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Research & Scholarship Category

InCommon is offering an easier method for participants to provide collaborative services for researchers and scholars via their federated identities by reducing the policy interpretation, inter-institutional agreements, and system configuration needed for those services. This method categorizes service providers (SPs) to simplify the configuration of identity providers (IdPs); the result is that researchers can successfully access SP sites without delay and without contacting their local IdP admin. The Research & Scholarship (R&S) Category applies to service providers that support research and scholarly activities such as virtual organizations and campus-based collaboration services. Participating IdPs agree to release a minimal set of attributes to the R&S category with a one-time addition to their default release policies, a simpler and more scalable approach than negotiating such release bilaterally with every service provider.

For a quick overview, see: R&S Category Overview

Contents

The Research & Scholarship Value Proposition

1) The immediate and most tangible benefit is that researchers and scholars on campuses that support R&S may seamlessly access a growing list of R&S services without friction or administrator involvement. In other words, the end result may be characterized as: Federation for Research and Scholarship that Just Works.

2) Many potential R&S services choose not to federate because IdP support for R&S across our campuses is spotty and uneven. We expect a threshold number of campuses to cause a "Cambrian Explosion" of valuable R&S services to appear in the InCommon Federation, which will spur collaboration and research in the US.

3) Continuing our participatory role in the global R&E community, InCommon has introduced an international version of the Research & Scholarship Service Category to the REFEDS community, which requires broad support from InCommon participants to be successful.

Background

A growing number of Service Providers (SPs) supporting collaborative research and scholarship activities are joining InCommon. As is the standard practice in the higher education and research world, collaboration on these sites involves knowing who the collaborators are: name, email, institutional affiliation. Unfortunately, the default Attribute Release Policies in place at most campus Identity Providers (IdPs) do not share any information with these sites without local review of the SP's purpose, governing policy, and operational practices. This approach is simply not scalable to the thousands of campus IdPs and thousands of SPs supporting research and scholarship that we anticipate in the future. It is already a serious problem for the big virtual organizations and research labs; the hoped-for explosion of smaller collaboration sites housed in academic departments will not succeed with federation without a scalable solution.

All InCommon SPs are already bound by a set of practices governing how they manage and use personal attributes. InCommon's Research & Scholarship (R&S) Category defines additional set criteria that are designed to facilitate IdP policy decisions to release a controlled set of low-risk attributes to R&S SPs without local review for each SP.  InCommon also provides metadata and technology tools to further facilitate automatic, but controlled, release of attributes to the R&S SPs, as well as aiding user support.

IdPs can simplify the management of their Attribute Release Policies by taking advantage of the R&S Category. With a one-time addition to their default release policies they can specify a set of attributes to release to all SPs that are in the R&S Category. This policy would apply to SPs that are added to the category in the future, without the IDP administrator having to make any changes.

Candidate Services

Whether an SP operator is commercial or non-commercial is not relevant to eligibility for the R&S Category, nor are any other aspects of how the service is implemented or operated, beyond the specific requirements noted below. It's all about purpose.

Research & Scholarship Category Definition

The three traditional dimensions of the academic endeavor are: research and scholarship, instruction, and service. Candidates for the R&S Category are Service Providers that support research and scholarship as an essential component. For example, a service providing tools for both multi-institutional research collaboration and instruction is eligible as a candidate for the R&S Category.

InCommon has chosen to introduce service categories in a conservative way, by focusing narrowly on services purposed for research and scholarship, in order to make implementation as straightforward as possible, and limit the range of concerns to be as specific as possible. Other service categories may be defined in the future for other purposes.

R&S Category Attributes

InCommon IdPs are strongly encouraged to support R&S by releasing the R&S attribute bundle to R&S category SPs. With respect to attributes, note that InCommon Service Providers are already bound by the requirements of the InCommon Federation Participation Agreement. For the purposes of R&S, participants should pay particular attention to Section 9 of that document:

Excerpt from InCommon Participation Agreement

9. Respect for Privacy of Identity Information

Participant agrees to respect the privacy of and any other constraints placed on identity information that it might receive from other InCommon Participants as agreed upon between Participant and the InCommon Participant(s). In particular, Participant understands that it may not permanently store nor share or disclose or use for any purpose other than its intended purpose any identity information that it receives from another InCommon Participant without express written permission of the other InCommon Participant. Participant understands that the storing and sharing of resources is between the Participant and the InCommon Participant(s) and is not the responsibility of InCommon.

It is therefore highly recommended that SPs use a minimalist approach to attributes, only requesting those attributes that they absolutely need. In the future, as InCommon interoperates with federations in other parts of the world, it is likely that IdPs in other countries may be operating under laws and regulations that require a minimalist approach to attribute release.

R&S Application Process

To request membership in the R&S Category, the service owner or a site administrator for the organization that owns the service completes an application form asserting compliance with the requirements.

This initiates the following application process:

  1. InCommon staff review the request, interacting with the submitter and the InCommon Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), as needed.
  2. If the service meets the basic definition of a Research & Scholarship service, a technical review is initiated.
  3. If the service satisfies the technical requirements, the InCommon RA provisionally inserts the R&S entity attribute into SP metadata.
  4. The submitter and the site administrators are notified and a site administrator is invited to submit the metadata, which finalizes the application process.
  5. The new R&S SP is automatically added to a web page listing the members of the R&S category.
  6. An announcement is sent to the announce@incommon.org email list and/or the monthly newsletter.
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