Virtual Research Environments programme: Phase 2 roadmap
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JISC has recently allocated a further £2 million to continue the
activities of its Virtual Research Environments (VRE) programme, which
aims to build and deploy collaborative multi-disciplinary VREs, bringing
together tools and technologies to demonstrate how researchers can better
manage their increasingly complex tasks.
The intention is not to produce one single complete VRE, but rather to
define and help to develop a common architecture, and to progress the
institutional capabilities needed to develop and populate VREs with
applications, services and resources appropriate to their needs.
The main aim of the second phase of the VRE programme is to further develop
and pilot such technologies with a wider range of users from real-life
research settings within UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and
partner organisations. This would include both large- and small-scale
pilots addressing the real needs of hybrid research teams and communities,
as well as individual researchers.
What is a Virtual Research Environment?
Since the JISC VRE programme started in 2004 our understanding of what
constitutes a Virtual Research Environment continues to evolve, based on
current project work and ongoing debate in the community.
A concise definition, based on the one formulated by Michael Fraser from
the University of Oxford, is:
A VRE comprises a set of online tools and other network resources and
technologies interoperating with each other to support or enhance the
processes of a wide range of research practitioners within and across
disciplinary and institutional boundaries. A key characteristic of a VRE
is that it facilitates collaboration amongst researchers and research
teams providing them with more effective means of collaboratively
collecting, manipulating and managing data, as well as collaborative
Three main groups of VRE user can be distinguished:
Research-active staff: the primary target user group, including staff
occupying a variety of roles within institutions, such as full- and
part-time Lecturers, Readers, Chairs, Research Assistants, Research
Fellows and Research Associates
Research support staff: including those who do not conduct research
directly, but provide various types of support to research-active staff
within their institutions
System administrators: staff who support the installation, technical set
up and maintenance of a VRE
The roadmap for a UK VRE identified that a VRE could provide most impact to
the work of researchers and research teams who collaborate both within
single-disciplinary or multi-disciplinary research settings. As researchers
increasingly need to collaborate across institutional and national
boundaries, a VRE should be able to work across infrastructures. A VRE
could support a wide range of Research Enquiry and Research Project
Management activities; some of the specific processes that emergent VREs
aim to support include data production, data retrieval, data analysis,
collaborative production of research outputs, communication, research
administration and project management.
Current vision for future VREs
A VRE will provide an integrated and interoperating set of networked tools,
systems and resources to facilitate and enhance the practices of individual
researchers, research teams and communities distributed across the UK and
abroad. A VRE will be able to address the needs of hybrid teams and
communities as well as those of individual researchers, and will provide
them with ‘different time – different place’ access to experts, knowledge,
collaboration tools and computational resources from a personalised access
point. Lastly, a VRE will be able to provide a mechanism for the creation
of a flexible layered architecture of distributed and interoperable
resources and tools, in order to meet different requirements.
Some of the key benefits of a VRE would be:
Enhanced interactivity between researchers and resources leading to
increased efficiency and effectiveness of collaborative research
Integrated access to a diverse set of resources and tools
Better integration of research processes and activities across the full
Generically speaking, a VRE would be:
Beneficial to the practice of its end users
Supportive of component orchestration as much as possible
Based on open standards
Compatible with other widely used and widely deployed systems
Scope of phase 2 of the VRE programme
The key aims of phase 2 are:
To stimulate change in research practices through the development and
deployment of VRE solutions
To continue involving and engaging the research community in building and
deploying VRE solutions
To start exploiting and extending such solutions amongst the Higher
To continue raising awareness of the benefits of VRE solutions in the
The focus of phase 2 will be on pilots with a wider range of users in
real-life research settings within UK HEIs and partner institutions. This
would include large- and small-scale pilots addressing real target user
group needs. The applicability and fitness for purpose of emerging VRE
solutions to a wider range of research settings will also be established,
where appropriate projects will be encouraged to conduct pilots in settings
other than the ones for which they have been developed.
The target user groups for the pilots would be formal and informal teams
and communities of research practitioners, as well as individual
researchers of all disciplines, focusing on hybrid teams of various types
of research practitioners working within single- or cross-discipline
The focus of the pilots should be on implementing real change in the
practices of the chosen user groups by providing support for a broad range
of research activities.
The technical focus will be on creating and piloting interoperable and
innovative VRE solutions that address the needs of the chosen target user
groups, such as maturing current VRE solutions and integrating them with
other existing solutions to provide breadth of functionality and ensure
interoperability of tools and resources. Where gaps in the
functionality are identified, existing tools should be assessed and new
components developed to address these gaps. Projects will be asked to
address as many of the key capabilities described here in the ‘Current
Vision for Future VREs’ section during the development of their solutions.
Finally, projects under Phase 2 should evaluate the extent of change
introduced into research practices as a result of implementing these
technical solutions, as well as identify and address any barriers to their
adoption, including social, behavioural, technical and institutional ones.
Funding is available for the following key activities related to the scope
Pilot Preparation, Execution and Evaluation
Further Development and Integration of VRE Solutions and Technologies to
be used during the pilots
The main call for proposals under Phase 2 of the VRE programme will be
issued in September 2006. Successful projects will be expected to commence
early in 2007 and complete by the end of March 2009.
In addition, an Invitation to Tender will be released early in 2007 for
activities relating to community engagement and capability building.
Dovey (e-Research Programme Director)
See further details about the VRE programme.
See more information about related
calls for proposals.