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Inform, Interact, Influence – Advancing Science Through Research Technology

By Rob Mitchum // August 15, 2014

In May, dozens of researchers, IT experts, librarians, and entrepreneurs gathered at the University of Chicago for a two-day discussion about the future of research information technology — new tools to push forward the practice and field of science. Co-presented by the Computation Institute and Digital Science, the Information, Interaction, and Influencemeeting featured panels on science start-ups, the experience of postdoctoral researchers, smarter profile/networking platforms, computational research, and much more, with participation from several CI researchers, including conference co-organizers Tanu Malik and Eamon Duede.

If you missed the conference in May, or want more information than our subsequent review, you can now read a full 24-page report of the conference from Digital Science. The report covers each of the panels in detail, as well as the keynote address by Victoria Stodden of Columbia University, opening remarks from CI director Ian Foster, and closing remarks by Digital Science’s Director of Research Metrics, Daniel Hook. For a taste, you can read the executive summary of the report below.


For as long as there has been science, there have been data. Researchers collect observations and information about the world around them, and use theory and statistical methods to extract knowledge. In the 21st century, more and more fields grow increasingly quantitative and digitized, with larger and more complex datasets driving discovery in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. But one area where the potential of data remains unfulfilled is the process of science itself — how research is planned, funded, disseminated, and tracked.

A possible solution may be found in research information technologies, such as research profiling, data and publication management, and networking systems. To draw attention to these emerging tools and discuss their potential and challenges, Digital Science and the Computation Institute (a joint initiative of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory) organized the Information, Interaction, and Influence conference, held at the University of Chicago on May 19th and 20th.

Researchers, entrepreneurs, software developers, foundation representatives, administrators, and IT professionals from the United States, England, and Australia attended the workshop and shared their experience building and using research information technology. Panels and talks also discussed barriers to wider implementation of these new research tools, the experience of commercializing software and services in this space, how these tools can benefit scientists and institutions, and early examples of how this technology facilitates improved scientific collaboration and understanding of academic influence and impact.

Recurring themes at the workshop included, 1) the growing demand for open access to research articles and open sharing of data and software used to generate the findings; 2) alternative metrics of scientific impact that capture newer forms of scientific communication, such as published data, software, videos, social media, talks, and news articles; 3) the increasing use of metrics to help funding agencies and administrators choose and track researchers; 4) the creation of smarter profiling systems that promote collaboration within and between institutions; 5) the challenges faced by scientists transitioning between academia and entrepreneurship; 6) the cultural challenges of multidisciplinary research across fields with different perspectives and incentives on the use and sharing of data; 7) how to encourage wider implementation of research information technology, and how to design tools that best address scientist’s needs.

Conclusions and recommendations from the workshop include:

– Reach out to fields not traditionally steeped in computational and quantitative methods, so that their needs are also served by research information technology

– Conduct more research on whether and how scholars use these tools, and further understand the needs of scientists that such technologies can address.

– Improve outreach to graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and early-career scientists; populations who have the greatest need for networking and may benefit most from these systems.

– Work with institutions to better understand and facilitate entrepreneurship as the lines between academic and commercial work grow increasingly fluid.

– Create more forums that bring together participants from different spheres: research, administration, libraries, information technology, entrepreneurship, academic publishing, and funding.

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