The Brain Project


This is the starting page for a representation of the work of the Brain (Building Research and Innovation Networks) project as part of an information structure on the project web site.  A copy of the project Final Report, which provides more detailed information in the form of a single document is available here. The structure consists of a set of linked documents together with an associated (clickable) visualisation of the structure (Project Map). The methodology and formats used for this and the concepts behind them are described on the page, Project Work Representation.

The project was based at Coventry University with the University of Leeds as partners and was funded by the JISC as part of Stage 3 of the JISC Virtual Research Environments Programme.


The fundamental aim of the Brain project was to facilitate the research and innovation process at Coventry University and those it works with, particularly focusing on supporting collaborative processes and developing communities.


The general context for the project is set by several factors – particular characteristics of the University, thematic focus areas and general factors relating to research in the context of an HE institution. Coventry University is part of the overall higher education community, but has several specific emphases, particularly its orientation towards applied research and work with business and the community. One of the aims of the project was to highlight and focus on these particular elements that differentiated the University, from others. This was intended to be of particular value to the community as it was identified as an increasingly important requirement for the community as a whole. However, it was hoped that the experience of the project would also be of value more generally.

The linking of research and innovation reflects this approach which covers the spectrum from research to R&D to innovation in organisation, process and other areas. To make the project viable in relation to the financial and human resources available, the scope of the project was focused on four areas: Serious Games & Creative Industries, Health & Health Technology, the Environment, and Entrepreneurship and Enterprise. However, the project aimed to generalise from experience in these areas to the University as a whole as resources permitted.

Research at the University was organised around a number of Applied Research Groups, Applied Research Centres and Institutes. Although these were still kept in place, during the course of the project, following a major consultation and review, the University restructured its research strategy around eight key “Grand Challenge” themes. This presented a major opportunity as well as challenge to the project. The project was involved with this initiative at a deep level and was part of formulating strategic plans for each of the Challenges, as well as continuing to develop and implement work within them.

Although the project was about research in particular, research and learning have increasing overlaps and commonalities, especially with the increasing prevalence of new approaches, such as activity-led learning. Research environments must be seen in this broader context. As expressed by one user interviewed by the project, “Research is about something nobody knows, learning is about something you don’t know. So to you, learning is research.”


The key components of project activity to fulfil the aims of the project were the following:

The wider conceptual context of the project is discussed in Collaborative Thinking and Collective Intelligence, and Distributed Cognition and the Wisdom of Crowds and some general issues and conclusions that came out of the project’s work are considered in Virtual Research Environments and Research 2_0.

The project and the tools and services it developed have met with a very favourable response, attracting unsolicited comments such as, “this is an incredibly good facility”, and “it has huge commercial potential”.  However, the progress of the project has also revealed the unexploited potential that still remains and indicated that we have only scratched the surface of what is possible. Most valuable perhaps has been the knowledge gained generally about researchers and the research process which will be of undoubted value to the JISC and HE community as well as Coventry University. Some of the requirements that were identified during the course of the project but could not be met, as well as some of the general conclusions drawn and recommendations for the JISC are discussed in Implications for the Future.

Although the project has now finished, the project team welcome feedback and discussion on any aspect of its work and particularly invite any suggestions for future collaborative developments. The ongoing contact for the project is: Jim Hensman, Coventry University, (j.hensman@coventry.ac.uk).