‘Measuring’ and managing mandates

An investigation by Research Support staff at Brunel University London considers the role CORE might play in supporting funder compliance and the wider transition to open scholarship…

By David Walters (Open Access officer at Brunel) and Dr Christopher Daley (Research Publications Officer at Brunel)

In 2001, the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) brilliantly and simply encapsulated the aspirational qualities of ‘openness’ that funders, scholars, institutions, services and publishers have since driven forward. This simplicity has been lost in the detail of implementing funder mandates over copyright restrictions, resulting in significant administrative overheads to support staff whose primary role is to smoothly progress a cultural change. Although the momentum is undeniable, the transition to open scholarship is now fraught with complexity.

We are now three months into HEFCE’s open access policy. The urgency surrounding compliance requirements has, in some ways, been a useful tool in embedding good practice in the minds of our research staff. The emphasis has also ensured the speedy public dissemination of accepted research papers. Like most institutions, we have found that technical restrictions have limited our implementation of the policy to an intense institutional focus on internal compliance through our local repository. As a result, such internally driven workflows do not reflect the breadth of engagement with open scholarship or fully realise author compliance with HEFCE’s policy.

Brunel University London assessed their entire research outputs portfolio against the data services of CORE. The assumption prior to undertaking this task was that the global force of the open access movement would highlight the emergent open cultures across disciplines – a view currently inaccessible to request driven institutional services – and this may reveal duplication of effort for both academic and support staff. We share some of our initial discoveries here.

The transition towards open scholarship vs. policy drivers

Research is by nature collaborative. Authors share a responsibility in disseminating their outputs as widely as possible. As an institutional service, our role is to provide expert advice and open dissemination options for our authors, which are tailored to meet the needs of local research communities. We recognise our role as one part of much wider and far reaching landscape.

To this end, our systems deployment centres around our research information management system, Symplectic Elements. The system records our institution’s portfolio of research output; identifying, collating and relating bibliographic and other records from the myriad of services across the scholarly landscape. It drives our international impact through public web profiles. Crucially it enables academics to easily push research papers through to our institutional repository (Brunel University Research Archive) for open access dissemination.

There is a recognition in HEFCE’s open access policy for the wide, varying and longstanding use of external repositories, although responsibility for managing the REF submission process lies at the institutional level. It is no small point that many of these have a special subject based significance, often conceptualised and implemented by scholars themselves. Despite this support, a lack of visibility or control of these systems has necessarily informed a ‘one-size’, compliance-driven workflow, which has been imposed on academics regardless of their use of subject repositories, or the engagement of collaborators with their own local repositories.

External repository systems now represent an unacceptable risk of non-compliance to an institution. It is data we too often cannot see and obviously cannot control. This position does not consider the suitability of the platform or the choice of the author in how they disseminate their paper. We are no longer enhancing the natural, researcher-driven workflows that are continuing to emerge across a huge and growing array of platforms, services and tools.

There is now a danger of alienating through bureaucracy those authors already committed to the cause and readily engaged in open practice, whilst simultaneously creating a culture of anxiety. In this environment, the true value of open scholarship within the research lifecycle is potentially reduced to the language of compliance and REF eligibility. Indeed, during an intensive advocacy campaign leading up to the implementation of HEFCE’s OA policy, we have not found the rate of deposits of current research to be significantly increased. Instead, we witnessed a marked rise in the deposit of legacy publications, many outside of the current REF cycle, and invariably final published versions which we were unable to archive. This hints at an atmosphere of panic amongst some of the academic staff we aim to support.

CORE insights for Brunel

CORE represents one of the most highly regarded aggregators of repository content and is fast becoming an essential part of scholarly infrastructure. Leaving aside the fascinating project work in semantic analysis, we have long felt this resource may help offer a true insight in the collaborative, open publishing practices of our authors and, with a renewed REF focus, a new window for administrators who support compliance. This view is perhaps shared by JISC, who are now actively supporting the project.

We consider our CRIS to be the authoritative record of current research at our institution. We ran our lists of article titles and DOIs through CORE to see if we could identify any publications available:

  • in any external repository harvested by CORE and in our institutional repository, which might suggest a level of duplicate effort for compliance.
  • only in any external repository harvested by CORE, which might indicate a truer figure of readily HEFCE compliant outputs.

The results

We have found a huge increase in the identification of Brunel affiliated outputs available in external repository systems.

Fig 4. The distribution of Brunel publications across CORE (data from CORE and Symplectic Elements). Graph produced using google charts.

One finding was that only around 1 in 3 papers are to be found in our repository. The majority are spread across alternative resources. A significant proportion of our repository content is not currently being harvested by CORE as the on-acceptance mandate has led many academics to deposit non-PDF filetypes – an area the CORE team are working to address in future development.

We have only found evidence of a small number of publications (less than 1%) being deposited in both the Brunel University Research Archive and the same paper being available in other repositories harvested by CORE. This suggests that, so far, concerns about duplication of effort have not been realised. However, it should be reiterated that we have only recently entered the period of the REF policy and CORE only harvests publications where a full PDF text is available. After a year (or more), once embargoes begin to expire, this picture may begin to look quite different. For now, the distribution of individual publications appears to be quite evenly spread.

This is confirmation of accepted, and encouraged, academic practice. Namely that a huge number of our publications are widely discoverable in alternative, but suitable, repositories. This is perhaps the most unsurprising outcome given the scale of collaborative projects, funder and publisher policies, the regular migration of staff between institutions and the researcher driven use of subject based resources to disseminate research. The map below highlights the global distribution of Brunel’s research on CORE, beginning to present a wonderful picture of our research as a collaborative enterprise.

However, even this raises some questions. We would expect our partnerships in China, Australia, Japan, India and other parts of the world to have a far greater representation here, especially when international governmental and funder mandates are considered.

Fig 5. The global distribution of Brunel publications in repositories around the world (data from CORE and Symplectic Elements). Graph produced using google charts. Note this does not display data from BURA.

Some of the data in our CRIS already contains details of externally held files. These files are not necessarily held in Elements or an Institutional Repository, but purely hold file metadata relating to its holding at an external data source, for example arXiv or Europe PMC records. We have found some discrepancies by comparing this data with that found in CORE. If CORE is to be an essential component in future research service infrastructure, deposits must be completely harvested so as to enhance the efforts undertaken by scholars and institutions. So too, the flow of scholarly metadata must improve. It is essential that our ambition to uniquely attribute authors to their scholarly outputs (through initiatives like ORCID) is fully realised to form the underpinning of this vital research infrastructure.

Externally held files found in Elements Externally held files found in CORE
Europe PubMed Central 1774 447
arXiv 602 849

CORE provides an opportunity for a simple, retrospective measure of academia’s inexorable move towards ‘open’. The collective action of academics in disseminating their research cannot be overlooked in this transitory period. Policy compliance is an important factor in the movement, but so too are the traits required for twenty-first century research, namely discoverability, reach, impact and engagement.

Open research transcends borders and policies, and we can see this reflected from the available data in CORE. We see a global community working together in common cause to maximise the communication of their research.

Fig 6. The scale of Brunel publications in the repositories of European collaborators (data from CORE and Symplectic Elements). Graph produced using google charts. Note this does not display data from BURA

In closing

As an institutional service, we are driven by the responsibility we feel for the researchers in our community who require our support, encouragement and guidance. Policy drivers must enhance, and not inhibit, the developing practice of scholars who are rightly taking ownership of dissemination as an integral part of the research lifecycle.

The CORE service might help contextualise the global realities of open access and academic practice as we transition toward 100% open scholarship. There is the potential for CORE to help us re-simplify the agenda, whilst making the process more than just a ‘tick-box’ exercise. In doing so, support staff can then be released from an excessive administrative burden and instead focus greater effort on promoting open scholarship within their institutions.


Supporting data:

Note: This blog post gives the views of the authors and not the position of CORE, Jisc or The Open University.