Tuesday, 22 October 2013

What does an eresearch service look like ?

There has been a lot of discussion about eresearch and eresearch services. However when you try and pin down what constitutes an eresearch service it seems to be all things to all people.

In an effort to try and find some consensu I did a very simple survey. I typed 'eresearch services' into Google and chose pages from Australian universities. I've tabulated the results of this fairly unscientific survey in a google spreadsheet.

Each institution of course described the service on offer differently, so the spreadsheet is purely my interpretation of the information available on the web.

There are some clear trends - all sites offer help with
  • storage
  • access to compute/virtual machines
  • cloud services
  • collaboration (which includes data transfer and video conferencing)
Other services tend to be more idiosyncratic, perhaps reflecting the strengths of individual institutions. However it's clear that a lot of the effort revolves around facilitation.

My personal view is that we do not try to second guess researchers. Instead of prescribing we facilitate by helping researchers get on with the business of research.

This is based on my experience. Over the course of the data commons project we fielded a number of out of band questions such as
  • Access to storage for work in progress data
  • Data management and the use of external services like dropbox and skydrive
  • Access to a bare vm to run an application or service
  • Starting a blog to chronicle a project
  • What is the best tablet for a field trip
  • How can I publish my data on the web
which suggests what researchers want is advice and someone to help them do what they want to do - a single point of contact.

Provision of a single point of contact hides any internal organisational complexity from the researcher, it becomes the contact’s problem to manage access to services and not the researcher’s.

There are of course other views - for example this presentation from eresearch 2013 but I think we can agree that what researchers want is easy access to services and a small amount of support and help ...

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