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Vol 39  No 12
Apr. 5, 2007


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Database to make academic research accessible to all

Beyond the Ivory Tower
by Deborah Inkpen

Ted Lomond, left, is the project manager for the Memorial University Regional Inventory.

To the average person, academic knowledge is not readily accessible. But a project spearheaded by the Harris Centre hopes to change people’s perception about university research and its potential benefits to their community. The Memorial University Regional Inventory (MURI) is an online searchable database that the Harris Centre is developing in partnership with the Department of Computing and Communications to make research information available to the public.

“What people need to understand is that research has value outside the academy and we have to build bridges to the community so people can take this information and use it,” said Ted Lomond, project manager of MURI.

The project is part of the Harris Centre’s mandate to reach out to the community and share and collect information about regional policy and development through Knowledge Mobilization (KM).

“Knowledge Mobilization, for me, is putting the right information, in the right format in the hands of people when they need it so as to influence decision making,” said Mr. Lomond, adding that anyone will be able to access the information housed on the database.

Graduate students working on the MURI project will work with faculty to develop lay summaries – one-page executive summaries of their research in non-academic language terms for the general public – the database will be searchable by faculty, key words or themes. No summary will go online until they are approved by the researcher.

Mr. Lomond said that the project not only has benefits for communities in the province but will also have uses within the university community.

“This database is not only going to house the research that’s available at Memorial, it’s also going to contain an inventory of community needs – we’re going around the province holding a series of regional workshops where we are having broad-based community participation – we tell them what Memorial is doing in the region in terms of teaching, research and outreach,” he said. “Then we ask them what should we be doing? Where do you see opportunities for us to collaborate? In some cases the research might already exist or the collaboration is a natural match and we can make it happen. In some cases there might not be someone researching a particular area or who has an interest in line with what the community wants but if we make this available online there’s nothing to stop a researcher or graduate student to go online and say, ‘Hey, that’s an interesting opportunity and I can get a community partner who already has knowledge of the area and a willingness to work with the academic partner.’”

While the focus of MURI is province-wide, much of the research at the university is not province-specific.

“Our scope is to prioritize research that has linkages to Newfoundland and Labrador and beyond that we would capture the expertise throughout the university which might not relate specifically to our province such as someone who does research on string theory.”

Plans are underway to merge two of Memorial’s existing databases: The Research Directory and Book of Experts with MURI, which will streamline the service and provide a one-stop point of access. Each publication will still retain its look but will be part of the larger database thus providing more information and less upkeep.

“We want to reduce the workload for people here at Memorial because right now they are providing information to Marketing and Communications for the Book of Experts and to the Office of Research for The Research Directory and now for MURI – so we want to create one-stop shopping that faculty will be able to update online via a password,” explained Mr. Lomond.

The Harris Centre will launch MURI in December 2007.

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