KeyMail: Select Dissemination of Information on Research Funding Opportunities to University Scientists

Article excerpt

Abstract

The Research Authority, Bar-Ilan University, has implemented an innovative e-mail system ensuring that faculty members receive only timely and relevant funding opportunity messages. After several months of operation, a preliminary analysis revealed that project goals-message targeting and noise reduction-are being met. During this period, messages were received by researchers on the basis of keywords they selected from a list generated by the Research Authority/SDI system. The number of messages was dramatically reduced by 50 percent, while a simultaneous increase in the relevance of these messages was noted.

The KeyMail system can be applied to other university and corporate units because the system relies on readily available and inexpensive technology. Furthermore, the system's ease and simplicity of access and use, and its ability to reduce the amount (recall) of unwanted and unread mail ("noise"), and increase the effectiveness of targeting e-mail postings (precision, relevancy) make KeyMail applicable to a broad spectrum of university and corporate divisions.

Introduction

At Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, the Research Authority serves as the academic unit responsible for the administration of securing and managing external and internal research grants. The Research Authority locates funding sources, develops proposals, approves proposals for submission, negotiates contracts, and ensures financial and scientific compliance of grants awarded. The staff of the Research Authority must be able to notify faculty members from all disciplines in the sciences and the humanities in a timely and targeted fashion of funding opportunities and other research-related matters.

Statement of the Problem

During the past five years, the Research Authority designed and implemented an electronic message system to communicate with the Bar-Ilan faculty. In 1995 we introduced a mainframe-based system (Listserv) drawn from the university payroll database. This system enabled us to communicate with the entire 1,200member faculty. While the majority of faculty members welcomed this technological advance some researchers objected to receiving unwanted or irrelevant messages, saying it resulted in too much noise. In response, we refined the system one year later by dividing our researcher community into three faculty distribution lists: (a) Natural, Exact, and Life Sciences, (b) Social Sciences and Law, and (c) Humanities (including Judaic Studies).

This policy change helped to reduce the amount of information overload. In concrete terms, this change meant that the physicists no longer received funding opportunity notices about research programs in philosophy. However, after conducting a faculty survey and an internal Research Authority review, the Research Authority realized that we needed to further improve the message communication system. We found that some faculty members filtered or deleted unwanted Research Authority mail, and a few others asked to be removed from the list(s) altogether.

Proposed Resolution of the Problem

To ensure more precise targeting of emails-to make sure that researchers received postings that were most relevant to their field of interest-we decided to design a messaging system based on pre-defined discipline-oriented keywords.

The objective was to create a system that would address the dilemma of noise reduction on the one hand, while on the other to ensure that the researcher would not miss golden opportunities of applying for funding. The goal was to attract more researchers to read the opportunities with the hope that more researchers would apply for funding from sources outside the university.

To accomplish this goat, we developed the following specific objectives:

1. The first was to develop the size and scope of the controlled vocabulary. Within this parameter, we identified the following three issues: (a) The vocabulary must be manageable by the Research Authority administrative staff (not information specialists), yet accurately reflect the faculty members' research areas. …