Research is changing, with calls on academics to make research open and collaborate across sectors. So how is technology helping to meet these demands? It’s time to meet the startups answering these calls.
The open access movement has digital at its heart and we shouldn’t forget that it wouldn’t even be possible without the world wide web, allowing for huge amounts of information to be freely shared, and fast.
But with this unprecedented opportunity to share knowledge, there are new challenges researchers must now consider. Some of these are costly, in terms of time, money, and content – the startups we’ll meet below are all about surfacing, and in some cases translating complex information, for non-academics and the commercial world.
There is a general gap within research practice which tech startups, with their entrepreneurial approach, are starting to bridge; there’s a lot of interesting research that’s not being put to use, because it's either very difficult to find or understand. The UK government has cross-sector collaboration on the wish list within the Industrial Strategy and for this collaboration with academica to work well, having accessibility to research findings is fundamental.
We are already seeing an increase in research data, and the calls from our members have lead us to focus on where we can ease the burden of managing that data. If research publications are hard to find and understand, data is even more complex, because of the different formats and forms it can take – it also cuts across disciplines, which is both a blessing and a curse.
There's an expectation that something like the research data shared service will become the place that surfaces all the data produced by intense hours and years of research. The discovery service is adding a layer of aggregation, of data from all universities. We are also working with other organisations in the sector that are building the links between academic research and the world outside higher education.
In the future we will likely see an increase in the quantity of research, as well as more innovative uses of technology to help meet the open access requirements of funders. But the next generation of research is about so much more than meeting standards in order to comply with policies such as the Research Excellence Framework.
The exponential expansion in technology means there are exciting times ahead, but the startups below are changing what’s possible when it comes to sharing research, right now. They vary greatly, engage people in a wide variety of content, and some of those on offer which we’ve been impressed by include:
Sparrho's mission is to make science more discoverable, understandable and shareable. Set up by women and invested in by a women-based venture capital company, they certainly embrace the notion of cross-sector collaboration when it comes to research. As their website states, they ‘combine artificial intelligence and human experts to democratise science’ with over 45,000 journals and repositories checked hourly.
Reveal Digital are helping to bring collections of specialist content, such as Independent Voices, into the digital age. Through a crowd-funded approach, universities who pledge to support digitization of content, also receive digital copies of all of the material they provide to a collection. Independent Voices will become fully open access and available to the public from January 2019.
Konfer have recently crossed over from start-up to fully funded service, working with the National Centre for Universities and Business. Described by its founders as ‘Google meets LinkedIn’, it’s a huge resource to start conversations about collaboration across sectors, and to realise the full impact of research potential.
It might make us think of robot-run classes of the future, but edtech is already said to be the new fintech and the next generation of open research certainly lends itself to a groundswell in innovation. There’s an opportunity now to do things differently – new software and online platforms are being developed all the time, and with new means of (crowd) funding, we can bring citizen science to life, one project at a time.
Part of the programme of work we do in the futures directorate includes the edtech launchpad. Our aim with this R&D project is to support the entrepreneurs of the moment help meet the challenges being faced across post-16 education.
Previous winners of our student ideas competition, Know it Wall, wanted to create a one stop shop for outreach in academia and through working with us they’ve recently launched this platform. To sum up, and in their own words:
“It is estimated that well over two million academic papers are published each year and there are countless more university lectures. Who is accessing this knowledge? Academics within the same disciplines and their students. Why should it only be them? We couldn't think of a good reason either!”