Efficiency: Professor Martin Hall (JISCres10)

Speaker

Professor Martin Hall is Vice Chancellor of University of Salford, and is a historical archaeologist and leader. He has been Vice Chancellor of Salford since 2009, and was previously Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Capetown.

Key points

“I want to make a case for giving information away, rather than retaining it. I want to make a case for investing in the face of cutbacks and funding, and I want to be cheerful about the current situation!”

Martin Hall spoke about the challenges of efficiency and effectiveness, drawing out the distinctions between the two for knowledge (and research), and going on to give an insight into what the university of the digital future might look like. He put an open access repository at the heart of this ‘future’ university, and emphasised the importance of investment in digital networks for institutional reputation.

Top tips

  • New technologies for research and innovation offer us unrivalled possibilities.
  • Open access is essential to the efficient and effective use of these new technologies.
  • Paywalls and membership systems are inefficient, ineffective and counter progress. We will live to regret it, if we allow open access advances to be cut short.
  • We can find all sorts of other ways to add value to an open access basis for research.

Presentation


Detailed account

I was asked to speak about efficiency and effectiveness, and found it very challenging. I found it very useful to draw a disctinction between the two. Archaeologists have had to deal with lots of data from time immemorial (he was very glad to see them one of the pilot schools in Southampton)

Innovation for me is turning knowledge into useful products and purposes. I find it very useful to adapt Donald Stokes Pasteur’s Quadrant, to tease apart what we’re trying to do. Research can be both efficient and effective. We’re interested in upper right quadrant – not to diminish research for research’s sake, but to talk about effectiveness and efficiency.

It’s necessary to animate this – our work in research isn’t in one static definition of being either effective or efficient – it develops an arc of its own. An example of this is the development of the internet! It gradually increased in effectiveness, doubling in capacity every two years. But for a long time, it wasn’t really clear what it was for – it hadn’t become an innovation.

But now, its effectiveness is combined with technological innovation in a way we take for granted.

There has been a lot of important work done on the concepts of knowledge and its special properties. Efficiency and effectiveness were associated with the production line originally – but knowledge is very difficult, to restrict and contain. It is also transmitted in a variety of ways (tacit and codified), demonstrated by standard scientific practice (this can explain why the university laboratory environment is very good at knowledge production). These properties of knowledge are not new, and exist independently of the digital revolution. All of our work in universities (and since universities have first existed) – all academic networks, are designed to give away knowledge, not retain it. Academic life is driven by the return on reputation we get from our research. There’s no point in keeping research to yourself – you need to publish so others can cite it.

The less restraint there is – the more we are likely to see the reputational benefits of knowledge. Subscription publishing, copyright restrictions, patent thickets are all rent-seeking systems which limit effectiveness and efficiency – they counterbalance the benefits that the new technologies can offer.

What might the university of the digital future look like?  (especially in the context of the CSR).

I have emphasised the continuity in the essence of what research is, but other things are very different. What has really overtaken us is that change that makes information available everywhere – and ubiquitous. For those of us who trained as a researcher before 1985 will have built into their model of how to do research, going to a research library to catch up on the literature. So in designing field work, for example, I used to have to get back from Africa to the University of Cambridge library, to find out new research. This has all fundamentally changed – we carry around a significant amount of data sources with us.

The real change in research is that we are now swamped with information – and anyone in an active field like medicine will know that by the time you’ve done a literature search, more papers have been published. This is a fundamentally different research problem.

The Open Access Repository: If you were given £500m to build a university of the digital future, how would you do that? I would put an open access repository at the heart of my university. At Salford, we have now made it compulsory for all staff to put research data in an open repository. We give out prizes, and people have found their citations have gone through the roof. We are not the first to do it (for example the University of Southampton has also done so). Our institutions also have to be profoundly analogue as well – for example archaeologists and material objects.

For example, the city of Manchester has the entire archive of the TUC, and information about the Labour party. It’s terribly important that we have that – but we have no metadata that allows the various archives to be searched across.

We should widen this out to promote research and teaching – online learning, networks of scholars, face-to-face interactions. But we need a network of interactions between institutions in the future – we don’t take into account the reputational value of our networks. The development of network assets are seen as dispensable (and may indeed happen in the CSR) – and this is dangerous. We are nothing without our reputational capital in the world, and without our reputational networks. We should see them as key assets – and that will be the true death of the country’s league position in the world.

We can’t participate in this digital network without investment. In Salford – research and innovation in the public sector. Manchester is reconsidering how it spends money on social services. We decided to work with Greater Manchester on this, along open access principles. We built a virtual model to visualise the city, sitting on top of a database of resources (for example housing information). Anyone could put their data into the database. The result has been very encouraging – we find people add value to the resource. You can follow your data through the streets of the city – it’s very useful for public decision-making, and is a way of working with data that conceptualises new possibilities.

To conclude:

New technologies for research and innovation offer us unrivalled possibilities. The essential qualities aren’t that they have changed the fundamental nature of knowledge, but they have allowed revolutionary things to happen: exponential patterns of expansion, massive data storage, accelerating processing power, and almost instant transmission.

Open access is essential to the efficient and effective use of new technologies. Paywalls and membership systems are inefficient, ineffective and counter progress. They might work for Rupert Murdoch, but not for the research community. We will live to regret it, if we allow open access advances to be cut short.

Research and innovation systems can be designed to support both research and innovation through knowledge exchange, and to be sustainable through expert commissioning systems. We can find all sorts of other ways to add value to an open access basis for research. For example, at Salford, we won’t licence the IP on the system we have developed, but the return on investment will be specialist value-added services added to the platform.

Questions:

Peter Burnhill, Director of EDINA, University of Edinburgh: To what extent are your views shared by other senior executives across UK universities?

A: We haven’t got the message through to VCs in significant numbers. The issue of open access is being narrowly contained as a research issue around publications – but it speaks to the open content agenda too. We have been a victim of compartmentalisation.

Q: Elizabeth Gibney, Research Fortnight: You said there are other revenue streams – can you expand on this?

A: The basic principle is adding value to any research activity via a specialist service. Because of the principle that we are swamped with information, we have verification problems, searching problems – there is a whole industry waiting to emerge of adding value to digital resources. What we are finding in the public services area, for example all the authorities and agencies we work with in Greater Manchester have to cut funding – and we can help with efficiency gains.

Research funding is inexorably moving towards the Russell Group. So we have to find new ways of generating it.

Further resources

1 thought on “Efficiency: Professor Martin Hall (JISCres10)

  1. Sarah Charlton

    Martin makes some interesting points. Having worked with a number of academic partners on projects related to knowledge sharing, repository search and research environments, I feel that we are only just addressing the basic issues of making research material available.

    There is much more to do to transform these silos of knowledge that can only be accessed through search, into real intelligence that is relevant to the themes, challenges and enquiries of our communities.

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