Industry Canada Consultation on Infrastructure

From CASRAI

Below is the CASRAI response to a consultation by Industry Canada.

Introduction

The Consortia Advancing Standards in Research Administration Information (CASRAI) welcomes the opportunity to respond to Industry Canada’s consultation on Developing a Digital Research Infrastructure Strategy. CASRAI is a community-based standards setting organization with a mission to advance the efficient transaction and use of administrative information within and between research stakeholders. Our stakeholders include research institutions, research libraries, publishers, research funding agencies as well as the software vendors providing solutions to this community. CASRAI provides neutral ground and mechanisms to standardize the administrative information that researchers, their institutions, and their funders must produce, store, process, and exchange throughout the lifecycle of research activity.

A national strategy for digital research infrastructure must take into account an ever-changing configuration of equipment, code, and digital information. Too often, infrastructure is identified just as physical equipment, but digital research infrastructure consists of a mix of these three technology areas in support of research. We would like to draw specific attention to aspects of information in digital research infrastructure and to note their importance to an overall strategy.

The Research Record as Digital Research Infrastructure

Information and its management is core to research and it is only through the extensive information technology underlying these operations that the sheer volume of research activity conducted today is even possible. In total, this information constitutes the research record, that is, the composite of information required to support research. The general functions supported by this information include research activities, the administration of research, and research communications. These categories of information are commonly known as research data, research administrative information, and research outputs, respectively.
It is essential to take into account the complete research record in developing a digital research infrastructure strategy.

The Role of Standards and the Research Record

Value is derived through the transaction of information and this is as true in research as in other areas of life. The predictability and ease by which transactions occur in a system increases its efficiency of operation and improves its overall productivity. In the context of research, improvements in the flow of information throughout research activities will contribute to increased productivity. An example from the area of research administrative information helps illustrate this. If a researcher is required to enter the same information repeatedly across the submission systems of different granting agencies, the amount of administrative time to complete these applications increases. This also creates an unnecessary burden on researchers who are applying for financial support from multiple agencies. In this situation, the exchange of the information simply is not managed effectively. The adoption of a standard for exchanging application information would allow for more efficient transactions, resulting in greater predictability in the information received and in a general savings in time.

The mix of technology mentioned above, namely, equipment, code, and information, is widely varied across fields of research. This presents challenges in exchanging information and ultimately in optimizing returns in research. For example, digital instrumentation often produces information in a format specific to the device. Sharing an instrument’s information with other digital systems becomes problematic when other systems cannot read the format. This is true whether the systems are supporting research operations, research administration, or research communications. In the context of research administration, research awards can be delayed because the information exchanged between a funding agency and an institution involve different systems that require the re-entry of information before accounts can be activated. The standards solution is to structure the exchange of information around agreed upon concepts, definitions, and elements. Each party can have its own software solution while allowing for an efficient exchange of information among them.
Standards setting organizations such as CASRAI work with research stakeholders to agree upon predictable and identifiable concepts, definitions, and elements for exchanging information. Such organizations are an essential part of the national digital infrastructure.

The Importance of Standards in the Digital Research Ecosystem

The EC Global Research Data Infrastructure 2020 Roadmap (2012) addressed the need to exchange research data across domains and systems. The report emphasized that the big challenges facing humanity today will require the interdisciplinary exchange and integration of data that heretofore has not happened on a grand scale. The interoperability of data sharing was identified as a key factor in establishing global research data infrastructure. Interoperability is dependent on successful information transactions and is achievable primarily through standards that are developed, endorsed, and adopted by research stakeholders.

Research Service Offices (RSO) in Canada’s post-secondary institutions are meeting a level of CASRAI standards compliance in their newer generation research information management systems (RIMS). This is a positive trend to be encouraged and is an enabling infrastructure for the interoperability of research administrative information. Further incentives in this area would accelerate greater returns to the digital research ecosystem.
A successful digital research infrastructure must have neutral and sustainable standards setting organizations working together with research stakeholders to improve the flow and exchange of research information.

Conclusion

In Canada, we lack mechanisms to establish basic scaffolding for digital research infrastructure. In particular, support is needed for pilot or exploratory projects to pave the way for larger-scale research data infrastructure. In the UK, Jisc serves this type of R&D investment function. Furthermore, a catalysis of capacity development is required to bridge us from today to tomorrow’s digital research infrastructure requirements. The NSF DataNet program was introduced in the U.S. to expand their capacity. Simplifying linkages and exchanges among sectors, especially the academy and government in data management and standards, would also enhance development. Taking appropriate actions in these areas and by working through our stakeholders community, Canada could establish a solid framework upon which to build our digital research infrastructure.

We see CASRAI as one stakeholder among the many committed to building a preeminent digital research infrastructure in Canada. Working together with those within this community, Canada will be a successful global contributor to innovation and producer of new knowledge.