Digital Platforms for facilitating access to Research Infrastructures
Shared research infrastructures are playing an increasingly important role in most scientific fields and represent a significant proportion of the total public investment in science. This report, published by OECD, includes an analysis of eight case studies of digital platforms that collate information and provide services to promote broader access to, and more effective use of, research infrastructures. Although there is considerable variety amongst the cases, a number of key issues are identified that can help guide policy-makers, funders, institutions and managers, who are interested in developing or contributing to such platforms.
Improving the provision of, and access to, research infrastructures (RIs), which account for a substantial percentage of public investment in science, is an important policy challenge in most countries. Opening up access to infrastructures can make a significant contribution to Open Science. This requires addressing the needs not only of national research communities but also those of other users, both internationally and from sectors outside of academic research, most notably in industry. A first step in meeting these various needs is collecting, analysing and/or disseminating information on what research infrastructures exist, what they do and how they can be accessed. Digital platforms (meta-data catalogues and associated services) of RIs are an invaluable tool for ascending this first step.
There are a variety of digital RI platforms that have been developed, in a largely ad hoc and uncoordinated manner, over the past two decades and that are more or less used and more or less useful. Some of these started via digitalisation of existing paper records, whereas others began de novo with automated digital data collection and mobile apps in mind from the outset. They cover a range of domains that may be institutionally, geographically or scientifically determined and they have different mixes of sponsors, data providers and users. There is an important distinction between those platforms whose main mission is to provide comprehensive up to date information for analysis and planning and those whose function is more that of a service provider with a brokering role, although in practice many initiatives attempt to fulfil both functions to some extent.
This report is based on an in-depth analysis of eight case studies, representative of different types of digital RI platform from different countries. Information was collected on key aspects of the design and functioning of these eight platforms, using a questionnaire survey and follow-up interviews. This was then analysed in terms of the different phases of the life-cycle of a platform (conceptualisation through to evaluation) and key aspects of aims, design and functioning.
Despite the tremendous variety and limited sample size, there were a number of issues that consistently came to the fore and which need to be addressed at the policy and/or
operational level in order to develop efficient, effective and sustainable digital RI platforms. These key issues are listed below and expanded on in more detail at the end of this report.
- Landscape analysis – many RI databases and platforms already exist and before developing new ones a thorough analysis of the existing landscape should be performed.
- Platform objectives need to be clearly defined at the outset in consultation with key stakeholders (data providers, users and sponsors).
- Do not underestimate data-related work, including definitions and standards, data acquisition and engagement with providers, data maintenance and data expansion.
- Platform services depend on a solid data foundation and must be designed to meet user needs.
- Both data and platform services are assets and serious consideration should be given to how to create value from these assets. A well-defined business model, including value propositions for different actors, can provide a foundation for future evaluation and long-term sustainability.
- Emerging digital tools are opening up new possibilities for automation and efficiency gains as well as service provision. However, their development and adoption require forward planning and investment.
- International co-operation around definitions, standards and interoperability is necessary.