Jisc Monitor – Panning for Gold: Reflections of Requirements Capture and Verification (by David Kay, Sero Consulting)

The Landscape

The Jisc Collections and Mimas team, working with development partners Cottage Labs, Knowledge Integration and Sero Consulting, is at the start of a one year pilot that will develop services to help universities monitor publication activity, comply with funder OA policies and monitor associated publication charges. This will be supported by an exploration of the standards and protocols enabling efficient data exchange.

Given the waves of change relating to Open Access throughout the supply chain, from submission to publication and deposit, the Monitor development plan has an intense focus on requirements – first on establishing and validating priorities and then using rapid prototyping to understand where and how a shared service might help all involved. Ahead of community workshops starting on 8th July, we have collected 135 high level statements of requirements (or ‘User Stories’) from the reports of UK stakeholder groups, projects and events.

That represents a significant scale of interest and concern! On the receiving end, it feels a bit like prospecting for gold. 

Cast your mind back to the ‘days of 49’ … amidst a landscape of civic chaos, there was incessant talk both of opportunity and of impending doom, a stew of fact and fiction heavily spiced with rumour. The voices ranged from confident optimists to the weather beaten naysayers, from miners and mine owners to merchants and often hapless agents of the law.

So here we are in a very different push for Gold – but not dissimilar in its disruptive potential, in this case to challenge and to change the scholarly communications ecosystem.  Most days in my inbox there is fresh input, new requirements or at least a different take from an anxious stakeholder or a potential solution provider, suggesting what’s needed in terms of process, data and standards to create an ordered, equitable and sustainable way of working.

Community Response

For our part in Jisc Monitor, we need to act wisely – to spot the blind alley, to recognise fool’s gold, to weigh potentially competing options, to look for synergies. Most importantly, we need to recognise that this ecosystem is not the exclusive preserve of publishers, of institutions or of academics and therefore that standards may take deepest root when seeded in artful compromise.

That’s easy to say but challenging to live by – especially when Jisc Monitor needs to demonstrate useful systems opportunities within 12 months.

Thankfully, it is also clear that the community not only recognizes the complexity of the challenge but also has the will to help clarify and prioritise, to balance a perfect but theoretical future against a practically achievable present.  

Furthermore we’re aware that publishers recognise the same imperatives – that there is a limit to the business that can be done without some mutually agreed semblance of order. Indeed, today’s inbox brought strong and welcome advice from a respected international open access publisher, recommending to Monitor that we need to work together:

  • To solve the administration issue first, ahead of resetting business relationships, by working together on standards, formats, reports, etc
  • To focus on specifics versus just saying “we need standards” (for example, for deposit in to an institutional repository)
  • To understand how systems and processes will scale when volume increases

My correspondent concluded that ‘perhaps UK librarians can take the lead and the rest of the world will follow’.  Thankfully we are reassured that other projects such as SHARE in the US want to collaborate with us in the same problem space.

Monitor’s Role

So what are we doing to this end?

Arising from community consultation in the Spring, Jisc has prioritised four strands of activity for the Monitor project:

  1. Tracking of Publication
  2. Assurance of Compliance
  3. Clarity of Charging
  4. Interoperability across this information Ecosystem

We are kicking off the Publication and Compliance strands on 8th July with a workshop to be attended by around 30 institutional delegates ready to work on clarification, elaboration, synthesis and prioritization of our current requirements catalogue – and no doubt to add a few more!

That will be followed by the opportunity for participating institutions to consider lower level detail as we iteratively develop prototype software applications in the publication and compliance areas. In parallel we’ll be testing out our findings and potential developments with groups involved in the same space in the UK and worldwide, such as Jisc’s OA Good Practice Pathfinder projects.

Building on these findings, we’ll be publishing the Monitor Requirements Catalogue and kicking off a similar process around Charging and Standardisation on 19th September.  Please contact the Jisc Monitor Community Liaison Officer – frank.manista@manchester.ac.uk – for more details on participation.

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