Design and and implementation of a “toolkit” to map the research and innovation activities of the European University of Technology

From stakeholder needs to functions and products: the process of building technical tools that support decision-making and community engagement at a European university alliance, leveraging open data.

Design and and implementation of a “toolkit” to map the research and innovation activities of the European University of Technology

The EuropeanUniversity of Technology (EUt+) is a consortium of eight universities that was selected as one of the European University Alliances funded by the EU through the 2020 Erasmus+ call for projects and recently renewed through the 2023 call (a total of 51 alliances have been funded to date).

The eight Alliance members - University of Technology of Troyes(Alliance coordinator), Technological University Dublin, Riga TechnicalUniversity, Cyprus University of Technology, Technical University of Cluj-Napoca, Polytechnic University of Cartagena, Technical University of Sofia and Hochschule Darmstadt - aim to develop a new European model of technology university that deeply integrates humanities and social science, to ensure that the people they train are better equipped to tackle global societal challenges such as climate change.

In 2021 EUt+ also received funding through the Horizon 2020 Swaf Sproject “EUt EXTRAS" to lay the foundations for a common Roadmap forResearch and Innovation, starting with joint thematic initiatives, support services and infrastructures. To this purpose, a set of analysis and tools is being carried on, leveraging R&I data to address the following objectives:

  • Map the topics of the research and innovation activities carried out by EUt+ institutions, the (potential for)collaboration within them and with external partners;
  • Investigate the relevance of EUt+ R&I activities to socio-economic challenges (SDGs) and territorial priorities,
  • Identify emerging global trends in research.

SIRIS Academic has been supporting EUt+ during the first phase ofthe European University Initiative and, in particular, has participated to the design and implementation of a set of data-based tools, the so-called “EUt+ R&I mapping toolkit” - that is intended to be the first block of the Alliance’s research and information system - that may serve to address the first and, to some extent, the second of the objectives listed above.

This work was the result of a long participative process that started in November 2021 with the launch of the co-design process with university stakeholders (Vice-Presidents and Vice-Rectors for Research and Innovation, Research Managers and Support Officers) and ended in May 2023 with the presentation of the project results to the EU officer.

To ensure that the designed solutions would meet the needs of the different stakeholders and at the same time be consistent with the content of the project proposal, the co-design process was carried out through a series of key steps:

  • Specification of the project requirements, expected outcomes and users
  • Functional requirement analysis via interviews with VPs and other key internal stakeholders in R&I
  • Formalisation of objectives linking functions and users
  • Participatory prioritisation of objectives and users
  • From the functional requirements and the participatory prioritisation, conceptualisation of a portfolio of (analytical) information products addressing these objectives
  • Better specification of the selected products
  • Presentation and validation of the product proposals
  • Participatory follow-up with key university stakeholders on product functionalities
  • Final validation by the project participants.

The work has largely benefited from and valorised the Open Science policies and principles to which both EUt+ and SIRIS Academic are actively committed. In line with this, and in order to lay the foundations for the long-term sustainability of the toolkit, the implementation of the analysis has been based on:

  • Collecting, integrating, and analysing R&I outputs from a variety of open data sources (OpenAIRE for scientific publications, CORDIS forH2020 projects and the EPO database for patents).
  • Collecting, integrating, and analysing data on national and regional projects from all eight university project databases, which were also made available online in an integrated form for the first time within EUt+;
  • Fostering the exchange of mutual knowledge and collaboration among researchers;
  • Sharing R&I output metadata in an open format;
  • Using openly available tools for natural language processing and information retrieval, to facilitate reproducibility and replicability of the analyses.

Based on the conclusions of the design process (more details of which are given below), the “EUt+ R&I mapping toolkit” was conceived as consisting of three complementary components (tools), all accessible through a dedicated space in the EUt+ website. Each component of the R&I toolkit is intended to respond to different needs of different users.

1. An Interactive platform for detailed exploration of the research and innovation outputs (scientific publications, European, national and regional projects, patents) of the eight EUt+ institutions.

This tool allows, among other things, to navigate through the individual documents that make up each R&I topic (extracted via BERT-based Topic Modelling), highlighting the contribution of the different members, and to see the documents that are aligned with each of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Expected main users:
Research support officers; individual researchers.

Example of possible applications:  
To gather insights (at a finer level than standard bibliometric analysis allows) into the R&I activities carried out by partner institutions on a given topic when trying to prepare a joint project proposal.

2. A slide deck with the analysis of the R&I portfolio of EUt+ as a whole, providing indicators and visualisations on the thematics, the external partnerships and relevance of the activities for global societal challenges and territorial priorities.

This tool helps, among other things, to discover more research-oriented topics (mainly focused on publications and projects) and more innovation-oriented ones (characterised by a large weight of patents), to explore commonalities and complementarities between the EUt+ member institutions, and to identify the main non-academic partners.

Expected main users:
EUt+R&I top management staff.

Example of possible applications:
To inform decision-making processes for the definition of EUt+ common R&I priorities, the creation of new thematic institutes, a strategic search for funding opportunities.

3. A set of Institutional slidedecks, with an extract of the R&I analysis for each individual institution.

This tool allows, among other things, to explore the interplay of national and EU funds within the various R&I topics (for each university), its network of collaborators, as well as the alignment of its R&I activities with the territorial priorities of its regional ecosystem.

Expected main users:
University leaderships

Example of possible applications:
External communication / advocacy, to engage with national policymakers and non-academic partners.

The toolkit as a whole is conceived to be primarily an instrument for promoting the creation and the flourishing of “knowledge communities” within the Alliance (e.g. by facilitating the search for research partners within other EUt+ members, which enables the spread of scientific contacts within EUt+ and finally leads to new inter-university research groups).

More details on the co-design process

First of all, the project participants engaged in open discussionswith project participants, followed by bilateral meetings with relevantuniversity stakeholders (vice-presidents and vice-rectors for research andinnovation, research managers and support officers) oriented to define possiblefunctions, objectives and users ofthe toolkit.

Specifically, “mapping”, “matchmaking”, “monitoring”, “benchmarking”were identified (among others) as possible functions;  “researchers”, “university leadershipand management staff”, “industry partners”, “research and technology transfersupport officers” among the possible users.

Participants' input from the workshops and interviews was translatedinto a list of concrete objectives linking all the identified functions andusers. The participants then voted to establish a ranking of priorities.

The result of the voting showed that “Discovering similar andcomplementary competencies (in the other universities)” was expressed as themain priority by researchers, “Mapping R&I thematics and joint capacities”by top management staff, “Identifying complementary capacities and thematicoverlaps for designing joint research projects and initiatives” by research andtechnology transfer support officers.

Other objectives were either perceived as important but at a laterstage - e.g.  it would have been tooearly to “monitor the impact of research initiatives” as the Alliance memberswere just getting to know each other - or addressed (partially or fully) inother tasks of the SwafS project.

As a result of the prioritisation generated by the voting, aconcrete proposal for the EUt+ R&I mapping toolkit was then elaborated andvalidated by the project stakeholders, leading to the final definition of itscomponents.