When introducing a new reporting system, university administrators are faced with the competing objectives of minimizing the disruption to existing procedures, while obtaining all the benefits offered by the new system. In this case study, we look at how the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus (UBCO) approached the goal of automating the generation of annual activity reports in a way that prioritized a smooth integration with the well-established option of creating them with a word processor based on general styling rules.
UBCO has a web portal, known as RIMES, with software tools for researchers at every stage of the research cycle, from planning a project all the way to preserving their contributions in repositories. UNIWeb was included in this toolbox to offer researchers multiple solutions: a tool to find potential collaborations for research projects, an alternative and efficient way to prepare their Canadian Common CV (CCV) for funding competitions, and a way of reusing the CCV information to generate their annual activity reports. In turn, the inclusion of UNIWeb in the academic workflow provided university administrators with the data to perform statistical analyses of internal academic metrics of academic units and specific groups of researchers.
From CCV to annual reporting
UNIWeb was introduced as a tool for UBCO researchers in June 2014 with the objective of helping them manage their CCV efficiently. The software was used primarily to import/export academic data from/to the CCV website, and edit the data with a modern and fast web interface. This simplified the generation of the CCVs required by funding competitions, and reduced the overall time spent preparing funding applications. A year later, work began on reusing the CCV information stored in UNIWeb to create editable Word documents that had the format of the standard UBCO CV, and creating the activity reports that researchers submitted annually to their academic units. The data gathered by the CCV website had much in common with what was already used for annual reports and academic metrics, and UNIWeb enabled the automatic generation of reports for both researchers and administrators.
The institution saw an important advantage in having UNIWeb generate annual activity reports that followed the exact same format that researchers were already using for their academic units. Keeping the reports the same meant that researchers could still create their annual reports manually if they so chose, facilitating the transition for researchers.
While most of the data required for the reports was already available in the CCV of researchers, there were some aspects of the reports that required information that was not captured by the CCV website. For example, the annual activity reports included information on how a researcher’s activities contributed to the university’s commitments.
UBCO assigned an internal project leader to gather the needs of each academic unit (an ongoing process). This task involves coordinating the addition of new data fields requested by the academic units, and deciding where it is most appropriate for users to input that data into the system. The project leader also handles the report template requests, which require a mapping between the name and location of each needed piece of information and the intended name and location of that data in each report type.
The implementation of the design of the annual activity reports and CVs were flexible as to how sections could be ordered and categorized. The administration was not limited to the existing structure of the CCV in any way. They could change how information was named, categorized, and ordered in the academic CVs and reports. For example, the UBCO report for the Faculty of Health and Social Development renamed the CCV section ‘Supervisory Activities’ to ‘Teaching’ in their report. They also moved the ‘Teaching’ section up in the document to follow the section on employment, as opposed to being after ‘Research Funding History’ like it is in the CCV.
In addition to creating report templates, the institution requested the creation of input templates to help guide users when entering data into the system. Similar to the funding templates used by the CCV website, UNIWeb’s input templates are used to filter the data sections and fields available on the interface based on the requirements of a given report. Each input template reduces the number of form fields available to only those that are used by a target document type.
With UNIWeb expanded to account for UBCO’s unique data needs, and custom report templates set up in the system, the annual reporting workflow was greatly accelerated. Researchers only have to worry about keeping their UNIWeb CV up to date, and by doing so, they have both their CCV ready for funding competitions, and their internal activity reports prepared for annual evaluations.
The UBCO research network
UNIWeb’s research network enhanced the ability of faculty to discover how their research interests connected them with other academics at UBCO. RIMES staff wanted to facilitate how researchers expanded their networks and built research project teams. With up-to-date profiles that reuse publication information from the CV, UNIWeb connects researchers based on common research interests. Researchers can discover new collaborators and partners based on relevant research interests, finding opportunities that might otherwise have been left to chance.
The integration of UNIWeb with the university’s single-sign-on system facilitates user adoption, and eliminates the need to create accounts manually for each faculty. This means that users are able to log in with the same credentials that they use to access the rest of their academic software and services at the university.
The academic data collected by the UNIWeb CV, both what is present in the CCV and also what was added by UBCO for annual reporting is also available for the computation of academic metrics. As a result, metrics over groups of researchers can be accessed at any time, without requiring additional submission of information from the faculty.
The raw data in researchers’ CVs can also be downloaded as an Excel file. UBCO administrators use this feature to perform their own statistical calculations and reporting using the rich set of computational tools in Excel. For example, it only takes a few clicks to download a workbook with the list of all publications in an academic unit within a given timeframe.
While many software tools work independently, linking those that offer complementary functionality can be an effective approach to maximizing the reusability of academic data. UBCO plans to use UNIWeb’s ability to communicate data between itself and other systems. By interconnecting these systems, the University hopes to combine the individual strengths of each piece of software and have an integrated solution that unites different sources of information into a coherent repository of academic data.
The institution established a CV management tool that facilitates their reporting system while keeping their existing annual activity report styles. The administration favoured keeping current reports over a complete overhaul of reporting procedures. The approach minimized disruption, and gave adopters immediate access to the benefits of automated reporting. Researchers also use the system to discover how their work links them with other researchers on campus, potentially identifying previously unknown connections, and potential collaborators.