The wacky world of organisational IDs

We’ve been reading the recent CASRAI-UK Organisational ID report on institutional identifiers in the UK with interest. The report was commissioned by JISC to provide a landscape review of organisational identifiers currently used, and makes for interesting reading.

The XKCD cartoon included in the report seems particularly apt, given that they list no fewer than 23 different institutional identifiers currently in use by various entities within scholarly research and communications. Here are some of the points we thought were of particular interest from the report:

  • Here at DataSalon we work mostly with scholarly publishers and their customer data, and hence tend to focus on the use cases that publishers have for identifiers. This report makes it clear that there many more use cases for identifiers across the whole scholarly research community including for libraries, funders, regulators, administrators and more. It also highlights just how many different identifiers are in use. That’s worth bearing in mind when thinking about integrating identifiers for one particular purpose.
  • The report also shows the limitations of many of those identifiers in terms of worldwide coverage, with only nine listed as being global rather than UK or EU specific. It seems clear that most publishing and research is done in a global context, and so identifiers without global coverage will only ever be of limited use to the whole research and publishing community. It also suggests that a ‘linking’ ID may have a role to play in making sense of the current proliferation of different IDs.
  • The report reinforces some of the key attributes required of a successful identifier (including trust, transparency and governance), as well as making good points about how much metadata is (or isn’t) appropriate to include, and the temporal nature of institutional identities.

We see differing use cases for identifiers within MasterVision from our clients. Sometimes a simple ID that identifies that two records are actually the same institution is all that’s required. Other use cases demand a much richer set of associated metadata to identify research specialisms or other attributes.

Here, the point made by the report that ‘The authority can remain separate from the identifier (for example, it would be feasible to establish an authority list with appropriate metadata but using the ISNI as the identifier)’ is important. It means that a standard identifier could emerge that links to multiple sets of data about institutions, and hence many different metadata sources could be called upon using the same ID for varying use cases.

The current front-runner for that role as a standard linking ID is the ISNI. We’re keeping an eye on developments such as the linking of ISNI and ORCID via a forthcoming affiliations module on behalf of our clients.