JISC IE and eResearch Call briefing day

Today I’m at a JISC “town meeting” on the recent call for bids in the area of Information Environment and e-Research.  See also the live blog by Andy Powell at http://efoundations.typepad.com/livewire/2008/12/jisc-ie-and-eresearch-call-briefing-day.html

The meeting is essentially a briefing on the call, and a chance to ask questions, and hopefully get some idea of what might make a successful bid. There is lots of admin stuff first – who is eligible, what is expected from the bid – all of this is in the paperwork with the call, and you really need to go through this – this is all the essential stuff for having your bid considered, although a little bit dull!

A new aspect to this circular is that NERC, ESRC and EPSRC have expressed their willingness to work with projects – might be worth having a look at this (para 203).

Now into the meat of the briefing – first up, Matthew Dovey talking about the VRE programme

Phase 1 of the VRE programme looked at VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments), and wondered what a VRE (Virtual Research Environment) would look like. However, on both sides the idea of a ‘single box’ product for VLE or VRE has perhaps moved on – especially on the VRE side. Now the concept of a ‘VRE’ is more about a set of tools/services that support researchers in their work.

Phase 3 of the VRE programme is also about the ‘social’ side of the VRE – the ‘Virtual Research Community’ – building a community of practice about how you use VREs. There is an expectation that funded projects will actively engage with this community – and you should budget for this in the bid. Matthew making sure there is no doubt that this aspect is key to the programme.

Now Frederique van Till (Programme Manager for VRE Programme). She is saying the key for the programme is collaboration and community (as Matthew said). The VRC (Virtual Research Community) should bring together people/projects from phases 1, 2, and 3 (this one) of the programme. The focus is on technical interoperability nationally and institutionally (note the order of those!)

A diagram of the VRE Programme Phase 3 on the screen – not in the bid as it might be confusing (I wonder if it is available anywhere else?). Frederique introducing the idea of ‘Critical Friends’ – someone from outside the project, who is not linked to JISC, to help reflect on the project – these will be assigned to the project – so just be aware of this.

So – the VRE calls are:

B1. VRE Tools and Interoperability – 5 projects, up to £50k each, with projects expected to last 6-12 months (anything up to 2 years will be considered, but you’d have to show the budget would work!)

B2. VRE Frameworks – 4 projects, up to £150k each – up to 2 years

Some mention of Sakai, and ‘commercial’ solutions – look at the VRE phase 1 for starting points – and check eReSS wiki

B3. VRE National and Institutional Interoperability – 3-4 projects, up to £250k, expected to last 2 years

Projects should research both national and institutional interoperability (referred to here as ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’ respectively). Should look at the entire research lifecycle – Resource discovery, repositories, publishing and digital curation are strongly related to VREs – and this is where there is an overlap with the Information Environment projects – especially the A2 strand (see below).

This strand is looking for inter-disciplinary teams – researchers, librarians, programmers, usability experts, etc. etc.

Finally – make sure you build on lessons and work from phase 1 and phase 2, and look at the Strand B briefing note

Some quick questions:

Q: Stressed the importance of national interoperability – what about International interoperability?

A: International angles/collaboration encouraged, but bear in mind that funding is for UK

Q: Publication/Dissemination of research is mentioned in call – how much weight will be given to this?

A: It depends on the bids that come in, and the bids that come in under the IE strand. Looking for imaginative approaches. Interested in improving the process of dissemination (rather than the dissemination of the work from the projects per se)

Back after coffee – now the Information Environment strands of the call – although Rachel Bruce is noting that there will be further calls under the IE programme over the next few months.

Rachel acknowledging that the call has a focus on (institutional) repositories – noting some key projects from the past – e.g. FAIR, and outputs e.g. JORUM.

The current call reflects the move towards integration of digital repositories with other systems – e.g. Research Management systems, VLEs etc. Also network level services on the web – perhaps something that could be emphasised more in the call (says Rachel). Also the current call is looking at practical implementations based on pilots funded in earlier phases of the IE programme. There is an attempt to move focus from technical solutions to looking at the processes involved in research.

Note the DRIVER guidelines (European guidelines on repositories) – you may want to look at whether your project incorporates/exploits these.

As always with JISC calls, focus on ‘open’ – Open Source, Open Access etc. However, also a recognition that some data cannot be open.

Now Amber Thomas noting that the Open Education Resources call will be coming out later this week – over £5million across 3 strands for 12 month pilots, looking at the sustainable release of open learning content – looking at workflows and how practice is embedded. This funding is not for technical tools, or content creation. If you are interested in technical tools you need to be looking at the current call – especially the rapid innovation stuff.

Now Andy McGregor going to talk about:

A1. Automated metadata generation and text mining

Up to 5 projects over 18 months – £225k max per project – projects starting by 1st April 2009.

Metadata creation can be expensive and a lengthy process. With the increase of digital information production, manual creation processes struggle to keep up. Text-mining tools/techniques could help. Specifically the projects are deisgned to test if these tools can be put into practice, and if they can, what difference they make.

Evaluation is vital – need to look at the impact of the tools on the quality of the data and the cost benefit to the institution

N.B. The development of new automated meatadata generation and text mining tools are out of scope.

This is a call I’m quite interested in. My initial thoughts were around the EThOS service, and whether text mining could be applied to this body of text. However, from what Andy is saying, this would not fall into the criteria for this call directly. However, with the move to the submission of E-Theses at Imperial (all PhD theses submitted to Imperial now have to be submitted in electronic and print format), there seems to me to be potential here.

Also, we are buying more e-books – I wonder if there is some potential here?

Andy says bids must address:

  • Processes and content
  • Evaluation
    • Live service – compare the impact of the tools
    • Methodology – quantitative and qualitative – this needs to be made very clear in the bid – how you are going to evaluate impact is key to success – not enough to simply say ‘we will evaluate the effectiveness’
  • Document – need very clear documentation for< /li>
    • Rollout – how would a demonstrator be rolled out/scaled to go into production
    • Possibilities for other institutions – how would others take advantage
  • Hardware/Software
    • What tools are you going to exploit, what HW will you need, how are you going to knit tools together into integrated workflow

Rachel saying that you could be looking at a national level as well – which would bring EThOS back into scope? This needs more thought on my part – and discussion with others, especially current EThOSNet partners if this looks like a way to go.

If anyone else is interested in this area, and has some ideas on possible projects/collaborations please get in touch.

Now Neil Grindly talking about:

A2. Developing e-Infrastructure to support research disciplines

Projects in this strand have the largest amount of funding available – up to £1.35m per project (up to 2 projects, over 3 years)

In summary looking for:

  • Large ambitious prjects with a disciplinary focus
  • Involving collaboration across organisations and requiring varied skills
  • Questioning whether the current e-infrastructure is fit-for-purpose
  • Understanding emerging ways of doing research
  • Providing a number of related benefits to the sector
  • Taking advantage of and enhancing existing research and development
  • Providing sustainable and transferable benefits

Andy again on:

A3. Repositories start-up

These are matched funding projects – need 50% from the institution.

I had an interesting discussion with others at Imperial last week on establishing a Learning Object repository – I wonder if this would be something we could look at under this strand?

We are also trying to come to terms with research data

Andy says:

  • A range of content is in scope – learning materials, grey literature, data, multi-media etc. etc.
  • Must address a need
  • Could be institutional, departmental, disciplinary, etc.
  • It is valid to bid for a repository for a specific purpose, even if you already have one for other reasons – however, would be expected to deal with how repositories will interact
  • Projects will need to deal with technical implemenations, ploicy development, embedding and populating the repository
  • Digitisation or other content creation projects are out of scope
  • Previously funded startup projects are not eligible for further funding

There is lots of existing information in this area from previous startup projects, and the Repository Support Programme (RSP)

Make sure your bid considers:

  • Sustainability
  • Institutional commitment (i.e. you have real users from your community committed to the ideas of the repository)
  • How users needs will be addresses, and how they will be involved in the project
  • Compliance with the conditions set out in section 4 of the briefing document
  • Also look at the OER call if you are interested in making existing content available using existing tools

A4. Rapid Innovation

There are going to be 2 calls – so look out for second round of calls coming in the near future.

Repositories have lots of issues, but present many opportunities – these calls are for experimentation rather than sustainability – “Fail Forward Fast”

Projects that focus on a particular challenge or improvement for an established repository, on interoperability with institutional system or wider web environment, deal with widgets – are all welcome.

This call is about creative and innovative ideas – don’t be limited by the ideas outlined above.

Previous rapid innovation projects are:

  • Fedorazon

Key to these projects are:

  • Good communication – share outcomes/lessons learned
  • Dealing with established repositories/services rather than creating new ones
  • Engagement with the community
  • All staff must be in place for April 2009
  • Aspire to meet requirements in section 4 of the briefing document – but accept this may not always be possible/relevant

A5. Repository Enhancement

Open to all institutions in the UK (rather than HEFCE/HEFCW limits on other strands). Funding up to 22 projects, up to £350k (starting at £80k) over 2 years.

This strand is designed to focus on solving some tackling challenges to repositories:

  • Increasing content
  • Enhancing user experience – possibly with REF, could look at how information is produced
  • Preservation
  • Policy – how this can help embedding repositories – e.g. bringing in a mandate for deposit in the repository would be in scope (sounds interesting)

Look at partnerships with publishers, software suppliers etc. as well as others in education sector

Examples of work sought:

  • Embedding repository with other systems to make deposit easier
  • Interoperation with other institutional systems
  • Improving workflow for OER (Open Educational Resources)
  • Working with metadata
    • Scholarly communication metadata (e.g. ONIX for serials – can we exploit this?)
    • Taking advantage of metadata from elsewhere
    • Capturing metadata at source (e.g. scientific equipment generating material into repository – capture metadata directly)
  • Encouraging deposit

Need to include URL or screenshots for the repository you are going to enhance. Need to demonstrate clearly how the enhancements proposed could be exploited by other institutions, how you will build sustainability into what you do, how you are meeting user needs.

Here you should commit to meeting all relevant requirements in section 4 of the briefing document.

Previous enhancement projects are eligible for funding, but has to be a new project, not just an extension of the existing project.

Finally Neil again on:

A6. Preservation Exemplars

£900k available over up to 6 projects, 18 month duration, up to £225k per project.

Large range of scope here:

  • Dissemination activities
  • Emerging needs
  • e-journal archiving
  • Repositories and preservation
  • Record and asset management
  • Preservation of web resources
  • Preservation of e-learning material
  • Legal and economic policy and collaboration
  • Data curation
  • Digital object properties

Look to the Digital Curation Centre for support and advice.

3 stages of work:

  1. Needs and benefit analysis
  2. Pre-implementation planning and specification
  3. Implementation

Sorry – got distracted there, and didn’t really get this – but ideally JISC looking for projects that address all of these 3 stages, but recognise that the timescales may not always make this possible.

Questions and Answers

Places to find collaboration/air ideas:

OK – now lunch/networking. Questions (and answers I hope, although only Questions are on the agenda!) after lunch.

Before Q and A, a few bits and pieces:

  • Look at Project Management guidelines – important part of work
  • For advice you can look to UKOLN, JISC-CETIS, OSS Watch, DCC, Repositories Support Project
  • You may be interested in the JISC Developer Happiness Days – 9-13th February – keep an eye on http://dev8d.jiscinvolve.org – intended to help build an Innovation Community [declaration on interest, I was involved in the planning of this event in the form of c
    ommenting on and feeding into the structure and content of the event]

Q: Can the Rapid Innovation strand hope to get all projects in one go? Would it be better to spread out over a period of time?

A: There will be another round of Rapid Innovation funding. Potentially if JISC don’t receive 10 good proposals in the first round, they can review and carry funding over to future proposals

Q: Does the text-mining strand include (didn’t get the detail – a particular set of content?)

A: Will try to ensure there is funding for proposals across a variety of content

Q: Is partnership/collaboration compulsory?

A: No – although part of assessment. Recognise that large scale collaborations are more difficult to manage. Collaboration may apply to one part of project or all of it.

Q: Partnerships – some bids say ‘up to 2-4 partners’ – but some user groups are made up of more than this, and if you collaborate with user groups, you may end up with each constituent of a user group as a partner.

A: The size of partnerships mentioned are meant to be quite a strong steer – again, there is a size at which projects become very difficult to manage. You might want to consider how you relate to the various constituencies you interact with

Q: The bids are very structured into separate areas – VREs, VLEs, Institutional Repositories etc.Question of whether there is a reflection or steer as to where ‘repository’ people might be successful in terms of bids?

A: This call is a step towards bringing these various areas together – two strands ask explicitly for cross-domain teams. JISC organisation does reflect the structure to some extent, so understandable that you may be concerned about whether your area of work is relevant to the call. However, JISC sees these strands bringing these things together – so definite encouragement to bid  – “don’t be compartmentalised” (this is how the questioner put it, and was confirmed by Rachel from panel)

Q: We have been working on multi-media in e-portfolios. Would this kind of work fall into any of the call?

A: Yes – previous Repository/Startup Enhancement projects have tackled this kind of thing – look to these for examples. Definitely well within scope.

Q: In strand A2 “Projects teams must be cross-domain [I paraphrase] including academics and information/ICT professionals” – does this imply the institutional ICT/Library team?

A: Emphasis is cross-domain – so not completely necessary, but need to look at sustainability as well – so if this is something that institutional ICT/Library need to run longterm, wise to involve them. This certainly doesn’t exclude involving people with relevant skills from outside institutional services.

Q: A3. Would projects focusing on a specific kind of content be favoured over a project looking at all kinds of content?

A: No – but need to be clear on the institutional business need/business case

Q: Can same team work on more than one project?

A: No problem as long as very clear how they are separated – people allocated specifically and funded specifically. Need to avoid the projects being linked – i.e. it would be no good if you could not run one project if the second wasn’t funded

Q: [didn’t get this – something about cross-disciplinary research]

A: I think the answer was basically, this is fine – just need to be careful you are being realistic about what you can acheive within the project resources

Q: What relevant studies are coming up in the immediate future?

A: Sorry – I missed this, but apparently part of Frederique’s slides – which presumably will be made available.

Q: Something about using proprietary services or software, and what types of ‘open’ license are acceptable for software?

A: JISC is not against the use of proprietary services/software. However, be aware that you can get into problems if the plans of a commercial developer diverge from those of the project. If you are unclear what is appropriate, may be worth talking to relevant programme manager

Q: In strand A2, what about use of more lightweight/Web 2.0 approaches vs central/heavyweight infrastructure?

A: Definitely would consider both and a mixture of approaches across this spectrum. Doesn’t need to be ‘novel’ but does need to innovative. E-Infrastructure doesn’t imply big central services necessarily, so may be part of the picture. There was a followup question about tension between institutional needs and ‘collaborative’ research at a national level – the panel felt that any institution should be looking at collaborative (inter-institution) research.

And that is that – I’ve expressed an interest in a couple of the strands above (A1 and A3), so if you are also interested and might want to partner, drop me a line.

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