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Learning from end-users at Eu-SPRI

At the annual Eu-SPRI conference, held in Vienna at the AIT earlier this month, RISIS members took part in a number of sessions, discussing the use of the RISIS datasets and platforms.

One session was dedicated to a consultation with the end-users of RISIS, designed to identify ways in which RISIS can better support the research community. Co-chairs, Emanuela Reale and Philippe Laredo report

 

“Data-driven and evidence-based approaches are fundamental to promote excellence research, and to respond to social grand challenges. Research infrastructures are transforming the ways in which social science research is organised and conducted across Europe and both national and international level.

Research infrastructures allow the combined use of different data that are dispersed and fragmented across many different products and systems; several benefits are expected from integrating datasets, making them available to the wide community of scientists. These range from improving the possibility to develop innovative research results, to establishing broader networking, to enabling people from different countries to access and to contribute themselves to the data improvements.

The opening of research infrastructures allows us to meet compelling moral and ethical requirements, demanded by research funding organizations, because of the need to demonstrate the relevance and impact of research funding to the broadest group of external stakeholders. But it will also require a huge amount work to provide users with access to data, by structuring appropriate documentation, and developing standard and technical platforms to improve the capability of users to address complex research issues.

 

The aim of our session at Eu-SPRI was to develop an understanding of what kind of experiences colleagues, peers and academics belonging to RISIS and non-RISIS research organizations, have had within RISIS, and the need of future developments. Researchers, junior and senior, who have been involved in visiting the research facilities and in training activities, as end users of the RISIS infrastructure, discussed the actual and potential benefits they faced from the use of combined and integrated data, what transformations or empowerment they experienced in the research work, and what suggestions they have to further improve the access and use of data.

Key questions were:

  • How can research infrastructure promote cutting-edge research in STI studies?
  • What is the potential of RISIS, and what transformations of the research work can derive from using the research infrastructure RISIS?
  • What is missing from RISIS? What more do researchers need?

The debate outlined the value of infrastructures as enablers for new and unexpected evolutions of research activities, improving the capabilities of analysis, extending the scope of scholars’ investigations, and providing a redistributive effect of opportunities for research overcoming problems deriving from the imbalances between rich and less rich countries.

Examples of data integration were discussed, for instance in the case of mapping the co-occurrences of priority patents applied for worldwide between 2000 and 2005 (see picture), which would not be possible without RISIS. Also, the participants from the EMBRIC project pointed out the interest to exchange with new networks of scholars in different fields of science by the way of data and visiting. Visits and training were highlighted as very important means to let people from outside the RISIS community to get in touch with infrastructures for STI research and find opportunities for establishing collaborations.

Furthermore, two key items were discussed. On the one hand, how to guarantee the long-term sustainability of the research infrastructures, which needs important investments both in terms of time and money to maintain them, and to organize for external and distant access. The issue is also related to the problem of integrating additional data coming from users, which might add new resources to the existing ones. Here the role of integrating tools such as the Register of Research and Higher Education Organizations (OrgReg) was the base of further exchange about the need of standards to keep new information inside RISIS.

On the other hand, the possibility of identifying new potential users of the RISIS infrastructure beyond academia emerged in the debate. Funding Agencies, policy makers and buffer organizations are all stakeholders with an interest in the data and analysis offered through RISIS for purposes linked to evidence-based policy making and strategic priority-setting. Here different views emerged, and the policy actors’ needs were discussed against the importance of having a proper use of data deriving from research. In fact, raw data cannot be used for policy making because they are likely to provide misleading results, when users are not aware of their limitations in terms of analysis they can supply. Data deriving from research needs to be mediated by scholars for policy purposes. Also, the issue of private datasets developed on the basis of internal resources of organizations was recalled, which is an important item to be consider, when the exploitation goes beyond the normal scholarly collaboration in knowledge production.

The session definitely helped to share insights on how can we learn about infrastructures and what we can learn through infrastructures, receiving new and unexpected advantages from the integration of different datasets and opening possibilities for collaborations.”

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