What the %$&! is Research Information Management?

This post is authored by the five co-authors of Research Information Management in the United States: Rebecca Bryant, Jan Fransen, Pablo de Castro, Brenna Helmstutler, and David Scherer.

In Europe, most faculty and university leaders have a ready grasp of the terms Current Research Information System (CRIS) or Research Information Management System (RIMS). These terms—and the systems they refer to—have been around for a while, are widespread across the continent, and play an important role in policy compliance monitoring and in reporting for external requirements from research funders relating to research assessment and open access, such as the United Kingdom’s Research Excellence Framework (REF). A European community of practice is led by euroCRIS.

But here in the United States, the situation is far less clear. The terms CRIS and RIMS, while occasionally used, are less frequent and poorly understood. And, unlike Europe, we don’t have a vendor-agnostic community of practice, despite the rapid adoption of research information management (RIM) infrastructures in US research institutions. 

Instead, we more often hear other terminology like:

  • Research Networking System (RNS)
  • Research Profiling System (RPS)
  • Expert Finder System (EFS)
  • Faculty Activity Reporting (FAR) system.

This multiplicity of terminology reflects a broader confusion about just what research information management is. In a new OCLC Research report series entitled Research Information Management in the United States, we offer the following definition to describe RIM practice:

Research Information Management (RIM) systems support the transparent aggregation, curation, and utilization of data about institutional research activities.

RIM systems support multiple uses

The reports describe six discrete use cases that can be supported by RIM systems. Even though different stakeholders may use different terms to describe different uses, we believe it’s essential to recognize that they all collect and use much the same information—particularly metadata about research staff and their publications and other research outputs produced within the institution.

Six RIM use cases identified in the Research Information Management in the United States report series
Six RIM use cases identified in Research Information Management in the United States report series

The similarities between these uses and the systems that support them are greater than their differences. In fact, a key observation of our study is that many different systems are used by different stakeholders within research institutions without often recognizing that all of these disparate RIM systems are part of a larger, umbrella Research Information Management (RIM) product category. We hope that our identification of these use cases will provide a frame of reference for institutions to examine and better understand their own complex practices, inviting increased collaboration, information sharing, decision-making, and institutional investment.

Furthermore, recognizing these similarities is a necessary step toward working across institutional silos and developing a cross-functional, vendor-agnostic community of practice in the United States.[1]

Case studies of RIM practices at US institutions

Our observations are based upon the close study of RIM practices at five US research institutions, selected for their diversity of practices, systems, products, and stakeholders:

  • Penn State University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Virginia Tech
  • UCLA 
  • University of Miami. 

During late 2020 and early 2021, we conducted 23 semi-structured interviews with 39 individuals at 8 institutions and combined this knowledge with a review of the literature, informed by our own past and current experiences as RIM system managers. The findings are divided into two separate reports: 

Part 1 – Findings and Recommendations provides much-needed context for understanding the RIM landscape in the United States by documenting use cases, detailing a RIM system framework, and offering concise recommendations for RIM stakeholders. 
Part 2- Case Studies provides a detailed narrative of the RIM practices at the five case study institutions, offering context about the history, goals, use cases, scope, stakeholders, and users at each institution.

The reports document the array of stakeholders in research information management, including the library, research office, provost and academic affairs units, faculty affairs, human resources, external relations (like advancement and corporate relations), IT, and, of course, the faculty and researchers themselves. Most institutions support multiple RIM uses, often with different systems (and with various degrees of interoperability), which can be seen at a glance here: 

Chart of use cases at different institutions
Use cases practiced at five case study institutions

We encourage you to learn more by reading the reports, which, like all OCLC Research outputs, are openly available to the community. Please share with others in the community and watch for more blog posts about this project here on Hanging Together

[1] This definition and the use cases were developed through our examination of the US RIM ecosystem, but we have also sought to develop descriptions that work beyond the borders of the US, to particularly be inclusive of practices in Europe and the rest of the world.

  • Rebecca Bryant, PhD, serves as Senior Program Officer at OCLC Research where she leads investigations into research support topics such as research information management (RIM).
  • Janet (Jan) Fransen is the Service Lead for Research Information Management Systems at University of Minnesota Libraries, in particularly supporting Experts@Minnesota.
  • Pablo de Castro works as Open Access Advocacy Librarian at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow and also serves as Secretary for the euroCRIS association to promote collaboration across the research information management community.
  • Brenna Helmstutler is the Librarian for the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University and works with other library team members to support Experts@Syracuse.
  • David Scherer is the Scholarly Communications and Research Curation Consultant with the University Libraries at Carnegie Mellon University where he serves as the Operational Lead for the CMU Elements Research Information Management (RIM) Initiative.

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