A vision to transform the research ecosystem

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A vision to transform the research ecosystem

Laurel L. Haak, PhD, is the Executive Director of ORCID, a non-profit organization that works across regions and disciplines to connect research and researchers through a registry of unique and persistent personal identifiers. She is a Stanford Medical School graduate, earning her PhD in neuroscience in 1997 after completing a BS and MS in Biology, also from Stanford. After her postdoc with the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), she worked as an editor for Science's Next Wave (today known as Science Careers) and as a manager of the Postdoc Network. She went on to serve as a staff officer for the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy at the US National Academies. She then held the position of Chief Science Officer for Discovery Logic, later acquired by Thomson Reuters, where she advised on research policy and managed development of research evaluation systems. Dr. Haak joined ORCID in 2012.

Interestingly, you are a neuroscientist by advanced training. What prompted your transition to policy, research evaluation, and systems development?

I took a risk. Looking back, it makes complete sense. But as a postdoc in biomedicine, deciding to do something other than bench work was a serious departure from the expected norm. I really enjoy writing, I enjoy a challenge, and I like to take ideas and make them real. All of these things together (plus the fact that I have a hard time staying in one place for long) have been drivers for me to try new things and carve a career path that some have described as “evolutionary.”  

This path of challenge and change has led you to ORCID. Tell us about ORCID's aim to “transform the research ecosystem?” Could you give an overview for those who are not yet familiar with ORCID?

Right now, researchers and scholars are recognized primarily for their peer-reviewed journal article contributions. And even then, many are not well recognized because of variations in how their name appears in the published literature. Some names are shared with many other people, some names are transliterated or misspelled, some names change over a person’s career. These variations, or ambiguities, make it very difficult to accurately identify a person’s body of work, even when focusing on one work type, the journal article. In addition, there are many contributions a person makes, such as peer review, patents, datasets, mentoring, that are virtually impossible to link back to the contributor and therefore impossible to cite, let alone share. ORCID can change all of that by providing a persistent and unique person identifier that can not only link together all name versions for a person, but also is embedded in research workflows (such as grant application, association membership, meeting abstract submission…) that creates a hard link between a person and many contribution types. This ability to link and cite people and their research and scholarly contributions can help us better understand an individual’s contributions, alter our view of knowledge production, and potentially alter incentives for what and how research and scholarly activity is carried out, acknowledged, and rewarded.  

Why do you see ORCID as a “researcher-driven initiative” when its launch and sustainability is owed largely to the support of organizations?

Disambiguation of the scholarly record will not work without researchers and scholars taking a leading role. This fundamental fact underlies the founding of ORCID. Researchers must get involved, register for an ORCID ID. A key ORCID principle is that the researcher controls what is linked to their identifier, and how it is displayed and shared on their ORCID Registry. 

Given the interrelated nature of metrics and attribution, what concerns regarding metrics are often voiced to you? 

I hear variations on two themes: that the measurements are inaccurate because of data quality issues, and that the metrics do not capture the breadth of research contributions. Embedding of ORCID identifiers, in concert with persistent identifiers for organizations, papers, datasets, and other contributions, can address both points.

Though the content of research is always more significant than any metric, recent developments in the area of metrics, persistent identifiers, and attribution have nonetheless been exciting on many fronts. Can you tell us what impact ORCID has and could have on scholarly metrics?

ORCID identifiers have been incorporated into platforms used to derive publication statistics, namely Scopus and Web of Science, as well as in tools used to crunch alternative metrics, including Altmetric, Impact Story, and PLOS Article-level Metrics.

In roughly a year, over 500,000 individuals have registered for an ORCID identifier, and 120 organizations have become members spanning disciplines, sectors, and the globe. How does this progress measure against ORCID’s mission objectives? 

ORCID; Laurel Haak, Dr. Haak, Dr Haak

We estimate that there are on the order of 11 million active researchers and scholars in the world. Our goal in the first full year of operation was to reach 500,000 registrants, and we did! The top five countries are the United States, China, Portugal, India, and the United Kingdom.  That said, we have over 10,000 users each in over 40 countries, and users in over 200 countries and territories. We are striving to triple participation in 2014, by continuing our direct engagement with researchers and also supporting the integration of ORCID identifiers in more publishing, funding, and university research processes and systems. Memberships are critical for our sustainability. We are working to double memberships and integrations this year, and double again in 2015. 

ORCID has been endorsed by the UK’s higher education network as a tool to identify researchers. Similarly, other countries have expressed interests to make ORCID their national scheme. How do they plan to incorporate it and what work would go into making this a reality?

National-level adoption of ORCID has been recommended by groups in DenmarkPortugalSweden, and the UK, and is under discussion in other nations around the world.  In the UK,  JISC and ARMA have just announced a pilot project to develop best practices for national adoption of ORCID identifiers. On our part, we are developing tools and processes to support groups of organizations working together to use and embed ORCID identifiers in their systems. We provide a consortium member agreement and discount, outreach and technical documentation, APIs, examples of integrations, reference sites, and sample software code to support the community use of ORCID identifiers; for our members we also provide person-to-person technical support. We work to coordinate initiatives in the persistent identifier area, for example the ability to link your ORCID identifier to other person identifiers, to identifiers for documents, and to identifiers for organizations. As an international organization, we work with organizations with a wide range of technical readiness. At the present time, integration of ORCID identifiers depends on access to technical staff with knowhow in databases, XML, and APIs. We are considering creating tools that would enable organizations with limited technical support to engage with ORCID—please let us know if this would be of help with your organization. National adoption can help to streamline the integration of ORCID identifiers by providing centralized infrastructure and technical support. Among the use cases are integration by universities and other higher education institutions to support internal repository management, validation and tracking of graduates, reporting of research results to funders, and in general enabling interoperable data exchange between research systems, both within and between research organizations. The ability to “enter once, use many times” save researcher’s time in data entry and improves data quality, enhancing discoverability and leaving researchers more time to engage in research and scholarly activities. 

While it has gained momentum in Western regions, how do you plan to bring awareness to other regions? 

ORCID usage and membership is international. We provide Registry and content in several languages to enable ease of use of the Registry, and we work with ORCID Ambassadors and organizations like Editage, an ORCID member, to provide information on ORCID directly to researchers. We host bi-annual Outreach meetings in different regions to engage with researchers and organizations, this year in Chicago and in Tokyo. Future meetings will be hosted in Spain, Brazil, and Canada—contact us if you would like to host an event in your city! In addition, we present webinars, participate in disciplinary society meetings, go on local road shows, and communicate information on new features and integrations through our blog and social media venues. 

Codefests and hackathons! ORCID’s next Outreach and Codefest Meeting (May 21-24, 2014) in Chicago will have one of these. Can you explain the concept in layperson’s terms to those of us who don’t know it… and are curious by nature? 

Outreach meetings and CodeFests are an opportunity to interact directly with ORCID staff, and also for the research community to meet with peers and discuss integration plans. The Outreach meeting in May will highlight our Sloan-funded Adoption and Integration program awardees: universities and professional associations that are integrating ORCID identifiers into repositories, faculty information systems, dissertation workflows, membership systems, and federated access management workflows. We are also hosting a CodeFest—the objective here is to bring together software developers working on ORCID integration projects and provide them with direct access to the ORCID technical team, high-calorie food, and the lure of prizes for best in show (as voted by their peers). The close collaboration enables rapid troubleshooting and development, and leads to some interesting projects. At our 2013 CodeFest  participants created an app to tag a map with ORCID Registry activity, established code libraries, and implemented RDF support for linked data representations of ORCID record data.

Can you share with us any exciting upcoming features for users? What is the best way for users to keep abreast of major ORCID developments? 

In the last 3 months, we have released the ability to link your ORCID iD to your organization and to your funding awards. We will be releasing new functionality so you can assign a delegate to manage your account, implementing a user messaging system so that published works information can “round trip” from the journal, funder, etc., to your ORCID record, and we’ll be enabling the ability for members to validate information in an ORCID record. We have implemented several features requested by Registry users – we encourage you to enter and vote on ideas in our iDeas forum.  You can keep up-to-date on ORCID activities and features by following us on Twitter @ORCID_Org, and by subscribing to our newsletter.

Thank you, Dr. Haak.

Related reading:

How journals make assertions: An insight into the publishing industry


This interview was conducted by Alagi Patel.


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Published on: Mar 24, 2014


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