Open access grant proposals

US-based biology researcher Ethan White has compiled a list of publicly available grant proposals in the biological sciences (thanks to Phil Ward for highlighting this). Often university research offices make available successful bids to other staff within the same institution, but Ethan and several others have gone further and taken the brave step of making their bids (successful and unsuccessful) openly accessible on the web using Creative Commons licenses.

The list mainly consists of bids to US funders, such as NSF and NIH, but Casey Bergman, based in Life Sciences at Manchester University, has made available a few proposals to UK Research Councils BBSRC and NERC.

Discussing the reasons for making his grant proposals openly available on the web, Ethan White argues that openness is inherently beneficial for science and that giving early career researchers access to funded proposals can help them learn the art of good bid writing:

By sharing our proposals the cutting edge of scientific thought will no longer be hidden from view for several years and that will allow us to make more rapid progress … I think having examples of grants available to young scientists has the potential to help them learn how to write good proposals (and other folks seem to agree) and therefore decrease the importance of grantsmanship relative to cool science in the awarding of limited funds.

On a similar theme, Joss Winn’s LNCD team at the University of Lincoln has made available some successful JISC funded bids on Google Docs. For example, here’s the bid for their £330K funded Orbital project. Arguably this goes further still by making the proposals viewable and editable on Google Docs, meaning others can make comments and even add to the proposal. Joss takes a similar view on open bid writing to Ethan:

I see no benefit to writing bids such as this in private, other than hiding the process by which I write grant applications. The projects I propose and the outputs they generate are all open source and usually promote some variation of openness (open access/source/education/data), so why not start with the writing of the bid? Perhaps someone will be generous enough to contribute in some way or even learn something from being able to see the bids in their raw state. It also stakes a claim on the nature of the proposal, too and with a CC license, the idea is sufficiently ‘protected’.

This is a contentious issue and clearly not everyone is going to be happy to open up their research bids in this way – typical concerns relate to the possibility of ideas being “stolen” by competitors. What do you think? Is this something you’d consider doing with your bids?

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RMAS Launch: What it is and how it can support research management

I recently attended the RMAS (Research Management and Administration System) launch event in London where I learned about the outcomes of the recent HEFCE-funded project and how RMAS can help people like me (research managers and administrators) better understand, track and integrate the vast and diverse array of research-related data in Higher Education.

Universities need this data for a number of reasons, including:

  • to analyse and interpret success rates of research bids so we can see where more support is needed;
  • to keep track of and audit research expenditure to ensure externally-funded projects are spending to budget;
  • to feed into important external research-related returns, such as HESA, HEBCIS and REF;
  • to ensure research projects are accurately costed;
  • to make sure the research bidding and management process flows as smoothly as possible, minimizing the amount of data re-entry and hand-offs where possible;
  • as the open access agenda becomes more important, to ensure all outputs from funded projects are published in open access journals or are available as full text on the institutional repository

What is RMAS?

RMAS started out as a HEFCE-funded project, led by the University of Exeter and also involving Kent and Sunderland, to scope and produce a business case for a pre-award to post-award (“cradle to grave”) research management and administration system for HEIs. Phase one of the project confirmed there was a need for this among HEIs and that no such system was currently available on the open market. Phase two, which has just been completed, sought to develop a solution and estimate potential savings across the sector if this were adopted.

So what’s the outcome? In short RMAS consists of three related elements:

  1. RMAS includes a procurement framework containing “best of breed” systems which provide solutions for the full research management process: pre-award to post-award. This will substantially reduce the costs of procuring research management and administration software by effectively allowing HEIs to pick from a “catalogue” of options for each stage in the process. It also ensures RMAS is “modular”, allowing HEIs to start from different places and pick what they need. Suppliers in the framework include: UNIT4 (Agresso), Atira (Pure), SmartSimple (RMS360).
  2. RMAS is a set of integration tools and methodologies based on a centrally hosted Enterprise Service Bus which allows existing and newly procured corporate and research management systems to be integrated and communicate with each other.
  3. The above elements are built around a standard format for research data, CERIF (Common European Research Information Format), which is an open, internationally recognised standard. This means that research data can be integrated and different systems can communicate more easily. In essence, it ensures that all the different elements of the RMAS system “speak the same language”.

What’s the problem?

Research carried out by the RMAS pathfinders across the sector confirmed that different HEIs used a variety of different products for different stages of the process (e.g. project costing, academic expertise, post award management, outcomes and outputs) and that there was often very little, if any, integration between the systems used. This means that data relating to research awards, for example, frequently needs to be re-keyed at various stages to ensure it is correctly imported into the relevant system.

This situation is compounded by the fact that the various HR and finance systems which also feed information into (and out of) the research management process are similarly diverse and lack integration with the various research management software solutions on the market. Moreover, different institutions have different processes and procedures – for example, approvals and submission.

In short, HEIs are all starting from a different place and no two institutions use the same set of systems and processes for research management and administration. In addition, institutions have in many cases invested heavily in their existing systems and tools and would be reluctant to throw this away. The RMAS team therefore determined that what was needed was a methodology of integrating these existing tools, rather than developing and introducing an entirely new system from scratch.

What are the benefits?

Potentially, these are huge. The RMAS pathfinder institutions (Exeter, Kent and Sunderland) have made the following estimates in terms of savings as well as associated data quality and planning improvements:

You could expect the following chain benefits from implementing RMAS modules:

  • Procurement savings of around £35,000 for each OJEU tender
  • Procurement savings of around £14,000 for each sub-OJEU tender
  • Savings for a medium sized university of £75,000 per annum for each ofthe RMAS modules that they use.

The operational savings equate to:

  • £60 per application for proposal management systems
  • £140 per academic or £70 per project for post-award management systems
  • £70 per academic for outputs management systems.

Ripple benefits that the pathfinder institutions have experienced include:

  • Improvements in data quality in corporate systems such as HR, Finance and Project systems
  • Improved accuracy of Business Intelligence and planning
  • Value added through redirection of valuable resource
  • A flexible platform that can be readily adapted to any future requirements
  • A positive user experience facilitating future developments and new system deployments.
These benefits should be understood in terms of the wider policy drive in UK HE to share services and become more efficient. HEFCE are clear that RMAS can contribute towards this goal.

What next?

There was a strong steer from HEFCE representatives on the day that the RMAS approach should be adopted across the sector. To this end, HEFCE have provided further transitional funding to retain the project coordinator for a year and to develop resources on the RMAS website, which includes an RMAS connector demo so you can see some of the principles in action.

However, it became clear on the day that for institutions to actually adopt an end-to-end RMAS-compliant system would require not only financial investment, in terms of procuring relevant software to plug gaps in the research management process, but also in terms of IT development time to build a “connector” to join up the various elements of research admin systems and HR, finance, etc. There will be resources available on the RMAS website to provide guidance and support for this, or alternatively JISC Nexus has been set up as a subscription service to do the same job.

In the question time following the event, one delegate made the very sensible point that they wouldn’t be doing anything further on this until after the REF, for fear of introducing new processes and jeopardising data quality. Whatever the timescales, it seems clear that RMAS is going to play a role in the future of research management in UK HE.

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Survey on researchers’ views about open access publishing of research monographs

The following request for survey responses has been circulated from OAPEN-UK, an Arts and Humanities Research Council and JISC funded project exploring the issues impacting upon the publishing of scholarly monographs in the humanities and social sciences (HSS). The project is working with Taylor & Francis, Palgrave Macmillan, Berg Publishers, Liverpool University Press, University Wales Press, research funders and universities, to understand the challenges and steps required to move towards an open access publishing model for scholarly monographs. Further information on OAPEN-UK is available on the project website:

www.oapen-uk.jiscebooks.org

In an open access model, the monograph is made freely available – readers (or their libraries) do not have to pay to read it online, rather the costs of the publishing process (e.g.  peer review, typesetting, marketing) are recovered through alternative routes such as research grants, institutional funding or perhaps through readers purchasing print editions or particular formats for their iPad or Kindle. Various models are being tested at the moment.

OAPEN-UK has two strands: an open access pilot gathering data on the usage, sales and citations of 60 monographs, and a wider research project which explores the environment for open access publishing.

We’re six months into the project and, following a series of focus groups, have identified some key questions for researchers – both as authors and readers.

We invite you to complete the researcher survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/oapenukresearcher. The findings from this survey will combine with interviews and surveys of other stakeholder groups to help us understand the big issues and priorities that an open access publishing model must accommodate.

To thank you for your help, if you complete the survey you will be entered into a draw for Amazon vouchers – we have three £100 vouchers, three £50 vouchers and three £25 vouchers available to win.

If you’d like any further information, please contact Ellen Collins (ellen.collins@researchinfonet.org) or Caren Milloy (c.milloy@jisc-collections.ac.ukwww.jisc-collections.ac.uk). The OAPEN-UK website also contains more information about the project, and our findings so far.

Twitter: @oapenuk

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