Expert Connect helps businesses find relevant experts within Australian research institutions. The suite also includes an Innovation Challenge Marketplace and Innovation Map.
D61 are research and development consultants specialising in data science and technology. They provide data measurement, analysis and interpretation services to support other business units within their parent organisation, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). They also build custom platforms and data technologies for clients or commercialisation with partners and investors.
One of their products is D61+, a platform which draws on existing data sources to provide a database of researchers that helps industry find relevant experts. Developed with funding from the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Innovation and Science; IP Australia; and the Australian Research Council, D61+ aims to help industry identify and match with potential research collaborators and solutions, and helps researchers stay alert to opportunities to work on industry challenges. In doing so, it addresses some key problems in industry–academic brokerage: knowing where to look for or publicise expertise, and ensuring a call for collaboration captures the attention of the right people.
The design process for D61+ started in 2015 with a project that engaged numerous stakeholders interested in industry–academic brokerage to propose a platform that would better enable industry and research to connect with one another.
Although they were not required to build on any previous work, through this project, participants discovered numerous existing resources that could help would-be collaborators find one another. They proposed consolidating access to these various data signals through a single platform. To realise this vision, Data61 has developed a suite of three related products that serve different innovation brokerage needs.
Launched in 2017, Expert Connect helps industry representatives looking for a particular kind of expertise and finds researchers with this expertise. At the time of writing, the platform features 70,000 searchable expert profiles from 220 research organisations. These profiles are created based on existing data from sources including patent data from IP Australia, grant data from the Australian Research Council and National Health and Medical Research Council, journal articles from Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, author profiles and media articles from The Conversation, and profile data from ORCID and research institution directories. When an industry user enters a search, they can do so using everyday, non-scientific language. Expert Connect analyses researcher profiles for indicators of relevant expertise as well as signals of industry engagement and interest, such as records of commercialisation training or industry internships, and then displays search results ranked according to both sets of factors. When users find a relevant researcher, they can initiate contact either through the researcher’s organisation’s nominated technology transfer or business development office, or directly – as long as the researcher has claimed their profile and indicated this preference. This service supports people with categorical requests for expertise that can be translated into search queries.
For situations where industry users are less certain about the kind of expertise they need, the Innovation Challenge Marketplace provides an opportunity to pose requests for collaboration by describing a problem in need of a solution. The platform aggregates existing innovation challenges from known sources including state government, federal government, and private sector origins. It also offers to list individual requests. Once a challenge appears in the Marketplace, the platform uses machine learning to identify experts who could contribute toward solving the problem, and then notifies them that a relevant opportunity has been posted. As with Expert Connect’s contact function, these notifications are sent either through a nominated point of contact at a research institution or directly.
The Innovation Map visualises innovation data such as designated ‘innovation precincts’ and national research infrastructure from across government data sets to help researchers and policy makers observe differences between regions and changes over time within the Australian innovation ecosystem.
Although it was supported by substantial expertise from industry, research, and government stakeholders and preceded by previous strategy and design explorations, the current beta release version of the D61+ platform was developed over just 17 weeks. Data61 continue to improve the platform by adding functionalities, enhancing the platform’s performance in terms of its matching capabilities, and exploring potential to scale beyond the Australian research system. Specific improvements being investigated for Expert Connect include the provision of different user-oriented search weightings to better facilitate government, media, and researcher use cases.
Overall, use cases for D61+ have been more diverse than its creators anticipated. Journalists have used it to source expert commentary, PhD applicants have used it to identify potential supervisors, and lawyers have used it to solicit expert opinions for legal matters. Industry has also used the platform to find researchers who can help them innovate. For example, one of CSIRO’s clients needed to improve worker safety in a warehouse. CSIRO used Expert Connect to identify researchers across a range of fields including preventative medicine, predictive analytics, sensors and wearables, and behaviour. They notified these experts of the opportunity, encouraging them to submit solution ideas. As a result, the client received numerous relevant responses to their challenge, and was able to select an applicant to work with further in developing a solution.
Strengths: Using external data sources means that researchers do not have to be asked to create a profile on yet another platform, and helps ensure the platform dynamically updates in sync with changes within the data sources. Using data processing techniques that allow users to use natural language to search without sacrificing the relevance of the results helps non-experts search with the terms they know rather than asking them to become experts themselves. Finally, using machine learning to identify relevant experts for challenges and then notifying these experts without requiring their prior subscription increases the chances that challenge calls will receive qualified applicants rather than come and go unnoticed.
Weaknesses: Getting to this point required substantial stakeholder coordination from over 50 collaborators and counting. If challenges are not posted on known platform sources, industry representatives have to make a specific request to post theirs to the Innovation Challenge Marketplace, and this process appears to be manual in the current release. Although facilitating other use cases is in planning, the platform is currently focused on providing for industry’s needs to connect with expertise, and not for the needs of other potential users (e.g. postgraduate students, press researchers, government researchers), so the search results are currently oriented toward providing for this use case and not others.
The D61+ platform is at this time designed to help search for research experts working within Australian research institutions. It does not facilitate access to experts beyond Australia or those who work outside of academic and other public research institutions. Further data sources will need to be secured in order to scale this platform’s relevance globally. The platform has an open request for details about experts and data providers to add access to information, although it is unclear what defines ‘expert’.