ORCID – unique identifiers to support researchers

Digitalisation is continually offering researchers new opportunities and tools to both locate information within their fields and improve the visibility of their own research. Over the past ten years, a considerable variety of services targeted at the scientific community have sprung up all over the world. These services enable researchers to maintain a research profile containing, for example, details of their research projects and publications.

Some popular ‘scientific social media’ include Google Scholar, ResearchGate, Academia.edu, Impactstory and Mendeley. These services offer a channel for networking and keeping in contact with research colleagues all around the world. Some of them also allow researchers to keep a list of references to research publications that are of interest to them.  Most services are free for researchers.

Unique identifiers for researchers

The international researcher identifier system ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID) was launched in 2012 with the aim of improving researchers’ visibility. Researchers can use this service to maintain a list of, for example, their publications, funding and degrees. However, ORCID differs from other services in that it offers researchers a unique identifier – a numerical sequence that seeks to solve confusion resulting from, for example, researchers with the same name or a person’s name being written in different formats. To date, almost 1.6 million researchers across the world have obtained an ORCID identifier.

Many international scientific publishers have begun using ORCID in their own processes. Researchers can therefore link their ORCID identifier to an article when submitting the manuscript to a journal, so it will automatically transfer with the publication to, for example, citation indexing services of scientific publications (Web of Science, Scopus, etc.). One of the ORCID’s goals is to facilitate the automatic transfer of a researcher’s information between a variety of systems, so that the same data doesn’t need to be entered in several different places.

ORCID facilitates data transfer

Many countries have already started using ORCID as a national-level identifier for researchers. For example, Sweden’s largest research funder, Vetenskaprådet, requires all funding applicants to have an ORCID identifier. Denmark’s target is for 80 per cent of researchers to have an ORCID identifier by 2016. The identifiers have already been widely adopted in Portugal in connection with an national research assessment exercise.

In Finland, the Ministry of Education and Culture is promoting researcher identification by offering interested organisations centralised support for ORCID adoption through CSC. A CSC report completed in early 2015 showed that ORCID also generates benefits at a national level, as publication details and other information are automatically transferred from, for example, international citation databases to researchers’ home universities, and from there to research funders and administrative reports. The project also involves developing nationwide services to facilitate data transfer between different organizations and avoid duplicate data entry into several different systems.

ORCID is not compulsory

There are also some concerns surrounding ORCID. ORCID is a non-profit organisation registered in the USA.  For organisations in EU countries, this poses some problems, especially with regard to the surrender of personal details. Researchers also have a variety of justifiable reasons for not wanting to register with or use the service. However, no legal issues will arise if researchers create an identifier for themselves. That’s why the report carried out in Finland recommends, as in many other countries, that Finnish organisations do not create identifiers on behalf of researchers and that ORCID use remain voluntary.

Although many researchers have created ORCID identifiers, the greatest benefit will only be reaped when ORCID is introduced in additional services and processes. However, many service providers are waiting for a ‘critical mass’ of users. The benefits offered by ORCID will, therefore, increase as its coverage among researchers improves.

Hanna-Mari Puuska, Development Manager, CSC – IT Center for Science,
hanna-mari.puuska (at) csc.fi



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