Research Infrastructures within PARTHENOS make their services, tools and collections accessible to researchers from all over the world. This page provides the management of current and future Humanities RI’s with 24 best practices, formulated in close collaboration with experts who have coordinated TNA in Humanities projects for years.
Why Transnational Access?
Transnational Access (TNA) refers to physical, remote and virtual admission to, interactions with and use of research infrastructures and to services offered by research infrastructures to all researchers, no matter what country they are based in. A task within PARTHENOS examined how the goals underpinning TNA as a requirement for Research Infrastructures compare to the experiences of RI project management and TNA project users.
TNA coordinators were interviewed to find out how they have experienced the organisation, preparation, facilitation and evaluation of TNA research projects. In addition, TNA project users were asked to fill out a survey, describing how they experienced all phases of transnational research. From these experiences the task derived 24 best practices that are designed to serve as guidelines for RIs drafting a TNA programme or wishing to improve on it.
The list of best practices divided into four categories can be found below. Under additional resources the Report on the assessment of Transnational Access activities in participating projects, Deliverable 7.4, can be downloaded in its entirety.
Best Practices for Transnational Access
1. Stick to the policy definition, but feel free to tailor it to specific goals and/or needs
While Grant Agreements list specific hard requirements, there is leeway to make additions, as long as they do not conflict with the requirements (e.g., a focus on early career scholars).
2. Consider diversification to increase the breadth of services and the wealth of experiences in TNA projects
Providing research data around a variety of thematic areas or different kinds of material infrastructure (such as laboratories using different techniques), increases the potential user base and allows for a greater wealth of TNA experiences.
3. Learn coordinating TNA from other Research Infrastructures
When possible, see if other RIs are willing to share their knowledge of – and experience with – hosting TNA projects. As PARTHENOS is an important facilitator of exchange in “shared challenges”, this deliverable should be considered in the same light.
4. Avoid delay in commencing the recruitment of TNA projects
The earlier an RI starts by offering TNA project positions, the more time it has to distribute a satisfactory number of access periods or distributed access units. Also, there is more time for improving TNA procedures. However, it goes without saying that RIs should refrain from making a ‘hasty’ start.
5. Make sure that the recurrence of application rounds for TNA projects is frequent enough
One round a year has proven to be not frequent enough, as interested researchers would need to wait too long for a new opportunity to apply. Two rounds per year led to more satisfied project users.
6. Include TNA opportunities for cultural heritage professionals in the TNA programme
Cultural heritage professionals (including archivists) are an important category of potential project users to focus on. They had often completed their higher education before the Digital Humanities became an established field. More knowledge of innovative methods could greatly increase the potential of their institute (e.g. archive or museum). While the benefits for this target group are significant, it has not been easy to get in touch with cultural heritage professionals as described in barrier “8. Cultural heritage professionals are hard to reach when promoting TNA opportunities”.
7. An approachable EU Project Officer can assist in setting up a TNA programme
As RIs can be new to TNA, and as the uniqueness of the fields the RI supports always creates exceptions, an accessible Project Officer, speaking on behalf of the European Commission, is of great value.
8. Realize that not all research data can be displayed remotely; physical access will remain an essential way to study some data
In some cases, legislation prevents remote access (as found in e.g. archival records). This is worthy of consideration when strategically planning online and offline access.
1. Consider the symbiotic relationship between physical and virtual access and plan TNA accordingly
Before a TNA visit, virtual access could help a project user to start early with the material already available online (from only metadata to entire digitised objects). After the visit, the material online has become more valuable due to additional collected research data and a now established working relationship with experts ‘on-site’.
2. Consider the symbiotic relationship between training opportunities and TNA projects and plan TNA accordingly
Training often provides researchers with the opportunity to become acquainted with innovative techniques and datasets. Different RIs found that TNA projects often followed training. Alternatively, training during a TNA project could also help researchers acquire the right skills.
3. Assist if possible in the proposal writing process, as it leads to higher quality research plans and a better preparation
Aspiring project users are often less experienced then the RI, or less acquainted with the (technical) possibilities in the RI they wish to visit. A body (such as a helpdesk) could help an applicant in drafting a stronger, more feasible project proposal.
4. To help potential project users write a well-informed proposal and prepare their visit: offer the right information in advance through documentation and tools
Preceding physical access, different means could greatly help a potential project user to orient on a TNA project and – for instance – decide on which institutes to visit, as the researcher knows where specific research data is available. A portal or database could provide such information.
5. Allocate resources to the external panel of experts as reviewing project proposals is time-consuming
Reviewing project proposals requires a significant amount of time. By allocating resources, members of the panel of experts could more easily justify the time it takes.
6. Make sure all TNA project information is communicated clearly in advance
In many cases, project users would need enough time in advance to make arrangements (e.g. financial considerations require deliberate planning, especially when a researcher is from a low-income country).
1. Provide a platform for scholarly discussion and the exchange of ideas
Interaction between junior and senior researchers, as well as between peers, has proven to be very fruitful component of TNA programmes. This is something which should be facilitated and encouraged.
2. Create time and space for unexpected learning experiences and encounters to take place
Unexpected activities can add tremendous value to a TNA project visit. Creating both the time and the opportunities for this to happen, is essential.
3. Provide staff with additional training when needed, e.g. when researchers bring in forms of research the personnel is less acquainted with
Not just researchers need to be acquainted with the methods their research requires. To optimally support project users, it could be very worthwhile to also invest in the training of staff when a researcher brings in a topic, method or approach the RI is not yet familiar with.
4. Provide visiting project users with a list of travel instructions and advice for recommendations
As the institutions receiving TNA project users often know more about how to travel there and where to stay, a standardised list with travel information could be an easy way to help incoming project users make arrangements.
5. Plan a brief call with the TNA project user in advance of the visit
This could help the researcher to make the most out of the physical visit to a research facility, it could be very worthwhile to investigate whether there are things a project user can already do from home in advance.
1. Learn coordinating TNA by doing
As every RI is different, some lessons can only be learned when turning theory into practice and by constantly recalibrating the access procedure.
2. Return research data as a standardised last process step in the provision of access
When a researcher creates new research data within an RI, the RI could facilitate the process of storing the data and returning them to the project user.
3. Consider providing information on previous TNA projects (e.g. in a repository)
Project users are often interested in learning from their predecessors. A central location to study earlier TNA projects could facilitate that.
4. Complete feedback on project proposals is appreciated. In case of rejection, be encouraging and provide constructive remarks
(Potential) project users are eager to learn and improve their research methodology and approach. If successful, this could lead to a new project application in the future.
5. Keep providing TNA ‘alumni’ with support and research opportunities in the future
The lasting benefits of a visit under a TNA project could be one of the most important assets of a TNA project. As one project user stated the following: “I recognise that I did not get more information about future activities resulting from the TNA project after it finished and the possibility of visiting the institution for a second time under a TNA project” apparently this is not something which always takes place.
- Deliverable 4.7 Assessment of Transnational Access activities in participating projects [PDF Download]
- ‘Access to European Research Infrastructures.’ A European Commission webpage containing the rules governing transnational access to Research Infrastructures, the charter for access, lists of Research Infrastructures, related projects and news.
A video about the fellowships of PARTHENOS Partner EHRI, a successful example of TNA: