Organisational Identifiers Working Group – outputs and update

The original objectives for the Organisational Lists Working Group were as follows:

  • Explore possible sources of authoritative lists of organisations involved in UK research, including research performing organisations, charities, industry, etc;
  • Develop a sustainable process for maintaining authoritative lists of organisations in the CASRAI dictionary.

The membership of this working group includes representatives from ARMA, Research Councils, HEDIIP, BL, CrossRef, Wellcome Trust, CRIS system vendors and UK HEIs.

The outputs from the group have been:

  • Organisational Id Landscape Study – a report to inform the Working Group on the current use of organisational identifiers was commissioned and delivered (Sept 2013)
  • Organisational Id Review – commissioned by the Working Group to review a core set of organisational identifiers (ISNI, Ringgold, Digital Science and UKPRN) (Dec 2014)
  • Use cases – based on key use cases from the Research Lifecycle, these have been identified by the Working Group and further developed under the OrgId Review (Dec 2014)
  • Organisation Ids for UK research – a statement of agreement by the Working Group (March 2015).

Landscape Study
The terms of reference for this study were to interview members of the working group to establish what authoritative lists of organisations involved in UK research are being, or could be, used and undertake a landscape review of organisational identifiers currently used, and for what purpose, in the UK. The study identified the key aspects for an organisational identifier to support the widest range of use cases. These are governance, trust, transparency, temporal (historical) and having the appropriate metadata. When it came to identifying use cases against the core set of identifiers it was decided to look at the highest level first, rather than those more granular cases such as looking at departmental level, and determine which identifiers best satisfied these use cases.

There were 23 identifiers described within the landscape study; almost all of these are internal (they solve a specific requirement within the organisation that has created them, and any additional re-use of these identifiers is unintended). However, the evidence collected shows that some of the examples do go beyond this internal use:

  • Regulated lists. The focus of these lists is not the identifier, but that inclusion on the list represents some specific status. (HEFCE’s list of HE providers for England and Companies House).
  • Technical systems. These are primarily intended for network interactions, rather than as a governance mechanism (Janet and MACE/UK Federation).
  • UK Provider Reference Number (UKPRN). Although it is essentially a regulated list, UKPRN has been adopted as an identifier by a range of parties, including HESA and HEFCE.
  • International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI). ISNI is intended as a bridge identifier: it has no authority of its own, and is intended to be used to link disparate data sources together.
  • Business information. These sources focus on providing information about the organisations, and an identifier is necessary to do this (Ringgold and Dun & Bradstreet).
  • Authority lists. These lists are intended to increase harmonisation, but do not have the restrictive nature of a Regulated list (FundRef, VIAF, and ResearchFish).

The study came to the following conclusions:

  • None of the identifiers investigated fulfils the role of being an “authoritative list” of organisations involved in research. They are all constrained in scope, or not authoritative.
  • ISNI and UKPRN both have traction, and warrant particularly careful consideration by the working group. UKPRN does not cover the full range of organisations involved in research, is limited to the UK, and does not include departments, but is a robustly managed list that covers a defined subset of organisations very well. The role of the registration agency in ISNI is crucial, and whether the existing agencies offer appropriate services for this domain will need to be considered.
  • The Research Councils, as major funders of research in the UK, should be closely involved in the development of any new identifier system. At present, ROS, ResearchFish and Gateway to Research all use their own identifiers.
  • Given the range of existing identifiers, any new identifier system should only be developed and introduced if there is clear evidence of demand, and sufficient buy in to ensure that it is universally adopted.
  • The authority can remain separate from the identifier (for example, it would be feasible to establish an authority list with appropriate metadata but using the ISNI as the identifier).

Organisational Identifiers Review
Following on from the recommendations of the Landscape Study a further review was undertaken on a core set of identifiers – ISNI, Ringgold, Digital Science and UKPRN. Specifically, it looked to:

  • clarify a representative but not comprehensive set of use cases for the UK research community to use organisational identifiers (OrgIds);
  • survey and interview a small number of well-informed people in the field in order to create and prioritise a list of desirable features for the provision of OrgIds and potential services built around them;
  • check the use cases and these required features against four possible candidate OrgIds and their providers;
  • inform the Working Group of its conclusions and, if appropriate, make recommendations for adoption by the UK research community.

Before summarising the outputs from this review, it’s worth briefly describing the core set of identifiers chosen:

  • ISNI: ISNI is an ISO standard, in use by numerous libraries, publishers, databases, and rights management organisations around the world. The ISNI database is built from hundreds of databases worldwide and holds public records of over 8.6 million identities, including 8.24 million individuals (of which 2.25 million are researchers) and 446,000 organisations. The ISNI International Agency (ISNI-IA), in compliance with ISO’s policy and procedures, is designated by ISO as the ISNI Registration Authority. Its charge includes the maintenance and revision of the standard, the responsibility for the central ISNI database and assignment system, and the development of the related activities around the identifier, including contractual relations with the network of ISNI Registration agencies, ISNI members, etc. ISNI is a bridge identifier, designed to provide interoperability between different proprietary identifiers, such as the Ringgold ID.
  • Ringgold: The Ringgold Identifier was implemented as a key solution in a project undertaken with a major scholarly publisher seeking best practices for the identification and disambiguation of institutional subscribers. Their database contains 400,000 organisation records with organisational identifiers and associated metadata. It’s global and covers all market sectors, including but not limited to, universities, research centres, funders, corporations, non-profit organisations, government entities and organisations, healthcare and hospitals, schools and public libraries.
  • Digital Science: The Digital Science Institute Database provides global coverage of organisations that feature in the scientific lifecycle. This includes funders, those that receive funding, collaborators, those that publish articles in journals or conference proceedings, or any institution that consumes or produces any kind of scientific artefact such as data or software. It has been developed to provide solutions to typical data integration and scholarly attribution problems experienced across the portfolio of Digital Science companies and is actively used by Figshare, Altmetric, Symplectic Elements, Dimensions for Funders and Symplectic Dimensions for Institutions. The number of organisations indexed is expected to exceed 25,000 by its public release (expected February 2015).
  • UKPRN: The UK Register of Learning Providers is a register of legally verified learning providers in the UK. Each verified provider will be assigned with a unique provider reference number UKPRN. This information is shared across the sector with agencies such as the Skills Funding Agency, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and UCAS. This is an optional register so not all learning providers need to register with UKRLP.

The conclusion of the review was that while one single candidate would not fulfil all the criteria, it would be useful to separate the infrastructure element (the provision and maintenance of the OrgID itself) and the service element (the services offered both to registrants and to end users of the services). The most desirable vision for the future would be for ISNI to emerge as a strong, sustainable and internationally well supported baseline or, in their own words, “bridging” ID with a few commercial players, and perhaps some non-commercial ones such as the British Library and HEFCE, acting as registration agencies and holding crosswalks or equivalence tables to their own IDs.

The Organisational Identifier Working Group accepted the following recommendations:

  1. The Working Group should consider recommending a hybrid approach with ISNI as the backbone. Institutions and others needing to register and use OrgIds should use a solution which relies on and feeds the minimum data set curated by ISNI.
  2. In considering registration solutions and value-added services, organisations should bear in mind that, in the short term, Ringgold is the most developed agency conforming to recommendation 1.
  3. However, we very much hope that soon there will be other service providers working to deliver value added services on top of ISNI and the Working Group should do what they can to encourage such competition by, for example, Digital Science, who should consider the possibility of acting as a registration agency for ISNIs in a similar way to Ringgold.
  4. Jisc should investigate the possibilities and costs of a bulk deal for UK academic institutions for value added services with Ringgold and (in time) with other service providers.
  5. We understand that the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) has recently become a registration agency for ISNI and we recommend that HEFCE and the British Library discuss whether it would be appropriate for there to be a UK-based registration agency and how bulk creation/checking of ISNIs might take place for UK academic institutions and other UK organisations involved in research.

The report and its findings are currently being publicised and disseminated. A draft statement of agreement (based on the report’s findings and highlighting the direction of travel) is being prepared so that key organisations, such as RCUK, Jisc, HEFCE, etc can sign up to it.

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