Case Studies

ORCID is a non-profit open registry of unique and persistent researcher identifiers that also provides transparent Web services to link these identifiers to research works and supporting organizations.  Launched in 2012, ORCID now contains records for more than 4.5 million unique IDs for researchers from a multitude of disciplines, research sectors, and nations. ORCID also is marked by its cooperation with other identifier systems.

The Challenge: Normalizing Researcher Affiliations 

From its inception, one of the primary objectives of ORCID has been to support interoperability between research data systems, “which is possible only if we create resolvable linkages between IDs for researchers, their works, and their affiliated organizations”, according to Laurel Haak, Executive Director of ORCID.  For linkages with researchers’ educational background and employment history, ORCID “did not want people simply typing in affiliation names.” Free text entries of institution names would invariably include non-standard acronyms, errors, multiple names referring to the same institution, and such poor quality data would not support ORCID’s core interoperability mission. ORCID determined that they would implement this linking functionality only with a suitable authority file of institutions and unique institutional identifiers.

The Solution: Identify Database

ORCID requirements for a database of institutions included the following attributes:

  • Unique Institutional Identifiers:  Each organization in the database must be uniquely identified and validated over time to ensure that no duplicate records existed or were newly created.
  • Easy to implement:  An authority file of organization names must support name-based type-ahead functionality for researchers using the ORCID user interface to link to their degree-granting or employing organizations.
  • Community responsive: ORCID member organizations must be able to interact with the authority file to provide updates to their listing and to obtain their identifier for use in ORCID workflows.
  • Open: Institutional IDs and associated metadata (organization name, location, URL) must be openly available to the community, and available to share through the ORCID Registry.
  • Supply chain compatibility: Institutional IDs must be able to be transmitted and understood by multiple players throughout the scholarly publishing and research ecosystem.
  • Transparent: Processes for data validation and database management must be clearly described.
  • Comprehensive coverage:  The database must be international and cover the vast majority of organizations served by the ORCID Registry: publishers, professional associations, research funders, higher education institutions, and research organizations, AND have the ability to grow to encompass new institutions that join ORCID.
  • Persistence and Resolvability:  The identifier must be persistent and support resolution to a unique entity.

After consulting with members of the community, ORCID followed NISO’s recommendation and adopted the ISO27729:2012 International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI) standard for institutional identification. The next step was to identify an ISNI registration agency, and Ringgold’s Identify Database of institutions most closely matched their requirements.

  Ringgold’s role as an ISNI registration agency, coupled with the scope and accepted authority of the Identify Database, made them the most appropriate partner for this phase of our development. 

Laurel Haak, Executive Director, ORCID

  • Adding affiliations – the User Experience: Armed with the Identify Database, ORCID built an interface which employs predictive type-ahead searching.

  • ORCID registrants begin to enter their institution name, and a list of possible choices is presented.  The back-end database is supplied from a regularly updated feed from the Identify Database. Once a user selects the correct institution, Identify metadata including the Ringgold Number, institution name, and location is attached to the user’s ORCID record. Thus are two unique identifiers joined together, allowing for a definitive link from individual to institution.

  • Authority with flexibility: The ORCID affiliation module drives users towards an authority file, but also permits users to enter free text if they don’t find the institution they seek. ORCID periodically reviews free text entries, and works with Ringgold to add those that appear with greatest frequency to Identify. In this manner, the Identify authority file grows to include more relevant institutions, and ORCID registrants continue to have a smooth user experience.

The Result

The ORCID Registry has begun to support the accurate and persistent identification of researcher institutional affiliations. ORCID launched their new affiliation module in December 2013. As of March 2018, more than 1,290,000 ORCID records have at least one educational affiliation selected from the Identify Database, and almost 1,100,000 have at least one employment affiliation selected.

The benefits of creating these linkages are already being realized by the scholarly community:

Looking ahead, ORCID sees a future where additional identifiers and registries are linked together in this way, further advancing the potential to connect research and researchers.