The Symplectic UK User Conference 2015 – in review

17th June 2015

Last week saw the coming together of a diverse group of research managers from all over the country, for Symplectic’s first ever two-day UK user conference. The event was hosted by various members of the team here at our London campus, and contained a mixture of speakers and interactive workshops. We had a great time meeting members of the community, sharing ideas and discussing the future of research. Here are some of the highlights.

Symplectic UK User Conference 2015

Day One

Jonathan Breeze, CEO of Symplectic, opened with an overview of the company’s evolution since it was founded. Covering more than just publications, Elements is now the centrepiece of an institution’s entire research information management needs. Going through the latest developments, Jonathan told us about the recent changes in leadership at Digital Science (with our co-founder Daniel Hook taking the reins as Managing Director), and the partnerships we’ve forged over the last year – including research impact tracking specialists Vertigo Ventures, and funding data experts, *Research. He then covered the increasing importance of Dimensions for Universities, for research fundi analysis, and how new data sources for Elements continue to be added. We also heard about Symplectic’s continuing collaborative development focus, working directly with clients to build solutions that serve their needs. Finally, we had a look at The Roadmap – an outline of all planned evolutions and new features that are in store for Elements. There’s a bounty of exciting developments up ahead – make sure to check back on this blog or our social media channels (Twitter and LinkedIn) for the latest news.

Jonathan Breeze at the Symplectic UK User Conference 2015

Back in March, Digital Science unveiled a website designed to aid in the discovery of REF impact case studies. Over 6700 studies were normalised, analysed and structured into a searchable database for the public to investigate and consume. Jonathan Adams, Chief Scientist at Digital Science, explained the intentions behind this endeavour, and the discoveries made while developing it. The practise of preparing impact case studies has clearly not been perfected yet, often containing logo’s and images that [in Jonathan’s opinion] used up valuable space and were not always used by panels. But mainly, a key lesson learned from this project is the ongoing necessity of structuring data. Standardised formatting and accurate metadata is critical for ensuring the utility of large data sets like these, and while creating taxonomies of impact can have its downsides (the risk of simplification, for instance) it is still invaluable for engagement and ease of use.

We also heard from Daniel Hook, current director of research metrics, and soon to be Managing Director, of Digital Science, on ‘Open Data in the Age of Impact,’ and our own Tom Letcher alongside Laura Fedorciow of Vertigo Ventures, explaining how their partnership with Symplectic will serve the research impact tracking needs of institutions around the world.

Our workshops for the afternoon session were well-received, with attendees showing enthusiasm for learning and discussion, despite having given in to the temptations of an open buffet. Developers Andrew and Chris gave a detailed walkthrough of Elements’ custom institutional reporting functionality in their session, showing how flexible the options really are when it comes to extracting reports from Element’s database. Senior Developer Dave led a workshop on getting grants data into Elements, explaining the ability to link it to publications, and use it to to generate the data required for systems such as ResearchFish. As well as these, an Open Access & Repository Tools workshop was led by various members of the team, showing how users of the new Open Access Monitor will support institutional and funder policies.Symplectic UK User Conference Workshop

Day Two

The second day kicked off with a detailed overview of Dimensions for Universities, by Giles Radford, ÜberResearch’s Head of Professional Services. Dimensions for Universities, the funding data analysis tool, allows an institution to examine the funding landscape in any research topic area, with any level of granularity. Giles explained the multitude of use cases, including the use of Symplectic’s API to import rich grant data into Elements. Juergen Wastl of Cambridge University then showed us how DfU is implemented at Cambridge as both a data source and an analysis tool. Jonathan Miller, our Senior Technical Consultant, showed a preview of the upcoming analytics and dashboard features in Elements, with some examples of advanced visualisations created with research output data. Next up were Altmetric, who touched on the advantages of alternative metrics over citation counts. We also heard about what Altmetric does, how their institutional software works, where it gets its data from, and how it integrates with Elements.The final talk of the day was by our Head of Brand, Sabih, on how Symplectic’s identity has evolved since its creation. It was fascinating to see the changing face of the Symplectic brand over the years, and exciting to consider how it might evolve in the future.

Symplectic UK User Conference 2015


The conference was finished off with three interactive workshops. The first was a system administrators’ surgery, to discuss best practices in the administration of an Elements system. Secondly, Sabih took a group of users through setting up and using Google Analytics within Elements to discover more about user behaviour and demographics. And finally, CEO Jonathan Breeze led a workshop on Open Research Networking Tools, highlighting how the rich, linked data held in Elements makes it possible to populate researcher networking platforms such as VIVO and Profiles RNS.

It was a fantastic couple of days, and we’d like to say a huge thank you to all attendees for travelling here and participating. Please get in touch if you have any questions or feedback, and we look forward to seeing you at another one of our events!