Written by Steven Vidovic, Open Research Development Manager, Hartley Library, University of Southampton
“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” – Henry Ford
Last week, I was fortunate to be able to attend the Force11 conference in Edinburgh. The Future of Research and e-Scholarship (Force) is a community of individuals with an interest in progressing scholarly communications, and Force 2019, Edinburgh was a meeting which brought a balanced community together to discuss the future of scholarly communications and scholarly best practices. That international community included, but was not limited to Researchers (I met someone working on research ethics, another person working in computer sciences, a geologist and a clinician), Research Librarians, Research Innovation Services (RIS), Society and Commercial Publishers, Content Aggregators, Systems and Service Providers, Programmers/Developers, Funders, Pressure Groups and Social Activists. It was perhaps the most sector/disciplinarily diverse and balanced meeting I have been to. This is no small claim either; as a researcher myself and a former managing editor of a large and diverse list of journals, I have attended many broadly interesting conferences.
For Open Access (OA) Week so far, our blog (Research Matters) has asked ‘to Pay or Not to Pay?’, it has provided a neat overview of OA using confectionary, and given an explanation of our immediate research community. In this post, I wanted to try and very briefly touch on the themes of OA Week and bring some additional balance and perspective to the debate whilst giving some insight into Force11.
One thing that I noticed when I arrived in Edinburgh with the task of writing this blog post in mind is how little OA was discussed as the main theme. Yet it became very clear how integral OA is to most of the work being done by all of those stakeholders (delegates) listed above and how strongly many of them believe in the concept. So it became quite apparent that while everyone had an opinion, almost everything that can be said has been said already.
Encouragingly, many of the workshops and talks were about taking scholarly communications to the next level. For example, we heard about ways to improve the gathering and management of metadata (information about an article, dataset etc.), engagement with preprints was promoted, ways of publishing computer code were explored, and new approaches to peer-review manuscript management were also presented. We also saw novel tools showcased: tools which will improve researchers’ abilities to replicate results and future proof studies; help us understand what a good deal looks like when purchasing journal subscriptions; and a publishing platform aimed at institutional publishing.
This was all very exciting stuff in terms of maximising impact and engagement with research, but wasn’t really answering the questions posed by OA Week’s theme: open for whom? Equity in open knowledge. So I caught up with a familiar face from a commercial publisher, Matthew Cannon, who is now the Head of Open Research for Taylor & Francis Group (you may also know them through their Routledge or Informa imprints). Although, I should make it clear Matt’s opinions are his own.
I started off by asking Matt ‘the theme of OA Week is open for whom? Equity in open knowledge. What are your thoughts on this?’
Admittedly, this is a loaded question and anyone with some expertise in this area is unlikely to cover everything in a short answer. The headlines from Matt’s response were that it is a timely theme, these questions need to be addressed, but also “Equity can mean a lot of things”… “I think of it being global”. With that in mind, Matt explained that it’s not always enough to have an open license on an article providing global free to read access because many research articles are written in English, presenting a language barrier. I thought what Matt was talking about is akin to keeping the door open, but not having a ramp up the steps in front to allow all potential users access.
I asked a follow-up question, ‘what does open research mean to you?’
Matt doesn’t feel open research has a strict definition. He did note that there are European definitions presented by the European Commission and Foster which encourage open data, code and articles. He also noted that the use of synonyms like “open science” has connotations because the terminology doesn’t represent those in Humanities subjects for example. Coincidentally that was the very same reason I posed my question to him in the way that I did. Matt commented on the tension between the grassroots open research movements and the top-down approach taken by organisations and funders. While those two broad groups are concerned with key themes such as equity, citizen science, education and making preprints and underpinning data openly available to name but a few, there is a risk that they will become increasingly different in their interpretation of the same terms and goals and miss each other altogether rather than bringing it all together. Indeed, I would argue we have already seen examples of this miscommunication and misalignment of goals, with some of the *Plan S feedback being good examples. Matt’s sound point should not detract from the excellent examples of grassroots movements collaborating with the top-down approach. For example, one community is supplying educational materials in the form of a Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that serves Funders well.
With those comments in mind, I asked ‘what do you think the biggest challenges or blockers are for progress in scholarly communications?’
At first, Matt noted that he is “excited to see large adoptions and general interest in open science” which was a nice foil to my cynical question! However, it cannot be denied that there are challenges to overcome, those he listed were: working in pockets/silos; culture; rewards and recognition, lack thereof or inappropriately given; and false measures of quality. Therefore, those individuals that do engage with open research agenda for the right reasons aren’t necessarily getting the recognition they deserve for that engagement. Conversely (perhaps adversely), some mechanisms reward Researchers based on inappropriate measures of quality and esteem, such as the Impact Factor of the journal they choose to publish in.
On that last point, it’s worth noting the University of Southampton hopes to release its Responsible Research Metrics Policy soon. I will write a blog post in the not too distant future to highlight what using research metrics appropriately and responsibly at the University of Southampton should look like.
All in all, I think we only scratched the tip of the open research iceberg. However, what is striking to me is how well I agree with Matt’s responses. There is often a perception that Libraries and Publishers are not of the same mind, but I don’t think that is true most of the time. Like the situation Matt identified with the grassroots and top-down not always being aligned, likely, Libraries and Publishers are not always communicating as well as we could be. It’s possible that if we don’t overcome these difficulties we could miss each other altogether too. But on a positive note, communities like FORCE do bring likeminded individuals together and there is a clear appetite for respect and understanding as we move forward with the open research agenda.
Note: subsequent to doing this interview Taylor & Francis Group have published a report on their author survey and it makes for an interesting read. The underpinning data is here: http://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4700408. If you would like to know more about open research, its merits and how to engage with it throughout the research lifecycle, approach the Library.
*Plan S is an initiative and set of principles that funding bodies and organisations will try to follow when setting out their policies for publication of research. The aim is to have full and immediate open access, starting in January 2021.