If sharing is largely collaborating then are we collaborating as much as we can? Or are we focussed on the need to collaborate more when actually such activity is fully optimised?
Therefore is the question we should really be asking ourselves “how can we become more efficient?” We have always needed partnering for knowledge or resource reasons, and we will continue to have these needs, possibly procured in more efficient processes. However, the business processes and support for our research equipment is where there is a real potential for more efficient and effective practice.
An emerging area where efficiency can be realised is in the sharing of results. This could be through an established consortia (e.g. per sample, free to consortia members or costed to non-consortia members) and such practice could realise the potential for 100% utilised equipment to still deliver for the wider community. The JISC pilot project, the Research Data Registry and Discovery Service, delivered through the DCC (Digital Curation Centre), could be a prime enabler for more efficient and timely access to such research data. By creating a standard metadata profile and establishing a mechanism for discovery of this metadata, a simple system could be implemented allowing searching and filtering of data in a timely way without the need for the researchers to do anything more than add the data to their repository.
Obviously this all sounds simplistic and utopian but the sector is moving in the right direction. The equipment.data project can offer some real opportunities from infrastructure exploitation for improved data discovery to linking with publication datasets demonstrating impact. These might include:
Equally, it doesn't necessarily have to be about the equipment utilisation. At the recent ARMA 2014 Conference, Dr Hamish McAlpine from the University Bath and Dr Steve Trowell from the University of Exeter talked about the simple steps we can take to become more efficient in how we support equipment through its life. These steps are also very amenable to measurement, offering the opportunity to benchmark and improve over time. These opportunities include:
For further information on Hamish’s presentation please see his slides
These are all very practical and require little additional effort for very real efficiencies beyond the challenges faced when considering the effort to increase utilisation of a piece of service research equipment from say 50% to 75%, where the practical returns may be outweighed by the need for full time support from what may have been previously part time.
In an agenda where we need to develop efficiencies there are some simple procedural steps we can take enabling the delivery of measurable efficiencies before we consider more resource intensive developments. Clearly these may not address the procurement of the next 1GHz spectrometer but could deliver larger cumulative savings than you think.