Understanding TENET’s role in the ORCID consortium

TENET is the lead organisation in the South African ORCID consortium. Read more about ORCID, its value to research and how the consortium benefits its members.
Understanding TENET’s role in the ORCID consortium

In November 2020 ORCID — a global non-profit organisation which provides unique persistent identifiers (known as ORCID iDs) free of charge to researchers — announced that 10 million researchers around the world had signed up for their ORCID iDs. Of those 10 million ORCID iDs, nearly 90 000 belong to researchers in South Africa, where TENET operates as the lead organisation in the local consortium.

ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID) was developed by members of the scholarly communication and research community to overcome the issue that people's names are neither unique nor persistent (as name changes are common) which caused major challenges in the tracking of an author’s scholarly contribution to a given field. ORCID as an organisation was officially launched in 2012. Publishers, funders and institutions alike embraced this initiative and by 2016 more than one million researchers had signed up.

“What makes ORCID different from other attempts to create unique researcher identifiers in the past is that an ORCID iD belongs to the researcher not the institution, and so the single iD can stay with a researcher for life,” explains Wesley Barry, ORCID support specialist at TENET.

The value of a local consortium

While TENET formally became the consortium lead in May 2017, at the request of a group of universities, the seed was planted about a year earlier at a chance encounter between Guy Halse, head of trust and identity at TENET and ORCID’s then-CEO, Laurel Haak at a National Research Foundation (NRF) event in Pretoria. Haak suggested to Halse that TENET play the role of consortium lead, noting that other NRENs, notably SWAMID in Sweden and Jisc in the United Kingdom, had formed ORCID consortia in their own countries.

“This meant we were already receptive to the idea, and knew what ORCID was, when the universities approached our board to suggest we take on the role of consortium lead,” says Halse.

TENET was created by universities to provide specialist ICT services to them (read more about the history of TENET and its formation) so these institutions trust TENET to have their best interests at heart. TENET also committed to be open and transparent in how consortium costs are structured.

“Being a non-profit company means we cannot recover more than our own costs and we pass on ORCID’s membership costs without markup,” says Halse.

Cost factors are a big driving factor in having a local consortium as opposed to institutions signing up to ORCID directly. ORCID encourages local consortia by offering a discounted rate to members. So South African universities in the consortium pay less than they otherwise would.

Another important element, says Barry, is that TENET already has good relationships with university IT departments and libraries. This makes it easier to provide support for services like ORCID as we have insight into the day-to-day functioning of these departments. We understand their unique challenges.”

Technical support for institutions

“One of ORCID’s goals is to alleviate the frustration researchers feel in continually having to re-enter their information into different systems, wasting precious research time,” explains Barry.

Part of the value-add of ORCID is its ability to integrate with existing current research information systems, be they universities, funders or publishers, to automate this process. This integration allows the researcher’s home institution to auto-populate their researcher’s profiles, and for researchers to only have to enter their ORCID iD number rather than duplicating their entire academic CV when applying to a new funding agency or publisher.

Already many funders around the world, including South Africa’s National Research Foundation (NRF), have signed the ORCID funder open letter in which they commit to using ORCID in their funding data management systems.

It is here where TENET’s role as consortium lead really shows its value in the research community. These integrations are done through application program interfaces (API), the software intermediary which allows two applications to talk to each other.

“TENET provides the technical support to institutions to do these kinds of integrations which allow researchers and institutions to reap the full benefits of the ORCID system,” says Barry.

In addition to providing support on request for ORCID the TENET team have also held TENET workshops, contributed to library conferences about ORCID and other events to build awareness and understanding of the benefits of ORCID.

“Our goal is to contribute to building and sustaining the ORCID community in South Africa,” says Barry. “And help to solve any technical problems so members can benefit from the value the initiative provides.”