Government understandably wants to data-mine progress reports. The loss of Fastlane reporting, with its PDF structure, in exchange for plain text/fillable fields in Research.gov, is an example of this.
However, the reporting format in Research.gov is ridiculously time-consuming. It has generated an extreme, labor-intensive, administrative burden. Not one Principle Investigator I know wants anything to do with Research.gov, and every Principle Investigator I know laments the loss of PDFs submitted via Fastlane.
We need the federal government to acknowledge this particular source from which administrative burden originates: Reporting systems with fillable fields, plain text, or upload links, or image attachments, or drop-down menus, ARE an administrative burden.
What does this say? I suggest we acknowledge that there is an inherent, systemic contradiction between these two goals:
- Reduce administrative burden
- Greater transparency and analyses of project details
No new or revised fillable-field, web-based reports or reporting system, whose function, in part, will be to collect data, will reduce the administrative burden on the researchers. Instead of trying to invent more of the same, I suggest what will likely sound like an impossibility:
- Allow PDFs, similar to how Fastlane works/worked. This reduces the administrative burden on the investigators.
- Format the PDFs with specific headers, and/or codes.
- Then tackle the "Grand Challenge" - We need a software program that can mine the PDFs.
If this technology doesn't exist, it needs to be discovered. Otherwise the generation of new systems of reporting, alongside the requirement for greater levels of transparency and detail, will result in a greater administrative burden.
Don't say, "Oh, she doesn't understand how these systems work; she doesn't understand the constraints of software programs." Instead say, "This might be beyond our current comprehension, but inventing the seemingly impossible is critically necessary at this juncture."