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Seeking Coherence at Scale

By Charles Henry

As discussed in previous blogs, new digital projects have begun to flourish within higher education that, if successful, will create genuine interdependencies: deep collaborations that could redefine our academic environment. This array of national-scale projects offers an enormous opportunity for educational organizations and institutions to build new bases of support, reach new constituencies, cultivate funding agencies, and build lasting, mutually sustaining connections between the public and private sectors. One can go as far as to state that the future of higher education may rest on the ability to reconceive ourselves holistically, with the various components of scholarly information—discovering, reconstituting, publishing, and sharing knowledge, and keeping its various manifestations securely preserved and accessible—understood as interrelated and interdependent. The next two decades could witness an extraordinary fluorescence of activity among universities and colleges focused on repositioning, consolidation, and convergence. Higher education could make enormous contributions to assure its vitality, expanding its capacity for future discovery and reimagining of our cultural heritage while not compromising its exactitude and rigor.

In response to this phenomenon, CLIR is undertaking a strategic turn in its decades-long history, building upon the many research projects, reports, and programs it has supported in service to higher education, and taking advantage of its perspective as an organization that is uniquely engaged with many emerging national-scale efforts. In the coming weeks, CLIR will announce the creation of a task force called the Committee on Coherence at Scale: a small, flexible, and representative body convened as an attempt to manage and influence the growth of large projects in ways that assure their development as part of a more complex environment in support of teaching and research, and that are cost effective and sustainable. The committee will have the following charge:


Analyze national-scale projects to better understand their technical platforms, architecture, logic of composition, goals, and rate of adoption. Research their problems and constraints. Other projects at scale (e.g., Europeana and various national digital libraries) will also be analyzed.


Convene experts to model various options of multiple large-scale project integration and coherence.


Explore the technologies requisite for longer term sustainability; APIs and methods of interoperable connectivity will be an aspect of this focus.

Business Models

Model the initial costs of building the projects, the costs of interlinking them, and the savings to higher education over time.


Discuss various governance models for the proposed environment, if appropriate, and assess governance of the project entities.

Benefits and Transformational Aspects

Articulate the perceived and, over time, the substantiated benefits to research productivity and pedagogy; organizational efficiencies; new methods of research; new fields of study that may be instigated by the digital environment; and related changes deemed to be positive outcomes.


Publicize the committee’s work, analyses, benchmarks, and studies. Share essays on the importance of establishing a coherent digital ecology for higher education.

As the new digital environment gets built, the committee may adopt a higher-level perspective and look at post secondary education as influenced and determined by the emerging environment. In this respect, the committee’s purview shifts to that of an ecological study, exploring the successional development of higher education in response to the digital system of services and support, broad adaptions, distributions of responsibilities for management and governance, and information flows.

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