Friday, 24 May 2013

It takes two to tango: a few post-ORCID Outreach meeting reflections

  After listening to the presentations delivered at the ORCID Outreach meeting held yesterday at St Anne's College in Oxford, the impression remains that this promising initiative resembles a ball game played by publishers (and the like) on one side of the pitch and researchers and institutions on the other one. In order to enjoy a reasonably amusing game, you need the two sides to be sufficiently balanced. But this is not the case for ORCID - or at least it's not the case so far.

The 'publisher side' - for simplicity purposes - features not just publishers, but also large commercial stakeholders such as Thomson Reuters, CRIS vendors and a wide range of third-party companies. This side is delivering an excellent performance so far by solving all the (otherwise not too complicated) technical challenges posed by the use of ORCID for populating submission systems or CRISes. However, the other side is not doing so well at the moment. One could expect an ORCID deluge to arrive from researchers and institutions interested in becoming ORCID members for providing iDs to all their staff. But this is not happening, or at least not as quickly as the other side is progressing. Which leaves us with fully prepared technical systems and no incoming stream of ORCID iDs to test them and prove their benefits to the research community.

It is true that there are over 140,000 registered authors in the ORCID database as of today. How many of those registered themselves and proceeded to populate their publications into their ORCID account it is impossible to know thus far. But after listening to Paul Peters's presentation on the huge advocacy campaign carried out by a 10-strong team at Hindawi HQs, it's easy to see that many ORCIDs out there are the result of the 'publisher side' work too (oh but wait, we may have some approximate stats on the provenance of ORCID accounts based on the highly-correlated number of visits to the ORCID website).

The argument held by patient observers (which one shares to some extent) says the game re-balancing will eventually happen, but institutions need more time to react - and once they start, the contribution from their side will become unstoppable. Institutions need to figure out their business models and their mechanisms for involving their researchers and all their relevant units in the process for creating and populating ORCID accounts.

Other critical observers -the institutions themselves- seem however not to completely share this approach. In their view, ORCID should be made available as a free service to them, since they're the ones expected to do the hard work anyway. A significant number of stakeholders argue that ORCID needn't become an overcomplicated platform aiming to achieve too many goals at the same time, but rather focus on the basic functionality, namely providing a unique identifier for researchers. Then again, it may not be that simple at all: features like researcher affiliation pose a huge challenge themselves that must be dealt with for offering really useful information from the ORCID iDs.

It becomes evident at some point that best practices are badly needed in ORCID implementation at institutional level so that the advantages of having their ORCID iDs institutionally created (and even maintained) can start to be perceived by researchers. So it's just about getting a critical mass of member institutions in different countries that will pioneer the adoption process - and hopefully receive some credit for it from the community, as they are dealing with the issues in a much harder early adopting way than those institutions that will follow suit.

No comments: