Put data to work – How connected funding information eases administrative burden

The Finnish tax administration provides an exemplary service for a taxpayer. The tax return is a pre-completed form which usually includes all necessary information without any need for revisions. Required information is already stored somewhere, which is the crucial factor behind the service. Information is received directly from third parties such as employers, other payers of income as well as many other sources. After the resulting information flows are connected, the filled-in tax return form is served to the taxpayer who avoids the arduous annual work.

The analogy is obvious for the researcher’s services. For instance, when applying funds for research the funder usually requires scientists to deliver a wealth of data which largely is already available somewhere outside the funder’s systems. These data silos can be connected together by automatizing flows of information. Success is probable when systems are interoperable, co-operation between different stakeholders exists and information flows are conformable. When these conditions are satisfied, it is possible to develop digital services which genuinely reduce the need for administrative work and benefit the whole scientific community.

The planned research funding database (part of the Research Information Hub) is a manifestation of these ideas. When completed, it contains metadata of the open funding calls and funding grants in addition to the jointly agreed data models and processes about the flow of information between parties.  Useful international reference for the funding database is the SweCRIS-system where Swedish funders store their funding information. However, the funding database is not isolated. Through the Research Information Hub, the data is enriched with the metadata of publications, research data, and research infrastructures. Researchers are identified mainly by their ORCID-iD’s. The database contains only information originally meant to be public and can be shared openly.

Information flows converging at the research funding database allow funders (or other actors) to tap into these flows for the development of their systems to be more proactive. Application forms and reports can be pre-filled with researchers affiliations, previous outputs or funding. Grant information can flow to the opposite direction reaching the researcher’s home organisation. The final result is diminished administrative work and more time allocated to research. Hopefully, the open approach also inspires third parties to utilise the data and build new services for researchers.

The database gives funders enhanced visibility and reveals the diversity of research funding.

For the first time combined data of funding awards is easily available which provides a comprehensive view of the research funding in Finland.


Walter Rydman

Author coordinates the development of research funding database at CSC.

Read more about the research funding database here.





Benefits for researchers and a comprehensive picture of the Finnish research

Notes from the executive group meeting on 19 March 2018

The development of the Research Information Hub is supervised and guided by two high-level groups appointed by the Ministry of Education and Culture, namely, the Executive and Steering groups. The Executive group will, for example, decide on a developmental path, consider approaches to lighten the workload for the researchers and administrative staff, and identify the research administration information needs. It will also promote cooperation between actors. The Executive group meets three times in 2018. This year’s first meeting was held on 19th of March.

One of the main topics discussed in the meeting was how the researchers benefit from the Hub. How to identify and open up the accruing benefits for the researchers, when the final aim is to promote a more fluent flow of the already submitted information between all parties?

User cases and especially the benefits to the researchers have been described hereThe Hub (and its user interface) will provide researchers a platform to gain national level visibility for their research. However, the most concrete benefit for the researchers will most likely follow from the automated information flows. Researchers don’t have to report the same information several times to different systems anymore. For example, when a researcher is applying for a funding, the funding organization can retrieve the necessary information directly from the Hub. The Executive group asked for a more tangible presentation from such examples. From the researchers’ point of view, it would be also important that interoperability with the international research information systems should be taken into account when designing the Hub. Many researchers are already involved in several international information systems and the metadata should, therefore, be consistent.

Another point of discussion was to clarify, that once the Hub is in operation, we will have a possibility for a comprehensive picture of scientific research done with both public and private funds in Finland. This means that, for example, an official at the Academy of Finland who is drafting a policy, can find out which organizations have ongoing research in bioeconomics. This also means that research organizations themselves could self-evaluate their selected research activities against those of other organizations. Reliable, complete and up-to-date data would also be a valuable tool in decision-making. It could also work as a basis for statistics used by, for example, Ministry of education policymaking.  Special attention will have to be paid to the quality of the information provided in the metadata fields to reach the level of accuracy and reliability needed for solid decisions.

How to aggregate data about research data – case Metax

As the national Open Science and Research initiative came to an end by December 2017, we already had a fantastic basis for national research data services in the form of the IDA storage service and Etsin research data finder among others. As the work now continues, we are enhancing, integrating and rebuilding the services to serve the needs for long-term preservation and national management of information data. The data service family will be called Fairdata.fi, alongside with the established service brands IDA and Etsin.

From this summer onwards, all research data metadata will be aggregated in a new national metadata repository called Metax, that will serve both the Fairdata.fi service package and the National Research Information Hub Tutkimustietovaranto. The aim is to harvest as many data archives as possible in order to provide the researchers with a good field agnostic data catalogue and a search tool. We want to harvest both the Finnish and the international sources. In addition, Metax and Etsin will serve as the master data catalogue and offer landing pages for the data stored and published in the Fairdata.fi services, both IDA and the long-term preservation.

We are blogging about the development process in Metax-Blog (mostly in Finnish, though). The data models (still under development) are published in the national services for interoperability. There are several application profiles in Metax since it consists of several catalogues. We also try to use as many kinds of reference data and persistent identifiers to be able to produce as good quality data as possible for the Research Information Hub and everybody else.

Jessica Parland-von Essen

The author is MetaX and Etsin product owner at CSC – research center for science

Metax-Blog can be read at https://metax-blogi.blogspot.fi/

National service for interoperability available at https://tietomallit.suomi.fi/

Building the National Research Information Hub requires comprehensive collaboration

Currently, research metadata is being collected to several different organization specific, national and international data warehouses and other systems. Now, finally, we are moving towards an era where information once filed in one system automatically transfer to other systems as well, and several rounds of laborious information entering are no longer required. Let the powerful servers, fast web and machine-readable interfaces fulfil their duties. 

In practice, building a seamlessly working system to transfer large amounts of metadata of various types is not simple. To succeed in this task, a comprehensive collaboration between different participants is required, as well as common experience about why such system is needed. Regarding the National Research Information Hub, these questions are taken upon by the steering group. The steering group consists of experts in the field, and their task is to monitor and coordinate the national level collaboration. The National Research Information hub’s steering group gets together six times during 2018. After every meeting, a short summary of the most important discussion points will be shared here in the Research Information Hub’s blog.

The latest steering group meeting (8.2.2018) contemplated why Finland should invest in a national research information hub. Some of the already known user cases and concrete benefits  were discussed. For example, when a researcher is applying for funding, (s)he can utilize the hub’s information content by selecting from a personalized drop-down menu on what information will be shared directly to the funding organization. This is a clear advantage of the hub since often researchers have to manually enter the same, e.g. publication information, tens, if not even hundreds of times (e.g. when applying for funding, writing research reports i.e.).  As a matter of fact, the option to search and automatically include one’s publication information from VIRTA publication information service does already exist, but only for Academy Finland related reporting.  The steering group decided that in future publication information can be also utilized when applying for CSC computing services.

The steering group also discussed researcher’s identity recognition. This is a vital condition for the hub, since the right meta-information needs to be able to be connected to the right researcher. Traditionally, researcher recognition has leaned on researchers’ name. However, there can exist several researchers with the same name, one can use different name combinations in different contexts or the name can change along the way. An internationally developed solution to this problem is a persistent digital identifier ORCID. Over 4 million researchers worldwide have already registered with ORCID. The steering group aims to advocate the benefits of ORCID in Finland. A range of possible benefits and use cases where introduced in the meeting. You can read more about ORCID from here.

The full memo from the latest steering group meeting can be read here (in Finnish only).

More information about ORCID can be read in https://researcheridentifier.fi and https://orcid.org

ORCID use cases discussed in the Research Information Hub steering group meeting can be read here (in Finnish only).

National Research Information Hub will offer comprehensive access point for research being conducted in Finland

Utilizing research information will become more accessible in future thanks to the National Research Information Hub. The forthcoming new service gathers together metadata about publications, data, research infrastructures, researchers, projects and research organizations.

The amount of information gathered from research is constantly increasing, yet still, researchers and research organizations are documenting same information to numerous different systems and warehouses, over and over again. Often this is caused by the fact that each of the individual organizations (e.g. research organizations, funders, data providers) are only responsible for their own information systems. The core idea of the National Research Information Hub is to allow information filed in one system to be utilized in other systems as well. Thanks to the National Research Information Hub, the bureaucratic burden lightens when filing and sharing information can be automatically transferred from one system to another.

The National Research Information Hub won’t replace organizations own information systems nor international information systems. Rather, the National Research Information Hub will improve the already existing systems by combing their information on a national level. In addition, the Hub will utilize infrastructure that is already existing or currently being constructed in a cost-efficient manner. The National Research Information Hub will provide a single, uniform, open and comprehensive access point for all research being conducted in Finland. In other words, in future, it is easy to check what research is currently being conducted in a given field, who are the researchers involved and what kind of research results and other outputs they have made.

The Hub will offer countless new benefits and applications to information that is already existing. A researcher can utilize his/her information more flexible in different services, and interlinked studies can be linked to each other. Research information is also better available to the public audience and media. Research organizations and funders can benefit from up-to-date and harmonious information and moving information between organizations becomes easier.

The planning for the National Research Information Hub was launched in 2017. The execution will be done in steps, and everything should be ready by 2020. Ministry of Education and Culture (MINEDU) has authorized the implementation of the National Research Information Hub to CSC. During the year 2018 the Hub will contain publication information gathered from the universities and other research organizations. In 2019, research funder’s information about funding decisions and research infrastructures will be added to the Hub. The following steps will include descriptions of the research data and information about those researchers, who have given permission for harvesting their data from selected services.

MINEDU has nominated the boards and steering groups for the research administration of the information sources and research information hub. They work during 2017-2020. The board, for example, discusses ways to lighten researchers and administration workload, recognizes research administration information needs and enhances collaboration and cooperation. The steering group guides the service development and coordinated national level collaboration.

This blog and the forthcoming posts will introduce how the National Research Information Hub development proceeds and other matters that are relevant to the project. In addition, the blog will share insights on the international trends and events in the field. The Hub will bear countless new opportunities for utilizing research information. In line with Karl-Erik Michelsen, who wrote about better utilization of the research proposals that are left without funding, the hub can offer opportunities for new innovative solutions. Or, another example, the Hub can promote and add our knowledge about a wider range of successful Finnish researchers, as asked in ‘vaihtoehto Eskolle‘ -campaign [“alternatives for Esko “]. We are looking forward hearing your ideas about the many ways of how the National Research Information Hub can be used! Remember to also follow our Twitter -account @tutkimustieto.

Jukka Haapamäki                                                                                                                                 The author works as a Senior Adviser at the Ministry of Education and Culture, and functions as the chairman of the National Research Information Hub steering group.

Karl-Erik Michelsen’s post available in http://blogi.professoriliitto.fi/karl-erik-michelsen/tutkimusrahoituksen-slush-tapahtuma/ [Finnish only]

Vaihtoehto Eskolle -campaign available at http://vaihtoehtoeskolle.fi/in-eng/