Expert Connect: A digital platform enabling University-Industry collaboration
Workshops identifying barriers to collaboration have frequently concluded that an industry-researcher linkage platform is required. Whilst many groups have attempted this, they often placed the burden on researchers to create and update their profiles (1, 2).
Built in collaboration with over 50 partners, Data61's Expert Connect is designed to boost industry-researcher collaboration by creating a publicly searchable database of Australia’s research expertise. Profiles for over 60,000 researchers spanning more than 200 research organisations have been automatically created by drawing on data from ORCID, CSIRO, Web of Science, The Australian Research Council, The National Health and Medical Research Council, IP Australia and The Conversation. Any business person can search for a topic of interest (using simple, non-scientific language) and find the most relevant researchers to connect with.
The search results that Expert Connect displays are not ranked based on academic merit alone, but on a two-step system which assesses both academic excellence and ‘end-user’ intent/experience. Whilst having the right expertise is a necessary pre-qualifier, researchers with more industry interaction experience will receive a higher relevance score and appear closer to the top of the search results.
Building on previous initiatives in this space, the following key principles informed the development of Expert Connect:
1. Leverage existing platforms & datasets
By utilising what already exists, Expert Connect draws together profiles from ORCID, CSIROpeople and The Conversation (includes media articles), IP Australia patent data, ARC/NHMRC grant data and Web of Science journal publications. Integration of data is ongoing and automatic, requiring no manual intervention.
2. Platform is not a silver bullet
A new platform isn’t going to solve ongoing barriers which include incentive structures, communication, legal processes, timeframes etc. However Expert Connect should streamline and support the expertise search process, serving as a useful tool for who play an important role in facilitating industry-researcher linkages.
3. API First/Multiple Access Points
Rather than focusing only on marketing a new platform, the information is also pushed out to the places that people are already going. Using the Expert Connect API allows any organisation to showcase Australia’s research expertise on their own platform.
4. Done is better than perfect
The current iteration of the platform is a beta version, with work occurring daily to enhance the data matching and add functionality. Whilst this does mean that researcher details may not be 100% correct yet, it allows us to work collaboratively on shaping the platform.
5. Two-sided Marketplace
Rather than needing to know the research expertise they require, users have the option to put forward details of the problem they are looking to solve, with relevant experts then able to propose a solution through the Innovation Challenge marketplace.
Results and Impact
The Beta version of Expert Connect was launched on 28th June 2017 by Australia's then Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, the Hon Craig Laundy MP, however the platform has undergone significant development since that time.
The platform provides significant advantages for both researchers and those looking to connect:
1) No profile maintenance - No manual intervention is required to keep a profile updated. New journal publications, patents, grants etc., are automatically be added to the relevant profile.
2) Single researcher list – Multiple partial directories place substantial burden on the searcher and reduce the likelihood of optimal hits. Expert Connect brings together researchers from across the country into a single, searchable list.
3) Bridging the language divide – users can enter business-friendly search terms.
4) Open data - open access to data maximises the opportunities for the platform to be seen and used, with over 10 developers currently signed up.
It also provides significant value for government. In addition to contributing to a core government strategy objective: boosting industry-researcher collaboration, Expert Connect is streamlining government effort through:
1) Multi-agency Collaboration: multiple government departments were looking to develop platforms that would fulfil some or all of what Expert Connect now delivers. Through extensive consultation and targeted engagement, various agencies (at state & federal level) have collaboratively built something of far greater value than what could have been achieved alone. Current key government partners include: Department of Industry, Innovation & Science, IP Australia, and ACT Government, with discussions also under way with other state governments.
2) Researcher Impact & Industry Engagement Measurement: The Australian government are increasingly looking to measure the level of researcher engagement with industry and the impact research creates. Expert Connect automatically draws in a wide range of industry engagement activities and provides researchers with the opportunity to supplement this with activities that could never be systematically captured (such as attending an industry event, or meeting with key industry stakeholders). This will significantly streamline the reporting burden for researchers, and dramatically enhance the quality and timeliness of information received by agencies across government.
Conclusion and Future Plans
Though the platform remains in beta and contains incomplete data, it is already meeting market needs and demonstrating significant utility in increasing the accessibility of Australian industry (along with government and the Australian public) to research expertise.
Future plans for the platform include:
1. Expanded datasets and data visualisation
2. Improved entity resolution
3. Enhanced searching
4. Continued integration with government research agendas
5. Expanded use cases
6. Global expansion