Theme d: Sustaining innovation beyond JISC funding

JISC has been looking at way to improve the sustainability of its innovation outcomes and outputs. This theme explores a number of the initiatives in this area and looks to generate discussion and feedback from delegates on their experience of sustaining the value and impact of the outcomes and outputs of their projects beyond JISC funding. Sessions in this theme are being co-ordinated by Stuart Dempster:

1. e-Content Business Models and Sustainability – From theory into practice [Live Blog Post]

We define ‘sustainability’ as having a mechanism in place for generating, or gaining access to, the economic resources necessary to keep intellectual property or the service available on an ongoing basis. This does not mean that every ‘project’ will need to launch an independent organisation or business to do this – many do not. In this session we will present three different approaches to sustaining academic electronic resources including a public-private partnership between the University of Oxford and ProQuest; a not-for-profit consortia collaboration between Queens University Belfast and JSTOR and an institutional supported initiative at the University of Portsmouth.

From Humphrey Southall, University of Portsmouth – “The Vision of Britain web site was originally funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and for its first three years operating costs were funded by the British Library. New JISC funding is extending the site but creates a
new requirement to operate the site until 2014; and the project team want it to go on forever. Operating costs are relatively high because this is both a complex site, with extensive geo-spatial functionality running on a dedicated 8-CPU Sun server, and heavily used, with over 70,000 unique users in every month of 2008 so far. The presentation will cover firstly a series of income generation strategies and secondly how to build usage to levels where these are credible. The income generation strategies are (a) advertising from Google, (b) display advertising, (c) co-marketing with a commercial publisher and (d) licensing parts of content for other purposes. This strategy is a work in progress, but we will report on the experience of other academic projects.

The second part of the presentation will argue that “cultural heritage” web sites should and can build much larger audiences than most currently do, sometimes in order to generate income but mainly to justify the large public investment and to displace the junk that tends to dominate search engine results. Vision of Britain has successfully engaged with the mainstream web, and the sites that most people — even academics — frequently visit. Much the largest source of visitors who arrive by clicking on links is Wikipedia, and the number of hyperlinks within Wikipedia is an interesting measure of the popular impact of cultural heritage sites, given the difficulty of obtaining unique user counts: we have 1,833, British History On-line has 4,360, but the British Library’s CollectBritain site has 240 and BOPCRIS has 109. The immediate reason why many digitisation projects seem to engage poorly with mass audiences is not poor or specialised content but low visibility in search engines; the reason why Vision of Britain well is that Google searches for “history of <placename> <countyname>” for most towns and villages in Britain return our relevant pages in the top five. This in turn results not from some add-on work by an expensive Search Engine Optimisation consultant but from the site not just containing but being built around a very formal geo-spatial ontology defining Britain’s geography. British History On-line lacks this formal structure, but is a text-heavy site organised around a simple geographical hierarchy. Conversely, most digitising project sites are basically image bases without pages representing higher-level concepts. In other words, reaching a mass audience does not mean prostituting ourselves, but does mean investing much more heavily in metadata which semantically captures our content.”

From Michael Popham (OULS) and Peter White (ProQuest), The John Johnson Collection: A public-private digitisation partnership – “This presentation will focus upon an innovative JISC-funded public-private partnership between the Bodleian Library and ProQuest to conserve, catalogue and digitise more than 65,000 items drawn from the Bodleian’s John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera. The presentation will open with a discussion of the value and nature of the source materials in the collection and the problems associated with conserving and broadening access to the fragile originals. Attention will then turn to an examination of the partnership between the Bodleian Library and ProQuest and to the business model upon which the partnership is founded, paying particular attention to key issues such as sustainability, dissemination, evaluation, interoperability, IPR, and institutional culture. The presentation is primarily an attempt to share some of the lessons learned during the production of the John Johnson Collection (, an online resource that already provides UK HE, FE, schools and public libraries with free access to digital surrogates of more than 14,600 items from the Bodleian’s unique collection.”

Paul S Ell, Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis, Queen’s University Belfast – “The Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis at Queen’s Belfast has been the principal developer of e-research resources relating to Ireland and Irish Studies. These range from bespoke collections of material relating to historical Irish censuses, to copies of Latin manuscripts concerning Ireland, to the debates in the Northern Ireland Stormont Parliament from partition to direct rule, and more latterly to collections of Irish Studies journals. These costly to develop resources need to remain accessible to the scholarly community. In the past the Centre was content to archive digital objects while not necessarily considering how accessible the material might be. More recently the focus has been on sustaining and enhancing e-resources. This paper examines models adopted by CDDA, some successful, some less so. It will focus on a partnership with JSTOR which makes available through the Digital Library of Core Materials on Ireland Project, funded by JISC, a key resource which will be both sustained and enhanced whilst remaining freely available at no cost to academics, libraries, archives, and the general public in both Britain and Ireland. The model will be critically reviewed to gauge if it does provide a solid model other e-resource projects might adopt.”

2. JISC and sustainability [Live Blog Post]

Sustaining the impact and realising the benefit of JISC’s innovation outputs and outcomes has been at the core of the planning and activities under taken by JISC projects and programmes in recent years. This session will explore JISC’s approach, look at examples of best practice and gather the experiences and views of delegates on how best to address the challenges presented by sustainability.

3. Understanding the audience: what are the lessons learnt from other sectors [Live Blog Post]

This presentation will review the outputs of the recent work undertaken on audience (users and non-users) and modeling on behalf of the Strategic Content Alliance.

Chris Batt undertook a series of 16 interviews with key stakeholders across the UK public sector to assess the state of play on how organisations engage with their users, using software and other methodologies. The fascinating insight is available in a pdf of Chris’s report Audience Analysis and Modelling.

This session will involve presentation of the reports main findings; outline the next steps in this area; and enable discussion amongst the attendees of the barriers and opportunities for closer relationships between organisations and their audiences (users and non-users) and the role of the Strategic Content Alliance in progressing this work.

Some feedback on the sessions: [youtube][/youtube] – Humphrey Southall, University of Portsmouth 

You can use your comments on these pages to raise questions for Stuart or the presenters or to raise issues you wish to discuss with your colleagues in the JISC community.

7 thoughts on “Theme d: Sustaining innovation beyond JISC funding

  1. Stuart Dempster

    The SCA and Ithaka jointly funded a report on “Sustainability and Revenue models for Online Academic Resources” and held two workshops to peer review the content. A secord report based on case studies of what has worked and what has not is being commissioned. If you’re interested you can find further information on the SCA blog

  2. Matt Holland

    I think the term “economic model” and “revenue model” can be an intimidating one for small or larger niche projects, especially at the point of bid writing i.e. before work has started especially if it implies selling or charging for access to a resource where a market value is hard to define. Perhaps another way to look at this is to find stakeholders who can take on the role of sustainable delivery after the completion of the project and funding has ended. Or seek out stakeholders who can aggregate resources from individual projects to get a critical mass, add value and create a marketable asset.

    The other challenge to selling access to end users is rights. Commercial rights owners, especially media companies, may be happy to grant non-commercial rights in return for creating a digital asset but want to own or at least share in the commercial exploitation of the resource.

    One final point is that originators of good ideas for digitisation projects may not have access to a full team of IT and Legal experts. Getting these bids to a point that they can be accepted could take up to 3 years and perhaps 2 years to deliver. In the mean time the technological, economic and perhaps political landscape will have shifted significantly. This of course is not an arguement for not including economic/revenue sustainability planning – but it is perhaps one to be as flexible as possible.

  3. Julian Beckton

    Our brief discussion in the breakout from this session was concerned with the role that commercial companies might or might not play in sustaining innovation. One question was whether JISC ought to fund projects outside HE. In general we thought not because there was a great deal of invisible benefits (Building up relationships between staff who do not normally work together for example) Another reason was that projects were more likely to be sustainable if there was not a commercial imperative. If they weren’t making money, they were more likely to be abandoned in a commercial context. Furthermore, projects often take a long time to embed and show a return.

    But we didn’t get much beyond that as we were called back in!

  4. Chris Rusbridge

    One very small project and one very large project. The small project sees itself as a major success, very high value, it works! One route to sustainability is through the host institution. This is fine, but does not spread the message more widely. To do so clearly needs perhaps an order of magnitude more resource: to validate the outcomes, to adapt the methodology, and particularly to disseminate the outcomes into many more institutions. How to achieve this? With a very small project, planning for sustainability sucks resource from the project. It’s worth remembering that small amounts may be available from JISC; it’s worth asking! Larger amounts may depend on further programme calls, and these are often very prescriptive, and perhaps not appropriately timely. It is possible that sustainability might come through a link to some existing service; JISC appears to have a presumption that projects converting to service should be the exception rather than the rule!

    For the large project, there may be a belief that strategically JISC needs something like it into the future, but it would be unwise to assume anything! Two big issues; one is the need for (and apparent current lack of) good advice and guidance. The other, and main point here, is timing. Here’s how it goes:

    – Project to end 2/2010
    – redundancy notices 11/2009
    – need continuaton decision 9/2009
    – requires bid 7/2009
    – bid framework needed 5/2009
    – evaluation must be completed 3/2009
    – evaluation must be commissioned by 11/2008
    – evaluation spec should be agreed 9/2008
    – ergo, evaluation spec must be drafted… yesterday!

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