Who are you? Recognising researchers with ORCID identifiers

Strategic insights can only be as strong as the evidence they're built upon, and evidence about researchers and their activities can be surprisingly hard to come by. Jonathon Kram of our Evaluation Team explains the importance of infrastructure and the reasoning behind Wellcome's new mandate for Open Researcher and Contributor iDs.

We at Wellcome are happy to announce that we’re about to start mandating ORCID as part of our grant application process. Starting in August 2015, we will ask all applicants to provide an ORCID iD when they sign up with our grant application system – creating one takes just 30 seconds at ORCID and, if you haven’t seen an ORCID iD before, the best introduction is to check out an example.

The simplicity of a single profile, however, belies its true power: as plumbing. By allocating and centralising the identities of researchers, systems which previously could not exchange flows of data now can. By moving from full names to unique identifiers (referring to Dr Craig Roberts as 0000-0002-9641-6101, rather than 'C. Roberts') different interested parties can start reliably talking about the same people, which is a vital first step toward any deeper understanding of researchers, artists, and their activities.

Nearly 1.5 million researchers across the globe have in some way recognised this value and created ORCID iD and an increasing number of publishers, funders, HEIs and researcher information platforms are now requesting the inclusion of an ORCID iD in their workflows. Speaking at the ORCID-CASRAI meeting in Barcelona this May, ORCID board member and Executive Editor and Head of Researcher Services at Nature Publishing Group, Veronique Kiermer summed up the state of affairs pithily:

"It was amazing to see the evolution of the concept of ORCID from the outreach meetings we held only a couple of years ago. It’s no longer about if ORCID is integrated but when."

Getting these identifiers built into our research and researcher information platforms is one of the first steps on the road to improving the quality of information we have on our grantholders, and reducing the time taken and administrative burden required in applying for a grant. It will also help keep us in touch with what is happening during the lifetime of the grant and potentially beyond.

This latter burden is especially important for the researchers and artists we fund who receive funding from multiple sources. We in the Evaluation Team at Wellcome Trust aren't the only ones seeking insights about the activities we fund. Everyone is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of rich and complex information on the outputs and impacts of funding, so everyone is asking similar questions of their grantholders: what have you produced?; how openly accessible is the work you’ve published?; what shape is your career trajectory taking, and how have we changed that?

We hope that by encouraging the use of an ORCID iD at many touchpoints across the research information infrastructure and by pre-populating our systems with data via the registry, researchers need only verify their information, instead of re-entering it in yet another (slightly different to the last) web form. We also recognise the potential for ORCID to help researchers get the credit they deserve for activities which don't result in a publication output, such as peer review, which are currently difficult to quantify and acknowledge.

The capacity for widespread ORCID uptake to transform how we evaluate impacts and efficiently handle data is making the benefits of adoption clearer to system administrators and researchers alike. Currently, if we wish to gain insights about researchers, we have to commit to resource-intense efforts to even get a hold of the requisite data, encountering barriers as soon as any of our data collection systems try to talk to one another about individuals. The ability to uniquely identify contributors is a deceptively simple concept which, if realised, could enable forms of real-time understanding of scientific research that up to now have been extremely costly (if not impossible).

These potential benefits have already been recognised by over 50 UK universities who have expressed an interest in joining the newly formed UK national consortium arrangement, organised by Jisc, seeking to contribute to and take advantage of the increasingly rich narratives accessible via the ORCID registry.