Recently, I’ve been contributing to a bid for some JISC funding. Someone else is doing most of the work, and I’m simply contributing some ideas, suggesting text, and trying to help with the concept. This is a far cry from when I used to manage bids for JISC funding opportunities. In those days, I used to ‘live’ with the bids for several weeks, sometimes even months, and would constantly add to, and tweak, the draft submission.
This current bid has great potential, so I really hope that it is funded. One problem we’ve had is that we’re supposed to provide evidence of significant demand from an identified community for it. Yet, whilst there is very obviously a need for what the proposed project will provide, the proposal is also novel, is quite difficult to explain or understand, and connects together various strands of data and service delivery concepts. How can you give evidence of a specific demand for something which will work in a way that most people may not even thought of?
The proposal is do with creating new and better ways for researchers to keep up-to-date with the latest research outputs. Initially, it concerns newly published scholarly articles, but eventually it could extend to include new papers being deposited in institutional and subject repositories. Essentially, it proposes an intuitive and smart interface to enable researchers to read, manage and share only scientific literature that is current, relevant, reliable, personalised, and integrated with the user’s institutional library holdings or Open Access titles.
It has various proposed elements, some of which may change or develop before the bid is submitted, but at the present time my understanding of them is that they include:
1. A novel user-friendly, sort of enewspaper-type interface in which to view details of recently published research articles and papers. The nearest I can explain this interface is to say that it could look a little like a cross between Twunlog and paper.li
2. This interface would allow for two different types of personalisation of content. Firstly, the user would be able to control much of what was displayed – he/she could read, add and delete items, highlight items, move items around, store items, and easily export records to bibliographic management packages. Secondly, and this is a very interesting aspect of the proposal, there would be smart personalisation. Using proven technical methods that I don’t fully understand, the system would gradually learn what was of real interest to the user through the user’s normal scanning, reading and clickthrough (to the full text) activity within the interface, and would help organise the display of items accordingly, including suggesting relevant items from various journals which were not being followed by the user, and eventually possibly also items being deposited in institutional and subject repositories. For a flavour, think of how some email systems prioritise mail and get rid of spam, though there would be more to it than that.
3. Social media would be exploited by allowing the user to be alerted to new content via Twitter. I’ve written about this sort of thing before, and about how using Twitter would be a good for such alerting, but the proposal would go further than how I’ve previously described it. TocAlerts could be used, e.g.
TocAlert @[MyTwitterAccount] New TOC: Geo-spatial Information Science http://tinyurl.com/33p68up
The tinyurl would always in fact be a link to a JournalTOCs URL (i.e. http://www.journaltocs.ac.uk/api/journal/issn?output=articles), but the new interface API would detect that a new tweeted TOC alert had arrived at MyTwitterAccount, and as that would be linked to ‘my new interface’ account, the new TOC would be analysed by the new interface system and used to update the user’s new interface (rather than display it within the JournalTOCs interface). However, for anyone else who didn’t have an account at the new interface, that tinyurl would link to the TOC displayed in JournalTOCs just as it does at present, and it would therefore still work. Hence the TocAlerts could be retweeted or found via Twitter Search, etc, and would work for anyone, however those who were using the new interface who clicked on it would see the TOC within their new interface personalised environment. This would, very importantly, assist researchers working within groups to share content which was of interest, within their personalised interfaces, as long as they were all users of the new interface.
4. Whilst the proposed new interface would be initially powered by JournalTOCs content and usage data, it would not simply be an extension of that existing service but rather the creation of an entirely new way to view, manage, exploit and share the latest research outputs – and all with very little effort on the part of the user.
5. The proposal would be trialled by volunteers at a limited number of institutions which are already taking advantage of the localised customisation of JournalTOCs. This would mean that the journal holdings of those volunteer users would be known to the admin system controlling the new interface, which would allow it to always indicate to the users the immediate availability, or not, of the full text of items, or alternately all content could be restricted to only journals which were available to the users through their existing institutional subscriptions.
To me, it sounds like a very cool idea, though I’m not sure if I’ve described it particularly well! Once it’s submitted, we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed.
Writing bids can be stressful, and however much you plan in advance, things always seem to get complicated near the submission time. I remember one bid, some time ago when they had to be submitted by post. Our service co-ordinator took it up to the Post Office on the very last day that it could be submitted. Then I suddenly had a thought – had its covering letter actually been signed? I phoned the co-ordinator who was in the Post Office at the time, and had just paid for the package to be posted. Had the enclosed letter been signed? She thought maybe it hadn’t. So she had to ask for the package back from behind the Post Office counter, she opened it, saw the unsigned letter, and high-tailed it back to the university to get it signed, then resealed everything, and dashed back to the Post Office just before they closed for the day. A close call that might have cost us a lot of funding.
In the past, I’ve had input into various JISC projects. For the proposals I managed, I had a 100% funding success rate with JISC, amounting in all to over £2m, although in a couple of cases bits were lopped off the proposals. Some of the other bids were successful and some were not. Some of those unsuccessful bids were actually better than some of the successsful ones, but in the end, everything actually depends on how bids are marked and evaluated.