Practical steps to help HEIs unlock research

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Unfettered access to research outputs is the goal of the open access movement and the benefits that this will bring, says Neil Jacobs of Jisc

Unfettered access to research outputs is the goal of the open access (OA) movement and the benefits that this will bring - to researchers, institutions, funders and the public at large - are pretty familiar to all. And although it is proving no easy matter to establish the necessary new order, many of the UK’s institutions and other stakeholders are now well on the way.

The things that these pioneers have learned over the three years since the publication of the Finch Report offer a rich source of fail-safe methods and shortcuts for other UK universities and colleges. Working with HE research sector bodies ARMA, RLUK, SCONUL and UKCoRR, Jisc has distilled their experiences with OA to date into a series of tips. In light of the recent OA policy review by Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the release of the Higher Education and Funding Council’s (HEFCE) updated requirements for next year’s Research Excellence Framework (REF), we hope they’ll help universities and researchers to reap the benefits offered by OA practice:

Draw up an OA policy that requires researchers to make their research outputs available in line with the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Developing a workable policy should be straightforward as there are lots of resources to draw on.  The Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies (ROARMAP) offers lots of examples to browse and reuse. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has published some guidelines. At Jisc, the OA Good Practice Pathfinder projects have been working on a range of outputs focused on developing approaches to implement an effective OA policy, summed up in this recent update from the projects. The REF OA policy itself is here.

Getting the policy right is fundamental because it will enable your institution to commit resources to implementation of the REF policy and its researchers to gain as much as possible from OA. It will help to ensure that academics understand both what has to be done and the advantages they can enjoy when they do it.

Assess your current position on OA

Explore your institution’s OA preparedness and then do the same for its researchers. Planning some joint activities, such as workshops, will help to break down barriers and develop a team-working approach. Work up a baseline assessment so you can identify priority areas that need resources and also quick, cost-effective wins.

The Oxford Brookes/ Portsmouth/ Nottingham Trent (‘Making Sense’) Pathfinder project has created a useful OA benchmarking tool to help institutions assess their readiness for OA compliance  - Collaborative Institutional Assessment of Open Access (CIAO). Other resources are also available on Jisc’s open access good practice guide.

Get your communications strategy right

The OA movement may be the result of a democratic urge to open up knowledge to all but, to a researcher, the extra admin and pressure for compliance can make it seem less like the key to the sweetshop and more like a millstone around their neck. But a really good, clear programme of advocacy will ensure that researchers understand the benefits of OA and also encourage them to become willingly involved in the necessary workflows.

Take a look at the advocacy toolkit developed by the UCL/Nottingham/Newcastle (Pathways to OA) pathfinder project, and have a look at other examples here.

Setting up a standard OA email mechanism for use by publishers, academics and other participants in the process is also a straightforward way to improve communication channels. Admittedly, setting up the email address is the easy bit – you may need to commit time and resources to establish systems to monitor the address and manage workflows.

Resolve the identity issue – implement ORCID

The ORCID system of unique, persistent personal identifiers enables researchers to manage their own professional identity efficiently. It can help to automate many processes for their institutions, such as managing and maintaining records and reporting to the REF. It is now the internationally recommended system and Jisc has recently brokered a national consortium agreement to help the UK’s HEIs implement it quickly, cost effectively and with an enhanced level of technical support

Exploit tools that will help researchers navigate their way around OA policies

For example, SHERPA/FACT enables researchers to check whether the journal they plan to publish in is compliant with their research funder’s OA policies.  The policy landscape is complex and still evolving but this reasonably straightforward tool eases the burden of checking and minimises the risk of inadvertent non-compliance.

Make sure your repository can support reporting and harvesting of metadata

Standardising the way information is recorded makes it much less burdensome to report to funders and other sector bodies. RIOXX is a metadata application profile that has been developed to help in applying consistency to metadata fields and it can now be implemented in most repositories and Current Research Information Systems (CRISs). And it’s not all about the reporting – standardised metadata makes research outputs easier for everyone to discover and so extends their impact.

We offer extensive technical support to help repositories aiming to adopt RIOXX

Record article processing charges (APCs) efficiently

Many funders require information on APCs paid to journals and the same information is vital when working with the growing number of journal publishers who will offset APCs that have been paid against journal subscription charges. Recording these charges accurately can save the institution money so we have worked with several large funding bodies, including RCUK and the Wellcome Trust, to develop a single, agreed format.

The Bath/ Bristol/ Cardiff/ Exeter (GW4) pathfinder project has explored OA reporting and APC payment workflows, while the Northumbria/Sunderland project has worked on a cost modelling tool for APCs.

Extend open practices to include your APC data

As the market for publication of OA articles develops, every research institution stands to gain from keener pricing if the charges paid across the sector are open for all to see. Figshare is a forum on which universities are already sharing cost information.

Add a simple button in your repository to improve reach and impact

The simple act of including a ‘copy request’ button will enable potential readers to access research from your institution even if it is not published in OA, and it is very easy to do in most repository configurations. You’ll need to prime researchers to look out for such requests, but it should be relatively easy for them to fulfil requests for all but older papers held in the repository. Some considerations about adding the button are discussed in this blog post.

Lastly, install a tracker code to make download data available to the IRUS-UK aggregation service

This is a practical way to monitor your own institution’s download data and compare it with peer institutions so that you can monitor performance of the repository and the reach of research. These FAQs will help you get started.

We’ve just produced a guide that summarises these tips in more detail and includes links to many more sources of information and help.

Neil Jacobs is head of scholarly communications support at Jisc