What role do current research information systems play in the Greater China Region? – Broadening horizons with the Open Science Lab

At first glance, it would seem that structured, interlinked and web-based research information is mainly being explored in the USA and Europe at present.

The free software VIVO, originally developed at Cornell University, is primarily used in the USA, where it is based on institutional clusters. AgriVIVO is a European pilot project that aims to pool the research information generated by a specialist community and to make it searchable. Initiatives have also been launched to create a European community, such as VIVOcamp13 and VIVOcamp14, taking place under the heading “VIVO for beginners” at the ELAG 2014 conference.

I’ve been wondering whether VIVO, or comparable freely or commercially available software for current research information systems (CRIS), is being used in other regions of the world or whether the advantages of such specialist community-based CRIS are being discussed within the scientific library and research facility community. Here the question arises why an initiative for a VIVO alliance for specialist community-based CRIS should be restricted to Europe and the USA.

As an example of a CRIS outside Europe and the USA, I took a closer look at the development in the library and research landscape of the Greater China Region, that is the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao. For a start, this language area cannot be regarded as negligible in quantitative terms; a growing number of cooperation projects are being established between Europe and the countries investigated here in all kinds of specialist communities. In addition, there is a quite centralised science system in the People’s Republic of China in particular, where larger projects such as the coordinated development of CRIS could perhaps be carried out more rapidly and sustainably.

This much can be said of my preliminary considerations. Let us look at what already exists in the way of research information structures in the Greater China Region:

In the first place, it can be said that there is a wide range of open access document servers at Chinese scientific institutions in the CRIS-related area of institutional repositories (IRs). The content of such IRs can often also be searched via international platforms such as OpenDOAR and ROAR. The University of Hong Kong’s Scholars Hub is the most prominent IR; it came top of Asia’s IRs on the Ranking Web of Repositories website. What is special about the HKU Scholars Hub, based on free DSpace technology, is that a CRIS is combined with the IR, linking the data.

Together with the non-profit consortium of Italian scientific institutions CINECA, the university has found a way of linking existing data from administrative systems about people, projects, institutions, and so on, to the IR. Hence DSpace technology has been augmented to include the internally developed CRIS module, which is based on the CERIF data model developed by EuroCRIS. DSpace CRIS has been freely available as an open source application since November 2012. In the next release (3.2 and 4.0), DSpace CRIS is also expected to enable CRIS entities to be imported and exported in CERIF XML 1.6.

DSpace CRIS was presented at the EuroCRIS members’ meeting in November 2013. In the institution’s newsletter, the President of EuroCRIS stated the following about DSpace CRIS: “[t]his module extends the DSpace software with CRIS metadata elements and as such is a concrete illustration of the growing awareness by the repository community of the relevance and importance of CRIS and their extended contextual metadata set.”

Following the development of DSpace CRIS, it can be assumed that several other CRIS will be created shortly on the basis of this module. DSpace is also used widely as a technology for IRs in China, Taiwan and Macao.

But would it therefore be logical to predict the development of institutional CRIS as a trend in the Greater China Region? Institutional CRIS can serve as a research information management system (RIMS) for the scientific institution’s local administration of human resources, projects, publications, research funding, and so on. They can also act as a platform for informing scholars from other institutions, public donors and companies about which facilities, research activities and research results exist at individual institutions.

In the opinion of TIB’s Open Science Lab, however, institutional CRIS are just the first step. The real added value in developing CRIS is the ability to link this information across institutions, countries and languages. The next ambitious step is to create cross-institutional CRIS for specialist communities. A visionary goal could be to combine these specialist community-based CRIS into a transdisciplinary network. Would this then enable researchers from various disciplines who pursue very similar research approaches and issues to find each other via such networks? The anticipated value added of such networks would be the generation of space for new cooperative activities and research topics in peripheral regions between disciplines.

As a transdisciplinary network, VIVO, unlike DSpace CRIS, is designed to enable data to be entered manually and imported and exported locally, in addition to the use of a harvester to collect research information from the web from predefined websites of scientific institutions, repositories, publishing companies, social media, sponsors, and so on. In most cases, such data is in XML format, and is converted to triples, which are compatible with VIVO, and namespaces are adapted according to VIVO ontologies.

VIVO now has cooperation partners throughout the world, including the National Science Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). In 2010, National Science Library representatives used a poster to present the project entitled Subject Knowledge Environment (SKE), launched in 2008, at the annual VIVO conference. The idea behind SKE is for researchers and institutions to establish individual SKEs for institutions, projects, groups of researchers and specialist communities, which should ultimately map the entire scientific landscape of CAS in a large network, featuring information about researchers, research activities, research results and data, events, job vacancies, resources, funding opportunities, and so on. SKEs are based on Vitro, a web application with an integrated editor for ontologies developed for VIVO at Cornell University. A special SKE ontology was constructed on the basis of websites from various CAS institutes and social network services such as Douban, Kaixin, Facebook or YouTube.

The structure of the aforementioned idea can already be discerned from the SKE project website at CAS. Information about the project and installation instructions can be found via the SKE project page; the individual websites of pilot projects already launched, such as the Tibetan Plateau Research Information and Knowledge Platform and the Scientists Network in Plant Sciences Research, can also be accessed.

SKEs are now used at some 20 CAS institutes in China. Announcements have been made of further measures to improve the basic structure of the SKE involving data integration and data exchange with third parties. For example, data can currently be exported from the database in XML/OWL, enabling it to be retrieved using VIVO’s data model. Other development steps that have been announced are the improvement of the platform’s usage options and the expansion of service offers for users. (Source in Chinese)

Together with groups of researchers, the National Science Library project team is initially backing the manual import of data in the development of SKEs. Methods involving the automated harvesting and update of data from the web are also currently being tested for an SKE 2.0. Against this backdrop, it will be exciting to see how the project progresses.

My research and the presentation of two exemplary projects, namely HKU Scholars Hub and CAS SKE, demonstrate that not only Europe and the USA recognise the importance of structured, open and networkable research information. This makes it all the more necessary to facilitate global exchange and to link different initiatives, enabling internationally recognised standards to be agreed upon. The Open Science Lab would like to take one step in this direction with its contribution to this year’s CRIS conference in Rome.

This blog entry was created during an internship at TIB’s Open Science Lab.