Open identifiers for open research: building a national strategy for PID adoption in the UK

Author: Christopher Brown, Senior Co-Design Manager, Jisc, Josh Brown and Alice Meadows, MoreBrains Consulting Cooperative.

A number of organisations and government bodies have recognised the need for a joined-up PID strategy, including the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES) in Brazil, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) in Portugal, and others. In the UK Jisc is leading an initiative to increase adoption and usage of persistent identifiers. Jisc has launched a project to establish a national UK PID consortium, building on the success of the British Library’s DataCite consortium and also the UK ORCID consortium, (which Jisc has led since 2015).

Professor Adam Tickell’s 2018 independent advice to the UK government on open access to research included a recommendation for Jisc to “lead on selecting and promoting a range of unique identifiers ... in collaboration with sector leaders with relevant partner organisations.”

The goal is to take existing networks to the next level, by exploring how the UK research community can implement a range of ‘priority’ PIDs for open research: for researchers (ORCID), their funding (Crossref), outputs (Crossref, DataCite), project activities (RAiD), and organizations (ROR). This approach is part of a national strategy (which was in turn shaped by workshops and analyses undertaken by our friends in the FREYA project!). In 2019, Jisc commissioned a report from Josh Brown which recommended a national approach with five major components:

1. A UK-wide PID consortium: while research, and PIDs, are global, a consistent national approach has been shown to be very effective in delivering the benefits of the global network at a local level. By working together to lower barriers to adoption and to keep costs down, the project aims to help to make sure every participant in the UK research community can access the PIDs they need, when they need them. The project has set up a group with sector representatives and PID providers to explore how this could be developed

2. Targeted interventions: we are looking for pain-points in open research workflows, and designing PID-optimised improvements to alleviate them, and to enable researchers, administrators and others to do more. Research into these pain points is under way (see below!)

3. Benefits analysis: if we are asking everyone to invest time and resources in the PID network, we want to be able to show them how it has helped to make their work easier. Quantifying the benefits of PID adoption, and demonstrating the value of PIDs will help us to prioritise new work, and to track our progress towards our open research goals

4. Governance: we are already blessed with a fantastic group of partners in our project stakeholder group. This collaboration is building up into a long-lasting community coordination body for the UK. This will also help to represent the needs of the UK research community with a unified voice on the global stage

5. Sustainability task force: the PIDs we are focusing on are at varying stages of maturity - and sustainability. If our researchers and infrastructures are to depend on these PIDs, they need to know that the systems and organisations providing them will be around for the long term.

As part of Jisc’s preparation for this, we carried out a community survey to establish a baseline from which to measure progress; identify opportunities and pain points that PIDs could address; and understand potential risks and obstacles. The survey report is now available, and it makes for interesting reading.

The findings support the project focus on five ‘priority PIDs’ for open research, with DOIs for outputs and ORCID IDs for people being both widely known and adopted. Reported satisfaction with these PIDs was also high. There is widespread frustration with the lack of adoption of grant, organisation, and project PIDs. It is worth noting that ROR IDs for organisations are already the most used, despite ROR itself launching as a ‘minimum viable product’ in January 2019. 

Issues that are hampering PID adoption are that the technical burden and costs of integration are too high, and the perceived value of PIDs is too low. The project will now explore ways that technical costs or difficulty can be reduced, and work with PID providers to articulate the value proposition of the priority PIDs (and PIDs in general) and provide evidence of the benefits of PID adoption. Membership costs are also an issue for many, especially smaller, organisations.

Key recommendations based on the survey findings are:

  • Interventions are needed to improve the scale and depth of PID integration in every day workflows.

  • Respondents want to see PIDs being used optimally in funding systems (both for grant application/award and for reporting), content platforms which host research outputs (including data and e-books as well as articles), and research information management tools within institutions.

  • Metadata associated with PIDs is vital. It needs to be predictably present, contain more consistent elements, and be reliably maintained and updated.

  • For new or emerging PIDs, there are lessons to be learned from ROR’s engagement strategies, which have enabled it to make remarkable progress.

  • Barriers to adoption need to be lowered. 

PIDs are desired across the sector for their potential to enable better interoperability and data re-use for reporting and analysis. If the appetite for interoperable PIDs, streamlined workflows, and efficiency gains is to be met, PIDs need to be a predictable, reliable presence in key information systems across the board, and to provide access to consistent, accurate metadata.

For more information about the project, contact Christopher Brown -