InCommon has partnered with its peer R&E federations worldwide to create the Research and Scholarship Entity Category (R&S)
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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/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 unless a scalable solution is developed.
InCommon is implementing a simplified and scalable approach to this problem through the specification of a "Research and Scholarship (R&S)" category for SPs. All InCommon SPs have already agreed to a set of practices governing how they manage and use personal attributes. To qualify for inclusion in the R&S category, SPs comply with an additional set of criteria , a simple and scalable way for Identity Providers to release minimal amounts of required personal data to Service Providers serving the Research and Scholarship Community. Institutions that certify their IdP for R&S realize the following:
- Convenience for faculty and researchers: they instantly access participating services using campus credentials without administrator involvement
- Enable collaboration: When a research project adds a service to the category, collaboration across participating campuses is immediate
- Vetted services: InCommon reviews each service application for adherence to the category definition and requirements
- Save time and resources: once enabled, there is no additional involvement of IT staff to provision new R&S services
A list of all current R&S IdPs and SPs is available for your perusal.
How It Works
The Research & Scholarship (R&S) Category defines specific criteria for SPs that are designed to facilitate IdP policy decisions to release a controlled set of low-risk attributes to R&S SPs them 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.
This Research and Scholarship Category Pilot will include a small number of SPs and IdPs to test this approach, recommending modifications to the specifications described here, as appropriate. The following are the participants in this pilot:
- Service Providers
- Identity Providers
What Are Research and Scholarship Activities?
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Requirements for the R&S Category
In addition to the requirements outlined in the InCommon Federation: Participation Agreement, Service Providers must comply with the following requirements:
- The service enhances the research and scholarship activities of some subset of the InCommon community.
- The service requires a subset of R&S Category Attributes. (See below.)
- The service does not require out-of-band negotiation and/or contracts with IdPs.
- The service conforms to a specific subset of the Recommended Practices published by InCommon.
- The SP is a production SAML deployment.
- The SP supports SAML V2.0 Web Browser SSO.
- The SP refreshes and verifies metadata at least daily.
- The SP's metadata has been provided to InCommon so that it can be published in a human-readable format on the InCommon public web site.
- The SP provides appropriate contacts in the metadata.
- The SP provides its requested attributes in metadata, chosen from the R&S subset.
- The SP intelligently handles errors involving the release of requested attributes.
R&S Category Attributes
InCommon IdPs are strongly encouraged to release the following attributes to R&S Category SPs:
- e-mail address (mail)
- user identifier (
- user role (
R&S Category SPs may request other attributes, but those requests are not likely to be honored by IdPs unless there has been prior agreement with the IdP Operator. It is highly recommended that SPs use a minimalist approach to attribute requests.
Application for Inclusion in the R&S Category
To request membership in the R&S category, a site administrator for the organization owning the SP completes a web form asserting compliance with the criteria. This initiates the following approval process:
- InCommon Staff review the requests, interacting with the submitter and the InCommon Technical Advisory Council (TAC), as needed.
- Assuming a positive review, the Staff provide a one-paragraph summary recommending approval of the request to the InCommon Steering Committee and the TAC, asking for comments within one week.
- Approval or rejection of the request is determined by consensus by the review participants.
When an SP is approved for the R&S category,
- An entity attribute is inserted into metadata.
- The new R&S SP is added to a web page listing members of the R&S category.
- An announcement is sent to the email@example.com email list and/or the monthly newsletter.
Policy Considerations for Identity Providers
Identity Providers are responsible for protection of the privacy of their community members' identity attributes. As such, they must be cautious when releasing those attributes to Service Providers. As can be seen above, the R&S Category has been restricted to the release of low-risk attributes to low-risk Service Providers with high value. Nevertheless, legislation such as FERPA, as well as local policy, may require further controls over attribute release by an IdP. For example, some students may have opted out of attribute release under FERPA.
Mechanisms for implementing such controls are described below in "Technical Considerations." In the interest of facilitating collaboration and sharing of resources for as broad a community as possible, however, it is recommended that such controls be applied with as small a scope as possible.
The following documents describe the technical considerations for participation in the R&S Category:
- Federation Metadata
- Service Providers
- There are no technical requirements for SPs, other than those described above in "Requirements for the R&S Category."
- Identity Providers
- DRAFT Guidance for IdPs
IdPs leverage this to 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 addition then applies to SPs that are added to the category in the future, without the IDP administrator having to make any changes. IdPs also assert their support for R&S in federation metadata, allowing R&S-certified SPs to enhance the user experience of those IdPs' researchers.
R&S Application Process
Certifying your IdP or SP for R&S is easy, although SPs do require a review period to verify compliance with the requirements. See How to Apply for the Research and Scholarship (R&S) Entity Category for details. For more information specific to IdPs and SPs, see:
Historical Legacy: InCommon-Only R&S
When the R&S Category was first introduced for InCommon, it was available only to InCommon Participants. When REFEDS created the global Research and Scholarship Entity Category described in this document, therefore, InCommon-only R&S lost most of its relevance. All InCommon-only R&S SPs were converted to global R&S automatically, but due to changes to the requirements, that could not be done for IdPs. (See Migrating an IdP to Global Research and Scholarship for additional historical context.) InCommon-only R&S has been deprecated and is no longer issued to IdPs or SPs, but a number of IdPs still retain their InCommon-only status.
It is highly recommended that InCommon-only IdPs add support for R&S SPs internationally; see How to Apply for the Research and Scholarship (R&S) Entity Category for more information.