Reflections on the OAR Conference 2013

The QUT hosted the Open Access and Research Conference 2013 between 31 October – 1 November 2013. The conference was preceded by several half-day Pre-conference workshops on the 30 October.Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 12.55.16 PM

Overall, the conference worked on the theme of Discovery, Impact and Innovation and aimed to provide an opportunity to reflect on the progress of Open Access and to consider the strategic advantages these developments bring to the research sector more generally. A broad spectrum of policy and research management issues were covered including advocacy, open innovation and alternative metrics.

There was a huge amount covered in the two days, and as always the opportunity to meet colleagues face to face after in some cases years of online collaboration was a highlight. The conference was filmed and the video recordings are linked on this page from presentations from Day One and Day Two below. The full program can be downloaded here.

This blog will summarise some of the key messages that emerged from the discussions. A caveat – these are a tiny sample of the whole event. For a bigger perspective see the Twitter feed: #OAR2013conf

Global and National Open Access Developments

The first day focused on Global and National Open Access Developments. The sessions covered the breadth of recent international initiatives.  Key messages are below

  • The current publishing model is not sustainable.

In the future the dominant model of publishing will have the web as the distribution. Managing and controlling a publishing environment of global publishers will be difficult. The ARC cannot be too prescriptive about open access models because it funds across so many domains. – Prof Aidan Byrne | Australian Research Council

  • The public remain depressingly confused about open access.

The web has been around for 20 years, after 10 years of monitoring the debates about open access it became clear that high profile universities in the USA and Europe were not going to take the lead on the policy front.  QUT then started implementing an open access policy in 2003. It took less than a year before it was endorsed by the University Academic Board. Prof Tom Cochrane | Queensland University of Technology

  • It is extremely important to ensure the definition of open access is consistent and includes detail about reuse of material.

Reuse included machine analysis of information. It is difficult to retrospectively add details into policies. It is also very helpful to tie this policy into existing policy platforms. The NIH policy has been extremely successful and more than 2/3 of the users of the research are outside the academy – Developing a Framework for Open Access Policies in the United States
 Heather Joseph | Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, United States

  • Having good open access requires: good policy development, infrastructure to support the open access system and advocacy of the policy.

Despite the gobsmackingly complex area that is European politics, they have managed to pull off the Horizon2020 policy development. The policy is consistent across the European Union and beyond. Part of the reason it succeeded was a huge campaign of 18,000 signatures from the research community. – Open Access Developments in Europe
 Dr Alma Swan | Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, Europe

  • Australia is building real momentum in the open access area.

Now one quarter of Australian institutions have open access policies, there are several open access monograph presses, and both government funding bodies are mandating open access to funded research outputs – Open Access Developments in Australia 
Dr Danny Kingsley | Australian Open Access Support Group

  • Chinese publishers are increasingly ambitious in the international market.

Publication in China is oriented towards evaluation of academia, and is only undertaken by state owned publishers, many enjoying subsidy from the government. There are about 1000 open access journals in China, many with a higher than average impact factor. The centralised platform of 89 institutional repositories called GRID (Chinese Academy of Science IR) – with over 400,000 full text items. – Open Access Developments in China
 Dr Xiang Ren | University of Southern Queensland

  • India is a net importer of knowledge – so open access helps India.

While India is not playing a significant role in open science and scholarship it is addressing ‘open’ issues elsewhere. There is a National Repository for open education, India has adopted the AustLI model for access to legal Acts, there are also interesting developments in the patent space to allow access to cheaper drugs. – Opening India 
Prof Shamnad Basheer | National University of Juridical Sciences, India

  • A good policy requires deposit immediately on acceptance for publication.

This ensures things are deposited and there are ways to allow researchers to have access to papers even during the embargoes. Waiting until the end of an embargo potentially loses use and application during that period – OA: A Short History of the Problem and Its Solution
 Prof Stevan Harnad | University of Southampton, United Kingdom

  • It is good to reach out to communities in their own language.

Open access advocacy in developing countries uses a range of tools, from high level stakeholders and influential researchers through to radio talk shows and actively engaging the community. Tools like usage statistics and live examples have proved successful. Open Access Advocacy in Developing and Transition Countries
 Iryna Kuchma | Electronic Information for Libraries, Ukraine

  • The open and networked web can be exploited to solve complex scientific problems.

For this to work it is important to have research outcomes that are reproducible or repurposable. It requires communicating research to different audiences who have different needs for support and functionality. Currently we do not have the data or models we need to analyse the system of scholarly outputs. We must not lose control of data into proprietary hands. Network Ready Research: Architectures and Instrumentation for Effective Scholarship
 Dr Cameron Neylon | Public Library of Science, United Kingdom

  • Altmetrics are a researcher’s footprint in the community.

They complement traditional metrics and research evaluation. Researchers thinking about a research impact strategy and funding agencies might want to include an impact statement in their Final Reports. – Altmetrics as Indicators of Public Impact
 Pat Loria | Charles Sturt University

Video of presentations from Day One

Open Data, Open Innovation and Open Access Publishing

The second day featured thematic sessions – focusing on specific areas of research and information management necessary to the advancement of Open Access. Specifically Open Data, Open Innovation and Open Access Publishing. Key messages:

  • Having a mandate alone is not enough.

An empty repository is useless, a partly filled repository is partly useless. It doesn’t work spontaneously – there is a need for an institutional policy that must be enforced. The Liege repository has 60,000+ items with 60% full text available – as only articles are mandated. The average number of downloads for items is 61.73. – Perspectives of a Vice-Chancellor Prof Bernard Rentier | University of Liège, Belgium

  • The patent system is supposed to lubricate the system but is increasingly throwing sand into the gears.

Copyright protects expression and patents protect functionality. Strong patents mean people make investments in order for people to convert ideas into product. However there is increasing concern that actual and potential litigation are not just costly but actually inhibiting innovation. The Economics of Open Innovation
 Prof Adam Jaffe | Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, New Zealand

  • Open stuff is useless unless you can translate it to something that means something.

We are no longer moving physical things, we are now moving information through the knowledge space. Because patents are jurisdictional there are many other countries that can use the patented information. The new facility The Lens is a map of the patent world allowing innovators worldwide to access all of the knowledge held in the patent system. “Solving the Problem of Problem Solving”: How Open Access will Shift the Demographics of Innovation to Create a More Fair Society and More Resilient Global Economy.
 Prof Richard Jefferson | Cambia

  • If monographs are behind paywalls when journals are free there is a problem for monographs.

The systems supporting scholarly communication via the monograph are falling down. Under the Knowledge Unlatched model libraries from around the world collaborate to share the publications. This spreads the costs of OA across many institutions globally. It ensures HSS books are accessible as OA journals. Libraries should avoid double dipping – if they were going to buy the titles on the startup list, sign up for KU instead. Knowledge Unlatched
 Dr Lucy Montgomery | Knowledge Unlatched

  • It is not adequate to ignore the humanities and say ‘we will deal with monographs later’

With monographs IP is not about capitalism but it is recompensation for the professional labour of editorial input that is significant and inherent to the quality of the product. The format is not important in policy setting (pixels or print). Ideally there would be a shared infrastructure that everyone can tap into, but this needs startup assistance. Free as in Love: the Humanities and Creative Arts in Open Access Publishing
 Dr John Byron | Book Industry Collaborative Council

  • We need to be thinking of knowledge as a network and an infrastructure – a common intellectual conversation and a quest for knowledge.

At the core scholarly communication is about communicating new knowledge. The default price on items online. The marginal cost of serving one more copy of an article is zero (more or less). The license is the one thing that does not cost anything – the more people reading doesn’t change the first copy costs. The question is how to charge for what actually costs money. There is a need to protect and retain core business but innovate on the non-core processes. Innovation in the Age of Open Access Publishing 
Dr Caroline Sutton | Co-Action Publishing, Sweden

Video of presentations from Day Two

Altmetrics and open access – a measure of public interest

Researchers, research managers and publishers are increasingly required to factor into their policies and practices the conditions by which publicly funded research must be made publicly available. But in the struggle for competitive funding, how can researchers provide tangible evidence that their outputs have not only been made publicly available, but that the public is using them? Or how can they demonstrate that their research outputs have reached and influenced those whose tax dollars have helped fund the research?

Traditional impact metrics

The number of raw citations per paper or an aggregate number, such as the h-index, are indicators of scholarly impact, in that they reveal the attribution of credit in scholarly works to prior scholarship. This attribution is normally given by scholars in peer-reviewed journals, and harvested by citation databases. But they do not provide an indication of public reach and influence. Traditional metrics also do not provide an indication of impact for non-traditional research outputs, such as datasets or creative productions, or of non-journal publications, such as books and media coverage.

Public impact for all types of research outputs could always be communicated as narrative or case studies. These forms of evidence can be extremely useful, perhaps even necessary, in building a case of past impact as an argument for future funding. However, impact narratives and case studies require sources of evidence to support their impact claims. An example of how this can be achieved is in the guidelines for completion of case studies in the recent Australian Technology Network  of universities (ATN)  / Group of Eight (Go8) Excellence in Innovation in Australia impact assessment trial.

One promising source of evidence is the new suite of alternative metrics or altmetrics that have been developed to gauge the academic and public impact of digital scholarship, that is, any scholarly output that has a digital identifier or online location and that is accessible by the web-public.

The advent of altmetrics

Altmetrics (or alternative metrics) was a term aptly coined in a tweet by Jason Priem (co-founder of ImpactStory). Altmetrics measure the number of times a research output gets cited, tweeted about, liked, shared, bookmarked, viewed, downloaded, mentioned, favourited, reviewed, or discussed. It harvests these numbers from a wide variety of open source web services that count such instances, including open access journal platforms, scholarly citation databases, web-based research sharing services, and social media.

The numbers are harvested almost in real time, providing researchers with fast evidence that their research has made an impact or generated a conversation in the public forum. Altmetrics are quantitative indicators of public reach and influence.

The monitoring of one’s impact on the social web is not an exercise in narcissism. Altmetrics enable the creation of data-driven stories for funding providers and administrators. Being web-native, they also facilitate the fleshing out of those stories, by providing links to the sources of the metrics. Researchers can see who it is talking about their research, what they are saying about it, and even how they intend to use it for various scholarly, industry, policy and public purposes. In this way, researchers can find potential collaborators and partners, and gain constructive feedback from those interacting with the research.

Altmetrics also provide a democratic process of public review, in which outputs are analysed and assessed by as many students, researchers, policy makers, industry representatives, and members of the public that wish to participate in the discussion. Altmetrics provide a more comprehensive understanding of impact across sectors, including public impact by publically funded research.

Altmetrics and open access

There is an interesting relationship between altmetrics and open access. One could even refer to altmetrics as open metrics. This is firstly due to the fact that altmetrics data uses open sources. Altmetrics services access and aggregate the impact of a research artefact, normally via an application programming interface (API) made available by the source. Altmetrics services in turn provide APIs for embedding altmetrics into institutional repositories or third-party systems. Secondly, open access research outputs that are themselves promoted via social web applications enjoy higher visibility and accessibility than those published within the commercial scholarly communication model, increasing the prospect of public consumption and engagement.

Altmetrics (also known as article level metrics or ALMs) are seen as complementary to open access. The PLOS Article Level Metrics for Researchers page lists some of these complementarities:

  • Researchers can view and collect real-time indicators of the reach and influence of outputs, and share that data with collaborators, administrators and funders
  • Altmetrics empowers researchers to discover impact-weighted trends and innovations
  • Researchers can discover potential collaborators based on the level of interest in their work
  • High impact datasets, methods, results and alternative interpretations are discoverable
  • Dissemination strategies and outlets can be tracked, evaluated and reported on
  • Evaluation of research is based on the content, as opposed to the container (or journal)
  • Research recommendations are based on collective intelligence indicators

The April/May issue of the ASSIS&T Bulletin contains a special section on altmetrics, in which several articles touch on the complementarity between altmetrics and open access.  These articles show altmetrics:

  • Provide open source social impact indicators that can be embedded into CVs
  • Enable a public filtering system and track social conversations around research
  • Provide evidence of access by countries that cannot afford expensive journals
  • Provide authors with a more comprehensive understanding of their readership
  • Offer repository managers additional metrics for demonstrating the impact of open access
  • Provide additional usage data for collection development and resource planning exercises
  • Provide supplementary impact indicators for internal reviews and funding applications
  • May be used as quantitative evidence of public impact for research evaluation exercises
  • Provide a better reflection of the usage and impact of web-native outputs

The last point is particularly salient. The new web-based scholarly communication model is one of sharing findings as they occur, interaction and evaluation by interested parties, and subsequent conversations leading to future collaborations and revised or new findings. And altmetrics provide us with an understanding of the impact received at each point in the cycle.

Providers of altmetrics

The following services are good places to start to monitor your altmetrics:

Altmetric and ImpactStory both offer free widgets that can be embedded into repositories, and ImpactStory has the further advantage that impact “badges” can be embedded into CVs. Altmetric also offers a free bookmarklet that can be added to your bookmarks and used to get altmetrics on articles with Digital Object Identifiers (DOI)s or identifiers in open databases such as PubMed Central or arXiv. Altmetrics will only work on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Plum Analytics probably has the widest coverage of altmetrics sources, and is a paid service. Both Altmetric and Plum Analytics offer commercial tools that offer comparative and group reports.

The best way to engage with altmetrics is to jump right in and have a play. You will be amazed at how quick and easy it is to use the tools and start generating metrics for your research outputs.

Repository administrators can embed altmetrics at the article level within institutional repositories to compliment traditional metrics, views and downloads. Some research information management systems, such as Symplectic Elements, that are capable of generating reports on publication activity and impact, also include article level altmetrics alongside traditional citation metrics.

Pat Loria is the Research Librarian at the University of Southern Queensland.
His twitter handle is