Introducing the new euroCRIS President for the term 2021-2022: Sadia Vancauwenbergh (U Hasselt)

Mon, 11/01/2021 - 13:13 -- euroCRIS Secret...


Sadia Vancauwenbergh was elected as a euroCRIS Board member for the period 2019-2020 in the polls held in Nov'2018. Two years later she has been chosen as the new euroCRIS President following the stepping down of Ed Simons (Radboud University Nijmegen). This interview with the new euroCRIS President is aimed to learn more about her plans and priorities and to allow euroCRIS members to get to know her better.


Sadia Vancauwenbergh (U Hasselt) is the new euroCRIS President since the 1st of January 2021


1. Two years ago you were the new candidate for the euroCRIS Board that got the highest vote rate ever, and a few weeks ago you topped the polls for the new euroCRIS Board 2021-2022. Why do you think you do so well at the polls? Had you been involved with the international research information management community for some time already before aspiring to become a euroCRIS Board member back in 2018?

To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by the result obtained on each euroCRIS Board election and the support I received from the community and my colleagues in the euroCRIS Board, for which I would like to thank everyone. This support is a great appreciation for the work I have been doing in the research information community since 2014, which aims to minimise the administrative burden for researchers and, on the other hand, to maximise the re-use of information in CRIS for a wide variety of purposes. With this aim in mind, I am present in various communities, including EOSC, Open Data, ISSI, ISKO... in order to achieve and advocate on the potential of research information systems.

2. This new term will see your début as euroCRIS President. Where would you like to see euroCRIS under your watch?

Over the years, euroCRIS has made great achievements in the area of research information management with contributions from many people in the community, with the development of the CERIF format and the exchange of expertise on research information systems being the best-known examples. This focus is the strength of euroCRIS and will certainly be continued for the next period for instance through the CERIF refactoring project. In addition, more emphasis will be put on maximising the full potential of research information systems by connecting more closely with stakeholders, in all future developments of euroCRIS.

3. Could you let us know what your role at Uni Hasselt involves? Are you part of the team operating the institutional CRIS, and if so, what area(s) do you cover?

At Hasselt University, I am head of the Information Management and Strategic Data Analysis team. In this role, we ensure that research information can be registered as easily as possible by researchers in our CRIS systems and can be maximally used for internal and external purposes. This includes research reporting (incl. to the Flemish Government), grant applications, assessment of research careers, ... In our team we have business analysts and data-analysts and we are closely working together with the IT-department to get things realised. Next to that, I’m also heading the ECOOM-Hasselt research group.

4. Traditionally there have been two generic profiles among euroCRIS Board members, a more technical one with a strong emphasis on CERIF as a standard to codify research information and to make CRIS systems interoperable and what we could call a 'librarian' profile with more emphasis in metadata and the analysis and exploitation of the data held in such systems. It was also not unusual to have Board members for whom both profiles merged. Do you identify yourself with any of these two general profiles or do you rather see yourself as another example for their merging?

Actually, I am a bit at a crossroads between these two profiles. For example, we draw up research information models in the Flemish context, in particular the work that we deliver via ECOOM-Hasselt for the Flemish research portal FRIS. However, my Information Management and Data Analysis team also makes maximum use of the information contained in CRIS systems. This combination allows us to make great steps forward in both areas.

5. The ECOOM network is a very interesting way to organise the research information management activities at a national level. Could you let us know a bit more about how this network is run? Are the ECOOM teams at the various leading universities very much in contact with each other?

The Expertise Centre for Research and Development Monitoring on R&D (ECOOM), is a Flemish interuniversity network funded by the Flemish Government. Its main objective is the development of indicators for monitoring research & development in Flanders, and the benchmarking thereof with other regions worldwide. In total, ECOOM carries out research and services in the domains of bibliometrics, technometrics, PhD careers, non-written output, and last but not least semantics and modelling of research information. Each of the aforementioned research domains is run by an ECOOM research group residing at one of the 5 Flemish universities. The work of ECOOM-Hasselt includes the development of research information models, classifications, and related semantics in consultation with all Flemish information suppliers to the Flemish FRIS portal. In addition, the ECOOM groups are collaborating on joint topics such as interdisciplinary research or research impact.

6. You are also involved in the FRIS project to keep improving one of the best regional research information management systems in the world. How closely do you work with the FRIS team at the EWI and do you see regional and national CRISs as the best placed research portals to support the interfaces between research, innovation and industry?

The Flemish Research Information Space (FRIS) is the regional portal for research information. ECOOM-Hasselt is contracted by the Flemish Department EWI to develop semantically described information models for FRIS (e.g. researchers, organisations, publications, projects, infrastructure, ....) based on the CERIF format. The semantics which is referred to entails the computational semantics as well as the linguistic semantics that is defined by ECOOM-Hasselt in consultation with all Flemish stakeholders. By including both semantic components, it is possible to register the research information in CRIS systems according to clear definitions and to exchange it unambiguously with FRIS. In this regard, we are closely cooperating with FRIS on the information models, the required classifications, business and validation rules.

FRIS, as any regional and national CRIS system, is very well positioned to serve multiple goals with the information contained in CRIS systems, and at the same time allows for providing information to multiple stakeholders such as researchers, research institutions, funders , education, innovation, industry.

7. When it comes to research information exchange and aggregation, there have traditionally been two different models at a national level, one involving the participating institutions being allowed to choose whatever software solutions they consider best suited to their purposes and the aggregating platform implementing the appropriate interoperability mechanisms, and the other one based on the promotion of a common CRIS solution across institutions that will hence make system interoperability much more straightforward and will allow user groups to arise that may promote a close cross-institutional cooperation. Do you see any of both models as preferable?

In my opinion, both models can work as long as the necessary interoperability is established. Interoperability is a broad concept, it encompasses both the computational interoperability as well as the linguistic interoperability. If one of these components is missing, the CRIS solution built will not work to its full potential. Importantly, both interoperability components can be realised regardless of the model chosen. Thus, the choice of the model should depend on the context and the goals that each of the institutions has. If the purposes are (too) far apart, it is better to use the most suitable CRIS system for the single institution.

8. When analysing the emergence of CRIS infrastructure in Europe, smaller countries and regions regularly outperform large ones in the area of research information management and CRIS system implementation. Do you think this is due to a more flexible and effective political leadership, or is it that the coordination is just easier?

Although this might seem to be the case, there are also examples in larger countries and regions worldwide that manage to build CRIS systems in a very efficient manner. The point is to ensure that when building CRIS systems, all stakeholders on board should have a common set of goals, including a shared mission and vision. When this is clear, it’s easier to make agreements on roadmaps and deliverables and coordination will run more smoothly. This might be easier with a smaller number of institutions, but it’s not a guarantee. In some cases, the reporting to CRIS systems has been included in the legislation which immediately sets the goals and the timelines for realizing the CRIS.

9. You are also directly involved in a VLIR-UOS development cooperation project. Could you please tell us a bit more about this project and on your views of what an appropriate research information management framework may offer developing countries?

I’m indeed involved in a VLIR-UOS JOINT project that aims to build a CRIS system that allows for the monitoring of scientific research output on the national and institutional level in Cuba and Peru, as a means to enhance the quality of scientific publications. These projects allow for the exchange of expertise for all contributing partners on methodologies to collect and manage data, metadata standards, and to learn methods for science measurement and bibliometry. As such, it is of great interest for developing countries to participate in such projects as they can build CRIS systems in an efficient manner, by learning from our mistakes, and thus can catch up quickly.

10. There is a remarkable absence of academic literature on CRIS systems and (with the exception of the Nordic European countries) of cross-country collaboration across their implementation, maybe due to the fact that the domain may belong to the industrial and applied research domains with a strong involvement of commercial vendors rather than to a strictly academic one. At the same time, some voices state that the CRIS landscape is far from consolidated when compared to other areas in software development. What are your views on this?

In my opinion, there are a number of reasons why a multitude of academic literature is not available on CRIS systems. First, the development of CRIS systems requires knowledge and expertise in many different disciplines, while most academic journals are to a large extent still mono-disciplinary. Secondly, the professions that are developing the CRIS systems are coming mostly from librarians who cooperate with IT professionals, who do not have a career wise necessity to publish their work as compared to research professors. Nevertheless, it’s of great importance to learn on current developments of CRIS systems and this makes it even more important to understand the true value of euroCRIS, where this information and expertise is exchanged.

11. You are representing your Uni Hasselt as a member of the recently founded EOSC Association and you are also a member of the EOSC Executive Board Landscape as well as Skills and Training Working Group. Do you think CRIS systems may have the opportunity to play a specific role as content providers to the EOSC?

The European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) is intended to be the environment for hosting and processing research to support EU science. Over the past 2 years, I have been involved in 2 working groups that aim to provide a framework for developing the EOSC association and have contributed as such to the development of the Strategic Research and Innovation (SRIA) Agenda for Open Science. The challenges raised in the SRIA in areas such as identifiers, metadata, ontologies, user environments, resource provider environments and interoperability have also been experienced by the CRIS community worldwide. This does not come as a surprise given that CRIS systems cover various research-related information aspects including researchers, organisations, projects, publications, infrastructure, services, patents, and research data. By bringing both worlds (infrastructures and CRIS) closer together, the research ecosystem could be made more efficient.

In addition, a substantial amount of additional information on research data could be provided via linking this data to metadata hosted in national, regional or institutional CRIS systems in a standardised, semantically interoperable way, e.g. based on the CERIF interoperability standard by exchanging and re-using information. This would not only ease the administrative burden imposed on researchers, but would also enable additional features such as the inclusion of Open Science metrics through interlinking and measurement that can be made available through CRIS systems.

12. Finally, you are specifically interested in the areas of semantics and research classification, which are critical to enable an international coordination in the domain of research information management. How much has been achieved so far in this regard and what role could euroCRIS play in the collective advancement in these areas?

Over the past years, euroCRIS has focused on the development of CERIF as a standard for sharing research information in an interoperable manner. This work has been picked up by the research community worldwide and many implementations have been realised up until now (for a full inventory see the DRIS Directory). In the near future, euroCRIS aims to enlarge its linguistic semantic component and over the past months, we have explored the possibilities here. With regard to research classification, we have made an inventory of the most prevailing research classifications and we’re looking into the best manner to provide this information for the benefit of the euroCRIS community. More news about this will come in due time, so keep in touch with our community!

As you see, euroCRIS will remain a highly dynamic environment and together with the new euroCRIS Board we will ensure the continuation of the excellent work performed by our our former and current Board members, and last but not least the previous presidents of euroCRIS, to name one in particular Ed Simons. Thanks for all your good work and support!

Thanks for your time and all best wishes for your new role!