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Review of Jisc equipment data harvesting – report published

Jisc commissioned Research Consulting to undertake a review of institutional and supplier systems workflows, including identifying institutional sources of truth for equipment data records, in order to optimise data harvesting for the Equipment Data Service (EDS). The project took place between February and April 2024 and involved interviews, written contributions and a workshop webinar.

The report has been published and is available to read here:

Key findings

Over 10 years have passed since the initial requirements from UKRI to share information on research equipment. Since then, the Equipment Data Service (EDS), now managed by Jisc, has been developed to support institutions in meeting this requirement. Currently around 60 research performing organisations and over 20,000 equipment items are listed on the EDS, but the process of data harvesting and upload is not ideal.

Gathering and sharing data about research equipment has an important role in the UK’s research ecosystem. It enables compliance with funder requirements and facilitates proactive sharing of equipment and collaboration, both within academia and with other sectors, including business, SMEs and public sector organisations. Data about equipment can also provide a tool for managing equipment within institutions, developing local equipment portfolios and assisting in the prioritisation of projects and investment for the strategic development of research infrastructure nationally and regionally.

Key findings from the project include:

  • Data about research equipment is highly varied, both in terms of the approaches taken within institutions and the quality of data.
  • Low levels of integration between systems are common, with many examples of multiple datasets alongside manual processes and workflows for capturing and managing data.
  • The funder mandate remains the primary driver for sharing information about research equipment, though there are opportunities to encourage collaboration via research equipment.
  • Research equipment data can form part of open data initiatives, building on work such as the PIDINST metadata schema for instrumentation.

Exploring potential options

The review identified two potential strategic directions for Jisc and the community to consider for the long-term development of the service:

  • To extend functionality such that individual institutions could use a protected / confidential area of the EDS to manage their equipment internally, providing access to a range of internal users, as a tool that supports a low-cost service to universities to manage their equipment portfolio and compliance with funder requirements.
  • To enhance the contextualisation of equipment data to more effectively support collaboration, observing that some institutional and regional systems already include equipment alongside people, projects and outputs. This is observed as a long-term direction of travel that could be considered in the development of the EDS, with institutional and national aspects.

In the shorter-term, the review has identified a number of potential actions and improvements of the EDS, its interface with institutional data and its support and engagement with the wider user community.

These include:

  • Improving the EDS search functionality, which would involve updating the metadata schema;
  • Improving clustering and expression of hierarchical relationships, such as department, discipline, facility, and purpose (for example, supporting the activity of a specific regional consortium of institutions, such as N8);
  • Implementing the API link for harvesting data from Pure and gathering this into the EDS;
  • Considering options for supporting Kit Catalogue and its users, as a currently unmaintained open-source system for managing equipment data, noting that for some institutions it may currently appear to be the only “free or cheap” alternative to managing equipment data in a spreadsheet and particular concerns that without urgent (but not necessarily extensive) maintenance it may soon cease to function; and
  • Considering options for including equipment-related systems support within systems specifications in Jisc’s procurement framework, the Research Management Systems DPS.

Next steps

The Equipment Data service was upgraded in January 2023. This report now gives us a good grounding in the workflows among which the service operates, and the challenges that remain. We are now considering viability and options for the service in light of the recommendations. This will include consulting and prioritising options with the equipment data community user group, and ensuring that any actions we take do help the sector achieve the desired outcomes, while minimising any unnecessary bureaucracy or administrative burden.

The above post was written collaboratively with Angharad Roberts from Research Consulting.

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