CTSI Annual Pilot Awards to Improve the Conduct of Research

An Open Proposal Opportunity

Research Networking Software App/Gadget Development Competition

Proposal Status: 

Background/Rationale: Social networking sites such as Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn are web platforms. They allow independent applications to run within their sites to enhance the user experience, often integrating with external services to provide dynamic content as varied as reading lists from Amazon, blog posts from WordPress, to live game play from Zynga. The beauty of these external services is that they can be shared across any software platform that chooses to deploy them.

At UCSF, we recognized the value in making our research networking tool into a web platform. Accordingly, we have contributed an extension to the open-source Profiles research networking software tool, and we are now using our UCSF Profiles installation as a platform (based on the industry standard OpenSocial), whereby we have written "apps" or "gadgets" to extend the functionality. One such gadget is to display presentations, posters and other content that is uploaded to Slideshare.net, within an individual's UCSF Profile page itself. This gadget allows researchers to share conference presentations, lectures etc. easily within their UCSF research profile.

The software code for these gadgets is open source; gadgets can and have been shared with other institutions. The end goal is to create an open library of shareable gadgets for research networking, where any institution (academic, for profit etc.) can contribute to or use the apps in this library.

At this point, we think research networking software tools could make a giant leap forward by harnessing this simple technological implementation and marrying it with many institutions’ knowledge of what features and functions will enable more efficiency and collaboration in the research process. To date, one other institution using Profiles has adopted the standard and another is on track to do so in a matter of months. Wake Forest has successfully deployed Profiles as an OpenSocial enabled platform and has written 2 of their own gadgets. Baylor is now on track to do the same.

Plan: We propose to hold a competition similar to one held by VIVO in 2011. A call to institutions for the best ideas for research networking software functions would be sent out and judged on a set of criteria that would include feasibility, value and impact for enabling research efficiency and/or collaboration.

We will choose 2 winners of the competition and each would receive:

  1. A new iPad 
  2. Plus, development of the gadget itself, using resources from the VH team and our development network to execute. Winner would be acknowledged in attribution on gadget itself once launched.
  3. Recognition via public presentation(s) at Profiles User Group meetings, as invited guest presenter at CTSA IKFC meetings etc.

With the following stipulations: a) the resulting gadget is offered in the library and made available free and open-source, 2) the winner is available as needed as subject matter expert during design and implementation of the gadget.


Impact/Value: We believe this project:

  • will further the ability for research networking tools to have impact on the research process
  • will contribute to the national CTSA body of knowledge and experience with research networking
  • allow institutions and individuals with creative ideas for features to share those ideas with the community and contribute in a timely manner
  • further demonstrate that OpenSocial is an inexpensive way to create valuable production level apps given the low technical complexity of gadgets.

Criteria: Criteria for entry would be open to all, but with active promotion to UCSF, all institutions in the Profiles User Group, all VIVO-enabled institutions.  Judges for entries would be identified from the CTSI VH team, CTSI leaders / faculty, and institutions currently leading the research networking software field (e.g., Harvard, and Wake Forest)


While we know that we may get ideas easily from IT folks, we will make a concerted effort to gather ideas from researchers themselves. In addition to soliciting the CTSI faculty (for their own ideas in addition to recommendations for others to contact), we will target those faculty who:


1)      commented on our open proposal

2)      have very well fleshed out profiles on UCSF Profiles

3)      are engaged in science of team science (we will use UCSF Profiles to identify these peopleJ)

4)      have been past proponents of UCSF Profiles

5)      have been interviewed personally by VH team members (Research Networking 2.0 interviews)

6)      are part of our post-doc user group. 


We will create a detailed description for the call for ideas. This will include the scope, i.e., new features specifically for research networking software products, and the judging criteria (to include feasibility, applicability to OpenSocial approach, value and impactfor enabling research efficiency and/or collaboration). In addition, while we plan to promote actively at UCSF, we’ll solicit entries outside of UCSF by leveraging our relationships with other institutions that are heavily engaged in adopting research networking software tools, such as the Profiles User group (including Harvard, Wake Forest, Baylor, Minnesota), Stanford CAP, VIVO (including U Illinois, U Florida), U Iowa LOKI, and the CTSA IKFC National Research Networking Group.



Total Budget: $33,406

$1000 for iPads, $32,406 for development and project management of 2 gadgets

Collaborators: Wake Forest, Harvard, CTSI leadership / faculty as judges.


Great concept! It would be helpful to know how many gadgets/apps you expect to award prize money. I also worry that some of the best ideas might be from endusers who don't know anything about programming/IT, and don't necessarily want to conduct the development... You might think about a fixed prize award for several "best ideas/concepts" that don't require any plan for how to develop it.

Like Ralphs idea. Also, the $ requested for funding app development (aka prizes) still seem low - is that supposed to cover 2 apps? And, conversely, my first reaction to your management costs is that its too high ... (at least you might describe why implementing such a competition might cost 25K to administer )

I agree with the comments already posted. This sounds like a great way to bring out some novel new applications. But I see this as possibly creating something of a core of experts in actually programming the app that those of us unable to do that might come up with. Is there already an office at UCSF that this might be linked with?

Innovative and timely approach. like the strategy of the competition though it is not clear how much the requested funds would actually accomplish.

Last December I went to a meeting sponsored by the California Healthcare Foundation called "Free the Data" A revolution to Improve Health Care. Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer from HHS has sponsored national competitions; "code-a-thons" and "health datapalooza's" similar competitions to what Leslie describes, to foster innovative ways to utilize the national databases. There are many mobile and iHealth startups here in the Bay area. I like the idea of the proposed competition, but could it be more narrowly focused, much like this open proposal, and limited to local startups and UCSF researchers with experience writing fundable proposals? The goal might be to raise UCSF's competitiveness for these emerging opportunities. As for the prize money amount; for most participants, the prize amount is secondary to the notoriety gained by winning the competition.

Great idea to harness ideas. However, despite their popularity, the challenge mechanism is perhaps not the best mechanism or the best use of resources to generate "production level" apps that will be maintained and persist. I like Ralph's idea to reward best idea/concept rather than app.

UCSF has long lagged in addressing its technical infrastructure needs for its researcher and patients and I am delighted to see this proposal to help address this gap. Profiles is a great platform for added enhancements and functionality. I suggest focusing the scope to identify the greatest challenges in researcher networking needs to advance translational science, such a daily updated search engine which will automatically identify commonalities across a researchers' portfolio of work and connect her/him via daily emails with colleagues for potential collaborations, funding, etc. An option to add non-UCSF members is an added feature. I would also network with UCSF's Communicator's Group led by Sarah Paris, who is exploring a UCSF "social media" conference, to secure greater UCSF buy-in for this pilot. Finally, this pilot is great opportunity to reach out to local tech and start up companies looking to provide technical support to and advance their areas of support to the fast growing field of medical and information management needs. Either the competition could be expanded beyond UCSF, or specific companies could be contacted for support, collaboration, funding, and marketing.

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