2015 is likely to be the pivotal year for ORCID iDs in the UK and I like to think that I’ve played some small part in that. Since the Jisc Researcher Identifier task group first advocated ORCID iDs a couple of years ago there have been some major developments which have come to fruition at about the same time. Perhaps the highest profile is the recent publication of The Metric Tide: Report of the Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management, which is the culmination of over a years’ work looking into all aspects of the use (and abuse) of metrics in research assessment. It should be remembered that the report is only advisory, but it is hoped that its recommendations will be heeded by the various organizations in the sector.
One theme of the report is the importance of metrics being trustworthy, and that they can only be so if the underlying data and infrastructure is pervasive. A necessary component of a robust research information landscape is unique (permanent, disambiguated, etc) identifiers for the various elements in that landscape. Obviously researchers (and other contributors) are a key element and so a global identifier system for people is crucial. Hence recommendation 10 (of 20) that the report makes is specifically about ORCID iDs:
10. The UK research system should take full advantage of ORCID as its preferred system of unique identifiers. ORCID iDs should be mandatory for all researchers in the next REF. Funders and HEIs should utilise ORCID for grant applications, management and reporting platforms, and the benefits of ORCID need to be better communicated to researchers. (HEIs, UK HE Funding Bodies, funders, managers, UUK, HESA)
This is a really strong recommendation. It not only indicates the usefulness of unique identifiers in information systems (such as in recommendation number 11, which advocates the increased use of ISNIs as organizational identifiers), it specifically suggests that ORCID iDs should be mandated in the national Research Excellence Framework (the REF). The ‘next-REF’ will be consulted on later this year and, if the sector agrees, then ORCID iDs will be mandated for the next exercise (submissions expected in 2019). This seems like a long way off but, when the Portuguese federal funder made ORCID iDs mandatory for submission of funding applications, there was an avalanche of researchers registering for their iD. The same is likely to happen in the UK, because there is nothing like a REF requirement to get the attention of UK researchers. Am I confident that this will happen? Yes! Why? Well, apart from the report being commissioned by HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council of England), they were also represented on the steering group through the very sensible and knowledgeable Dr Steven Hill; he can see a “no brainer” decision when presented with one. One thing that academics really hate (and with good reason), is having to provide the same information more than once. If you are reading this blog I won’t need to explain how ORCID iDs can help alleviate this issue.
So that is the first part of the ‘perfect storm’ for ORCID iDs. Another piece in the puzzle has been showing how easy they are to use and to incorporate into UK research information systems (CRISs) and processes. As part of a joint venture, Jisc and ARMA supported eight pilot institutions to do just that last year, all either looking at different aspects of implementation or taking different approaches (for example mandating versus advocating). The final report from the Jisc-ARMA ORCID Pilot project also strongly recommends that the UK funders mandate ORCID iDs, and shows that research organizations can easily meet this requirement.
Indeed the Wellcome Trust has already paved the way with their recent announcement that from, August 1, grant applicants must include their ORCID iD. I hope that RCUK and other UK funders will soon follow suit and there are promising signs that they will, for example in the recent announcement that Researchfish (used by RCUK – Research Councils UK – to collect project output and outcomes) will soon interface with ORCID.
Returning to The Metric Tide report, recommendation 12 is also of direct relevance:
12. Publishers should mandate ORCID iDs and ISNIs and funder grant references for article submission, and retain this metadata throughout the publication lifecycle. This will facilitate exchange of information on research activity, and help deliver data and metrics at minimal burden to researchers and administrators. (Publishers and data providers)
Again this is a strong recommendation, which will improve the quality of the underlying research information landscape hugely, by allowing rich metadata collected at article submission to flow through into the final published version, obviating the need for unreliable text mining (although of course unique identifiers improves this too). There is no current global standard for grant reference numbers, but the combination of funder (ISNI) and grant reference (hopefully unique to funder) is sufficient.
Finally, I am heartened to see that my own profession of research management and administration is recognized in the report (although, as one of the authors, I may well have had a hand in this). Recommendation 3 highlights that we are at the centre of the research information endeavor:
3. Research managers and administrators should champion these principles and the use of responsible metrics within their institutions. They should pay due attention to the equality and diversity implications of research assessment choices; engage with external experts such as those at the Equality Challenge Unit; help to facilitate a more open and transparent data infrastructure; advocate the use of unique identifiers such as ORCID iDs; work with funders and publishers on data interoperability; explore indicators for aspects of research that they wish to assess rather than using existing indicators because they are readily available; advise senior leaders on metrics that are meaningful for their institutional or departmental context; and exchange best practice through sector bodies such as ARMA. (Managers, research administrators, ARMA)
I hope this post goes some way towards “advocate[ing] the use of unique identifiers such as ORCID iDs”! My colleagues and I are poised to pick up the gauntlet and help improve the research information landscape, so that, when we and others see metrics, we know what they mean. Whether as research managers and administrators, librarians, IT, HR, policymakers, funders, publishers, or – most importantly – academic and research staff, we must all work together to produce responsible metrics, as the various recommendations in The Metric Tide indicate. Until then there will, I’m sure, be plenty of interesting reading on the Responsible Metrics blog.