to policymakers?
  • Interdisciplinarity and mobility. How can technology facilitate forms of mobility (discipline, geography, sector, inclusion)? How can we work together to develop solutions rather than have some areas illustrating to others?
  • Tools and methods for future researchers. How can researchers know about the possibilities of technology and be equipped to use it effectively? Many examples of potential use were highlighted including: modelling, simulation, AI, machine learning, digital twins, tool chains, tools for practice and for open collaboration and dissemination, research 4.0, text mining, remote working and collaboration.
  • Interface between technical skills and needs of researchers. Is the technology too complex or knowledge on use of technology too low? Development of technology and methodology to use it must go hand in hand. If technology is oversimplified, there is a danger of it losing its power – how do we solve this conundrum?
  • Improving the wider research infrastructure. The research ecosystem needs to work together to become more efficient and effective e.g. through use of Persistent Identifiers (PIDs) and metadata to link to resources from research outputs and make these discoverable. We should explore the potential of the repository infrastructure and how it can be better embedded in the UK digital research framework, to better expose open content.
  • Improving visibility of different kinds of research. How can non-standard outputs such as practice research can be captured and made visible? The review of PhD and questioning of book format is relevant.
  • Ethics, research integrity and reproducibility. How to address issues around the ethical use of technology and data? How can technology be used to train ethical practitioners e.g. through use of virtual reality?
  • Dangers of digital poverty. How can we make sure tools are accessible to all? Research aspiring institutions face different challenges to big research intensives. (In the past, Jisc was instrumental in developing capacity in ‘forgotten’ institutions – how can we meet this need now?)

Community priorities 

Attendees then voted on their top three priorities. The final top three areas included improving the wider research infrastructure, the skills agenda, and bridging the interface between technical skills and the needs of researchers.

This images shows the ranking of top 3 key issues by priority: 1st Interface between technical skills and needs of researchers, 2nd The skills agenda, 3rd Improving the wider research infrastructure, 4th Improving the visibility of different kinds of research, 5th Tools and methods for future researchers, 6th Ethics, research integrity and reproducibility, 7th The policy agenda, 8th The dangers of digital poverty, 9th Interdisciplinarity and mobility, 10th The European / international perspective
Top 3 issues by priority – click to enlarge

There were many ideas on the type of activities the community should offer – the full list captured from Menti is below:

  • Working on development of effective and supportive policies
  • Generate understanding across the boundaries and interfaces.
  • Share best practice and solutions around collaboration between library and research office
  • I am interested in this community being a connector of groups and an advocate of ideas.
  • Networking and sharing events (the chat today has been brill)
  • Exploring the way in which digital research differs from ‘traditional;’ research in its practice and application.
  • extend discussions about “research that is outside the text” (@Anne), to improve searchability and discoverability
  • Collaborate with other existing communities in the space
  • sharing best practices
  • share good practice
  • Workshops / webinars to share experiences, topics, etc. Collect use cases of different research environments.
  • Come up with clear guidance on how to support research
  • Design pathways for digital research: who, what, with what training, what interacting technologies
  • Help us understand where local vs national vs international technical solutions are needed
  • Meet and greet events for researchers, librarians and IT professionals for discussing possible collaborations
  • To have tangible goals rather than some ‘airy fairy’ conversation that don’t go anywhere.
  • Digital infrastructure around open research
  • Cut through jargon
  • IT & Library director level collaboration spaces
  • Facilitate collaboration across -digital cultural boundaries
  • Streamline resources (to avoid duplication of efforts)
  • Communicate to others beyond the community
  • Prioritise connecting over inventing
  • Breaking down ‘language barriers’ between sectors and groups
  • Sort out policies – unity and pressure on publishers
  • Fostering partnership and collaboration between researchers and other groups, going beyond service provider – user/customer model.
  • As it is such a wide-ranging community, it is a great opportunity to learn more about each other’s expertise for true collaboration and be open minded
  • Generation of funding sources for this kind of “meta-research” that creates the tools and ecosystems
  • Identify boundaries and skillsets which restrain researcher and work to empower researchers to grapple with these boundaries and build up their skillsets
  • Work on a skills / competencies framework for digital research, based a.o. existing work, e.g. through FAIRsFAIR
  • Practical support
  • Communities of practice that bring together those who are interested but that also connect up with other related areas. And results in tangible actions.
  • Models for organisations to adopt to have those cross-department conversations
  • Build a holistic end to end digital research support and management environment
  • I feel that many discussions will inevitably about minutiae – would like to discuss the bigger picture, and the longer view.
  • sponsor a jargon slayer
  • Dismantle the overwhelming control by white cis men of our research strategy, systems, policies etc
  • Case studies
  • Make outputs easy to understand.
  • Identifying and reviewing potential SaaS / COTS technical options that could offer useful low cost & managed solutions to digital researchers
  • Sharing and developing best practices
  • I think a Teams site would be awesome for informal ways of working together and networking
  • Make goals clearer. Struggling to understand what you’re trying to accomplish
  • Foster interaction across stakeholders to address common questions

We also asked attendees to what extent they would like to get involved in the new community, using stages of the Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement’s participation model (consume, contribute, collaborate, co-create):

Attendees were asked how far they would like to be involved in the community. This image summarises responses (number of people): Consume 18, Contribute 14, Collaborate 30, Co-create 13
How far would you like to be involved in the community (click image to enlarge)

Next steps

The community council will next meet in early March and we aim to review the feedback so far and develop a programme of activities to build the community over the coming months. 

In the meantime, you can give us your thoughts about the community and the discussion paper in several ways: 

 

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