ERCIM News No.35 - October 1998
ERGO: European Research Gateways Online and CERIF: Computerised Exchange of Research Information Format
by Keith G Jeffery
The ERGO (European Research Gateway Online) Project is providing a one-stop-shop, Web-based access to R&D information in Europe. Users can find new technologies, contact experts / consultants or overview quality and quantity of R&D support by region, country or subject area. Simply, ERGO provides a standardised catalogue (like a library card catalogue) with an entry for each R&D project in all European countries. The Catalogue is based on the CERIF standard. In the current pilot project only the catalogue is provided, hosted on the EC CORDIS system, and the data concerns only R&D Projects. After evaluation, the aim is to provide - from a catalogue replicated in each region or member state - automated access to the detailed relevant records in host databases in all European countries. CERIF (Computerised Exchange of research Information Format) is a 10-year-old standard (technically, a recommen-dation to member states) that is being updated. The CERIF working group are defining an ideal data model for R&D information and within this defining both an exchange format (what is passed between heterogeneous R&D Information Systems) and a Catalogue Format (what is passed to the ERGO Catalogue as metadata to provide a harmonised overview of available information).
Innovators in SMEs and larger industries, researchers looking for complementary partners for a R&D effort, multipliers assisting technology transfer and policy makers or watchers in government and elsewhere following trends and making policy all need information on all R&D in Europe (and ideally worldwide). In all European Countries the Research Councils and others fund a considerable amount of R&D, much of which has or could have commercial relevance. Access to all this information from one easy-to-use WWW interface is clearly desirable for innovation and wealth-creation.
The ERGO Framework
The ERGO architecture and development specification was produced by a Working Group of nominated experts from the member states and associated countries under the aegis of the Innovation Programme of Framework IV managed by DGXIII. An architecture to overcome the distributed heterogeneity of the legacy and developing research information systems based on a common catalogue has been defined (largely by the authors although based on the earlier EXIRPTS project involving UK, Italy and France). Unfortunately this development could not be funded by the EC now, although the plan was approved by the Innovation Management Committee of national representatives. Instead, a small pilot project based on a centralised catalogue database under CORDIS in Luxembourg is underway to test at least some of the technical and (more importantly) administrative and management principles (http://www.
cordis.lu/ergo). Following evaluation it is expected that the full architecture will be implemented under Framework V.
The Architecture and How it Works
The full ERGO architecture envisages each region or member state (and the EC itself representing the EU) having an information system holding a catalogue of all known current European R&D projects. After evaluation it is intended to extend later to cover experts, institutions, facilities, publications, products - all subject to subsidiarity. The ERGO regional catalogue computer accepts interactive term-based queries from end-users. The selected catalogue records (as the answer to the query) are then used to initiate a full search for those specific projects, people or whatever on the hundreds of distributed heterogeneous databases of R&D information around Europe and the results are returned to the regional computer where they are integrated before electronic presentation to the end-user. The catalogue is replicated over all regional computers; update of one regional computer copy by a local R&D database causes replication to all other regional computers. The whole system is based on the Web to ensure minimal cost and maximal ease of use for the end-user.
The pilot ERGO project will have one central node only with the catalogue. The idea is to test input, update and query procedures on a catalogue. Strict evaluation criteria will allow measurement of the value of such a system and, by extrapolation, the full system. Within UK, and with assistance from DTI-OST, three of the R&D Project-supporting UKRCs are providing data for the pilot project to CLRC-RAL (http://www.clrc.ac.uk/) where it is transformed into the required form. CLRC-RAL thus acts as an interface between the UK data sources and the European network. DTI-OST, the UKRCs and CLRC-RAL discuss all aspects of the project to form a common UK position. The use of a regional computer in UK for this purpose anticipates the full architecture and so permits the UK team to work closely with the CORDIS team on some of the aspects relating to the full architecture.
The catalogue content and structure is crucially important. Revision of a 10-year old standard (CERIF) originally intended for data exchange is now underway with different uses in mind. As well as a data exchange format CERIF must also provide for ERGO a subset which is the definition of the catalogue content and structure. There must be sufficient information in the catalogue for a user query to find relevant records yet not enough to make a deeper (and on commercial databases charged) search worthless. The main CERIF committee coordinates this work and, following extensive discussions, the work has been crystallised into
- define the data model for an ideal research information system
- define the exchange format between research information systems as a subset of the above
- define the catalogue format as a subset of the above.
Of course, with time it is likely that negotiated exchange formats will be agreed between cooperating research information systems but this first step ensures a move towards harmonisation and is practical using advanced but known technology. The authors have produced the formal document for the ideal data model and also a prototype implementation of sufficient of the model to demonstrate completeness for a range of queries experienced in different research information systems.
The expected result will be a system such that:
- any European policymaker can easily assess the R&D capability in any region or country in a particular topic or subject area at a gross level
- any European academic can easily find complementary expert partners for a R&D project or find suitable central facilities or equipment for his/her needs
- any European user in commerce and industry can find easily all relevant R&D products, experts and projects for a potential commercial venture.
In this way we expect ERGO in the long run to play a key role in supporting greater transparency across and among Member States and in providing a basis for the improved co-ordination and coherence of national and European programmes throughout the Union. An ambitious aim, but one well worth the effort.
Keith Jeffery - CLRC
Tel: +44 1235 446103