Project lead: Dipl.-Ing. Sabine Neff, MSc; Forschungsinformationssysteme, TU Wien
Duration: March 2020 – March 2024
With the “Digital Austria” initiative and the eGovernment Act coming into effect in 2020, the Austrian administration set a clear focus on digital transformation.
Such a focus presents various opportunities for the research landscape: Digital processes facilitate communication between funding organisations, research institutions, researchers and ministries. They also provide qualitative, transparent and secure information. They have the potential to reallocate science and research resources and to support innovative cooperation platforms and synergies to strengthen Austria as a research location.
A key goal of digital transformation is to make available structured and electronically stored data that only needs to be collected once. This once-only principle is a fundamental principle of the EU eGovernment Action Plan 2016–2020 and a central focus in Austria.
Currently, however, data entry in research information systems is completely decoupled: For one, researchers have to fill in the CRIS databases of their research institutions to meet internal governance requirements as well as reporting requirements internally and to the ministries. For another, researchers have to enter the same data into the systems of funding organisations for application management. There are also similar activities in project approval and reporting processes in both systems.
Using standardised interfaces would minimise additional efforts and error rates when making duplicate entries and would facilitate implementing security and quality requirements.
- Digitisation and increasing the effectiveness of administrative support for research projects in the spirit of “debureaucratisation in the higher education sector”
- Saving resources and increasing the competitiveness of researchers through qualitative support
- Increase in data quality and transparency for research institutions, funding organisations and public bodies (national and international)
- Standardised, open interfaces
- Implementing the once-only principle
- Sustainable handling of data in accordance with the GDPR
- Representation of input and output of the research landscape according to international standards (CERIF)
- Development of a common position regarding a national research portal
Subproject 1: Interfaces and Standards
In order to digitise administrative processes, the IT systems of funding organisations and research institutions need to be connected, which would make it possible to improve data quality and conserve resources on all sides. New developments in the digital systems of the FWF (elane, PROFI, final project reports) offer an excellent opportunity for this.
For the duration of the project life cycle, Subproject 1 deals with defining and establishing technical interfaces for connecting IT systems. In light of ongoing digitisation projects, the following interfaces are currently planned:
- Interfaces through which information on funding programs is made available → Automated imports eliminate the need to maintain call information in research institutions manually. Instead, resources can be allocated to high-quality support for application advice, to increase scientific performance, and to support scientists.
- Interfaces that import the organisational structure of research institutions into the systems of the funding organisation → Information on the organisational structure can be transferred from funded institutions to the funding organisation to facilitate project approval and authentication.
- Interfaces through which information from e-call systems is made available → Automated data exchange between funding organisations and applicant institutions in the application phase would help avoid duplicate project data (a one-sided import from the EU Participant Portal might also be possible).
- Interfaces for the exchange of information about data management plans (DMPs) or between DMP tools.
- Interfaces for exchanging research output metadata from third-party funded projects → Regular upload of research results, such as DMPs, reports or publications, can be supported via interfaces.
- Interfaces for exchanging financial and accounting data between funding organisations and research institutions → Direct exchange of financial data for the interim and final accounting of research projects.
The use of standardised interfaces and machine-readable content creates further open access and exchange opportunities for other systems of funding organisations, research institutions and public administration. It is also a prerequisite for analytical processes. Using standardised interfaces requires the definition of standards, rules, security concepts, and concepts for the sustainable handling of data in accordance with the GDPR. We define these in a detailed and focused analysis phase. Intensive exchange and cooperation between the project partners and – within the framework of financial and time capacities – with other representatives of research institutions, experts, politics, administration, and business are promoted.
During the analysis phase, we examine project partners’ systems to determine which features they can include, how existing features could be expanded, and how the underlying data structure could be adapted to input via external interfaces. After completing the analysis phase, we will determine which interfaces to implement and formulate a priority plan for implementation.
In addition to the added value already described, the results of this subproject also offer:
- Diverse evaluation options through standardised basic information
- Open interfaces for individual adjustments with individual implementation timelines
- Sustainable implementation with reasonable further expenses
- Various options for expansion and synergies with other topics
Subproject 2: Concept Study for a Research Portal
In some countries, national research portals already enable networking opportunities and transparent information provision.
Austria needs an openly accessible research portal for the following reasons:
- neutral and transparent representation of input and output of research projects
- transparent documentation of research for public administration and politics
- data basis for innovation research and system evaluation - evidence-based policy (“research registry”)
- networking platform for the strategic bundling of research expertise
- interface for international data exchange
- to promote lasting cooperative communities
- communication platform for joint activities (e.g. “intention to submit”, initiatives in pre-call phases, etc.)
- interface to the public database for research infrastructures, open data networks, etc.
- to make joint initiatives and networks visible (e.g. the network of Austrian CRIS systems, OANA – Open Science Network Austria etc., open data initiatives)
- a counterbalance to the increasing dominance of commercial providers of CRIS systems
The results of Subproject 1 (“Interfaces”) already bring added value to digital research funding processes. They can also be the foundation for a research portal where research input and output can be digitised and displayed transparently, and which can be compatible with international standards. Subproject 2 carries out a concept study defining the framework conditions, requirements and functionalities of such a research portal for Austria.
Based on a recommendation by the Austrian Council for Research and Technology Development, the Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF) is currently preparing a project to develop a concept for implementing a research funding database. The contents of this project overlap with the goals of a research portal, which is why we consider important synergies with the BMF project. Therefore, the concept study of Subproject 2 should be carried out in coordination with the BMF, and further projects with related content should be identified.