Open Access Champion 2013 – Open Journal Project

To celebrate Open Access Week 2013, the Australian Open Access Support Group is recognising two ‘Open Access Champions’ – an individual and an organisation.

The Open Access Champion 2013 – Organisation Category has been awarded to the not-for-profit international development organisation Engineers Without Borders Institute’s Open Journal Project.

Julian O’Shea, the Director of the EWB Institute, who is heading up the project, spoke to Danny Kingsley about what has happened in the three months since the AOASG featured a story about the project in July.


In bestowing the Open Access Champion 2013 award the AOASG is recognising the excellent work that Engineers Without Borders (EWB) has been doing to open access to research. The Open Journal Project publishes the Journal of Humanitarian Engineering (JHE)  which is not only open access, but provides easy to understand interpretations of the technical papers, translated into the local language(s) and addresses other issues of accessibility.

This project exemplifies a true commitment to open access in its pure form. The Project has considered all aspects of accessibility, well beyond the first step of simply providing access to the original research. In addition, the stated intention of the Project to act as a stimulus for others to follow the example set further increases the already impressive impact of the Project.

Increasing academic engagement

Since the project launched there has been a great deal of interest, explained Julian. “What is really pleasing is the level of academic interest,” he said.

The EWB have been talking to practitioners in the area of WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene Wash) research. Despite the focus on development, much of this research is still published in closed journals.

“This is probably one of the most important groups for development practice”, he explained. “But even people who would like to be out in the open publish in closed journals”.

The group has been offering them the opportunity to publish in the JHE. And to increase interest, the EWB have started discussions with organisers of the international WASH conference being held next year in Australia. The JHE is intending to publish a WASH-themed issue at the same time.

“The conference brings together leading academics and practitioners in WASH, so we will be using this as a platform to showcase our relatively young journal,” said Julian. “We want to build a network of the WASH and to formalise this as another opportunity to publish”.

The project is also looking to engage researchers in many of the countries where the humanitarian work is being conducted.  “We are looking at opportunities for them to publish”, said Julian.

The Project has considered the issue of different academic standards in different countries. “If you apply a fixed standard to your journal you are ruling out many parts of the world that do not have that experience,” he said. “English is the primary language of our journal”.

Many people who work in the area of humanitarian engineering may not have higher education degrees and may not have done formal academic writing. “If English is their second language we are happy to provide people in international research who can support and collaborate on the work”, said Julian. This is an open invitation, he explained, noting the journal is still a peer-reviewed journal committed to academic and technical rigour. “Their ideas have no less merit to their work but they do face academic hurdles”.

Sharing the message in the community

The target audience for the journal’s articles are practitioners in the field in developing countries. “What we have found is the idea that something is on the web so therefore it can be accessed is a bit of a stretch”, explained Julian. The EWB have a program which is a design challenge for Australian students – to come up with research outcomes that can be more readily understood.

“They make plain language guides rather than just the 10 page article,” he said. “So part of the process is we have readable understandable summaries of the research.”

The EWB are also planning to start spreading the word in person. “As of next year we will be disseminating these outcomes in country,” he said. “Because we have a network of people in country, with our local partners we will be holding local workshops targeting the groups we know about and share in person about what some of these outcomes have been”.

The group hopes to run some workshops in Nepal, one on water and one on energy. This will be using a human connection. “We can’t underestimate that,” said Julian. “Sharing in person makes it a lot more real. We will be working on the networks within their communities that spread the word”.

This AOASG award is not the only recognition the project has had. It was shortlisted for the World Youth Summit awards which recognises ICT and technology solutions addressing poverty alleviation. “We were the only program nominated from Australia”, explained Julian.

Future plans

The Project continues to innovate, with a summer project planned. “A student will develop a technology solution that converts an academic paper’s pdf or preprint into a low bandwidth version”, explained Julian.

The EWB are hoping to be able to automate the conversion, to allow the process to be scaled up across whole journals. “We expect to have a prototype by early next year that will enable editors and publishers to have a version that is low bandwidth friendly,” he said. “So these can be accessed in the developing world where downloading a pdf can be a technical challenge – this will give practitioners more scope to download. The outcome of the project will be open source so it can be shared.

Julian and the EWB team are brimming with ideas, but time is an issue as the Open Journal Project is just one of the projects currently running. Julian would like to develop a resource pack for editors and publishers to help them with these access issues. “It could help them with the change from one type of licensing to other”, he said.  “That would make it more of a movement.”

Open Access Champion 2013 – Alex Holcombe

To celebrate Open Access Week 2013, the Australian Open Access Support Group is recognising two ‘Open Access Champions’ – an individual and an organisation.

The Open Access Champion 2013 – Individual Category – has been awarded to Associate Professor Alex O. Holcombe, who is a psychologist studying human visual perception and visual attention. He is based in the School of Psychology at the University of Sydney. Alex spoke to Danny Kingsley about his interest in open access and how he is spreading the message.

The realisation that there were flaws with the scholarly communication system started during Alex’s PhD when he began publishing in academic journals. “It was hard not to notice the many closed aspects of the process,” he said. “Research is supposed to be well documented but it is published without raw data and often the article is behind paywalls”.

But the issues Alex identified were broader than just access challenges. During meetings of journal clubs – where PhD students bring in articles for discussions – inevitably people came up with criticisms even for articles published in Nature or Science. “Yet there was no indication of any weaknesses in the paper,” explained Alex. “The group often were left wondering ‘how did this get past peer review?’”.

There was no way for others to point out errors in already published papers. Alex and his colleagues concluded this system cannot be the future of communication if these problems are being swept under the rug.

During his postdoctoral fellowship Alex began his advocacy, submitting with a colleague a letter to Nature “Improving science through online commentary” which was published in May 2003 (the paper can be downloaded from here).  The pair also contacted the director of PubMed, which was not able to add this capability at the time.

When Alex became a lecturer in Cardiff, Wales, “PLOS had just started and they were thinking of starting PLOS One, they sent a survey around to test the waters”. Alex joined the founding advisory board, and watched PLoS ONE grow to become the largest journal in the world.

Australian advocacy

Alex has been in Australia for the last seven years and became an Australian citizen last week. His activities in the open access arena has ranged from writing articles for The Conversation to blogging, advocating at professional meetings and universities, and working on new open-access scientific journal initiatives. “I have seen how the movement has gained steam”, he said.

Alex shares the difficulty most open access advocates face: “It is hard to get the academic community involved,” he said. “Most people don’t give a thought to open access”.

One solution is to jump on newsworthy items that engage academics. Alex has made several presentations to his colleagues about open access. The Australian Research Council mandate has proven to be a good excuse to have conversations about open access in the university because researchers need to know about it. Another way of spreading the message is engaging people in casual conversation.

But Alex thinks the big boon for open access has been the rise in social media because it allows a continuing dialogue around “meta-issues that aren’t normally discussed outside the pub. These are backchannels cutting across academic disciplines that we didn’t have when we started”.

He also notes that The Conversation has been a great development in Australia. The information authors receive means “I know people are reading it, and not just academics”, he said. Comments on articles are made by academics, doctors and business people. One example is a small solar technology company that needs access to engineering journals.

Future projects

Alex continues to work towards a more effective scientific communication system. One new project he is involved in is the “Registered Replication Reports” (RRR) project where he is taking an editorial role. This is a new and open-access type of article in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the peak organisation in scientific psychology.

“In psychology research there are many disputed findings and people want to know if the findings will replicate,” he explained. But in the current system, it is difficult to publish negative findings such as non-replications.

The new RRR replication process begins with a submission of a proposal for an experiment that should be replicated. If the associated research is deemed important to replicate, a replication protocol is developed in conjunction with the original author.

The entire protocol – the exact series of steps involved in the experiments – is then announced prior to any collection of data.  Such preregistration often required for clinical trials to protect against bias in reporting the eventual results. But this process is only beginning to reach other types of research. Every step is documented on the Open Science Framework website with all raw data posted on the site. Commentary is encouraged, and “if it is important enough it will be published in the pages of the journal”, he said.

The project is a world-wide effort. “The first one has 27 labs across the world participating,” he said. “We have 27 datasets coming in”. The project promises to publish the results as a summary of the big experiment in the journals, with all the contributors are co-authors.

Alex is hoping that as people see this replication data it will push the broader open access message because people will see the value of making the raw data publicly available.

“To further open research we need policy changes, plus education, plus cultural change,” said Alex. “Cultural change is furthered by sharing positive examples”. This is the philosophy behind a second project in which Alex is currently involved, called “Badges to Acknowledge Open Practices”.

These badges will appear alongside articles in journals to acknowledge researchers sharing their materials, their data, and preregistering their methods., “Individual journals can decide to participate by awarding the badges to any articles they publish that meet the criteria”, he said. The project will be launched in Open Access Week and is led by the Center for Open Science.

BIS Report part two – Information & observations

The BIS report Open Access: Fifth Report of Session 2013–14 was heavily researched and offers a wide-ranging insight into the current state of open access. This blog cherry picks some of the useful aspects of the report with additional commentary if relevant.

This blog is the second of two looking at the BIS Report. The other – “BIS Report part one: Finding & implications” – is available here.

The blog covers under the headings: Supporting arguments for open access, Amount of research being made available, and Does green open access threaten subscriptions?

We would like to note that the AOASG has had some (indirect) input to the BIS report. The report referred to “reports of a UK publisher in social sciences switching from a zero embargo policy to require a 24 month embargo, citing its accordance with the recent change to UK open access policy” (par 46).

That evidence was the Richard Poynder article ‘Emerald’s green starts to fade‘ which in turn was triggered by the AOASG blog ‘Walking in quicksand keeping up with copyright agreements’  Heady days indeed.

Supporting arguments for open access

The report contains some useful information that could be employed in various discussions around open access.

The first was the statement that public funds are used three times in the research process:
• “to pay the academics who conduct the research
• to pay the salaries of the academics who conduct the peer review process, and finally
• to pay for access to this research through institutional journal subscriptions, which is the dominant business model in the scholarly publishing market”. (par 12)

There is also a very useful graph comparing the growth of serials expenditure mapped against the consumer price index from 1986 – 2010:

Screen Shot 2013-09-14 at 6.09.16 PM

Given the concern that the money being invested by the government in research is being diverted into publisher profits, the report notes the increase in Elsevier’s profit margin, which was 34% at the time of the original 2004 House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Report on open access. It was 37% by the time of this BIS report. (par 15)

Amount of research being made available

There were some interesting facts and figures relating to the percentage of work available open access in the UK.

The first fact was that compared to a worldwide average of 20% of research available open access, “the proportion of the UK’s total annual research output that was available through open access in 2012 was about 40%” (par 20).

COMMENT: This is excellent for the UK. We do not have comparative information in Australia, although we are working on a method for determining this. Currently there is information collected that indicates the total number of items that are available, but this does not answer the question: ‘what percentage of work published in the previous year is available in a repository open access the following year’.

Even more illuminating was the fact that “Green currently provides seven-eighths of the 40% of the UK’s research outputs that are open access” (par 22).

COMMENT: This is very interesting. We have known for a while that more research is being made available open access thro ugh green rather than gold open access – the 2010 Bjork study concluded 11.9% of research is available through green as opposed to 8.5% via gold That study showed that of the work being made available open access 58% was through green open access.

The BIS report is stating that 87.5% of UK research is being made available in this manner. It also states that the Committee: “received strong evidence that Green is dominant internationally, with the latest data showing that Green accounts for about 75% of all open access worldwide” (par 33). This is a dramatic and impressive endorsement for the efficiency of green open access.

Note the UK numbers are dwarfed by the “University of Liège in Belgium (collecting 83% of its annual outputs in its OA repository)” (par26). This is because the university has directly aligned open access to their promotion system. The report noted that compliance with mandates is higher if it is “a condition of funding compliance and if deposit is linked to institutional performance evaluation, research grant applications and research assessment” (par 26).

Does green open access threaten subscriptions?

Far from threatening subscriptions, it might be the case that having work in a repository acts as a promotional tool for the subscription journal: “The €4 million EU funded PEER (Publishing and the Ecology of European Research) project (2012) showed that traffic to journal websites increased when articles were made available through a publicly accessible repository, possibly because interest grew as articles were disseminated more widely” (par 44).

The BIS report noted that “there is no available evidence base to indicate that short or even zero embargoes cause cancellation of subscriptions” (par 44).

COMMENT: Indeed, the only ‘evidence’ to support the claim that immediate green open access threatens the ‘sustainability’ (read: profit) of commercial publishers comes in the form of the exceptionally questionable ALPSP survey sent out early last year to librarians . Heather Morrison wrote a piece on the methodological flaws with that survey

And yet, when questioned earlier this year by Richard Poynder, this is what Springer referred to as their ‘evidence’.

There are, however currently two clear opportunities for the industry to collect some actual evidence either way (as opposed to opinions on a badly expressed hypothetical):

1. Taylor & Francis have decided to indefinitely expand their trial of immediate green permissions to articles in their Library & Information Science journals. If they were to run a comparison of those titles against the titles in, say , three other disciplinary areas over two to three years they would be able to ascertain if this decision has made any difference to their subscription patterns.
2. Earlier this year (21 March) SAGE changed their policy to immediate green open access – again this offers a clean comparison between their subscription levels prior to and after the implementation of this policy.

If it is the case that immediate green open access disrupts subscriptions then we can have that conversation when the evidence presents itself. Until then we are boxing at shadows.

Dr Danny Kingsley
Executive Officer
Australian Open Access Support Group

Assessing research impact: AOASG submission

Measuring the impact of research has been on and off the government’s agenda for many years now. Originally part of the Research Quality Framework, impact was removed from the 5880919002_b92743b247_mExcellence in Research for Australia during its trial in 2009.

Due to its increasing relevance, measuring impact was trialled again in 2012 by the Australian Technology Network and the final report from this study: “Excellence in innovation: Research impacting our nation’s future – assessing the benefits” was released in November 2012.

Plans to assess impact

The Department of Innovation is currently exploring options for the design and development of an impact assessment program. It intends to pilot this in 2014.

As part of this process, the Department released a Discussion Paper in July 2013– “Assessing the wider benefits arising from university-based research

The Paper seeks the “views of interested parties regarding a future assessment of the benefits arising from university-based research”.

Before research administrators throw their hands up at yet another assessment program, the Discussion Paper does recognise the overwhelming compliance burden on universities and the need to simplify this burden. . The Preamble states that plans include “scaling back and streamlining a number of current data collection and analysis exercises”.

Overall, the Government believes that a research benefit assessment will:

  1. demonstrate the public benefits attributable to university-based research;
  2. identify the successful pathways to benefit;
  3. support the development of a culture and practices within universities that encourage and value research collaboration and engagement; and
  4. further develop the evidence base upon which to facilitate future engagement between the research sector and research users, as well as future policy and strategy.

Submission from AOASG

AOASG prepared a submission in response to the discussion paper proposing that open access should be a measurable for assessing impact and that some reward should be associated with making work freely and openly available.

All submissions will be made available to the public on the Dept of Innovation website. In anticipation, the AOASG submission is copied below.

Response to principles from the paper

NOTE: AOASG chose to only respond to Principles 1, 3 and 5.

Principle 1 – Provide useful information to universities

Principle 1 is to be applauded. It is sensible and practical to marry the types of data required with the types of data the Universities are already producing. This will minimise the burden on Universities in aggregating data and producing reports.

Open access repositories in Australian universities are developed in a finite set of software with common underlying code – OAI-PMH. This allows for aggregation and harvesting across multiple platforms. Such repositories usually maintain statistics about individual works, such as the number of downloads and places where these downloads have originated.

Prior to developing or recommending any specific data for reporting on impact, we suggest that a survey be conducted of university libraries to gather information on the type of data collection methods already in place within open access repositories. This also has the benefit of supporting Principle 2 – Minimise administrative burden.

Principle 3 – Encourage research engagement and collaboration, and research that benefits the nation

Principle 3 notes that this assessment should encourage and assist universities to “better recognise and reward (for example in recruitment and promotion exercises) the contribution of academics to engagement and collaborative activities”. A fundamental component of this assessment is an academic’s involvement in open access and their approach to making research freely available.

Many Australian researchers share their work with the broader community by placing a copy of it in their institutional repository, or in a subject-based repository such as PubMed Central, SSRN, arXiv, or RePEc. The ARC & NHMRC open access policies are likely to encourage more researchers to follow this trend. However, currently there is no aggregated data, and little individual data, on the extent to which Australian researchers are making their own work available. In addition, some researchers also widen the accessibility of research outputs by working as editors, publishers and reviewers for open access journals published out of Australian universities. A definitive list is currently being developed of these journals however this list does not indicate the level and extent of open access activity in the country.  The efforts of academics and researchers to share research openly is currently not measured nor rewarded through any promotion or funding incentives.

Principle 5 – Collect and assess at the institution level, with some granularity by discipline

Principle 5 – is a good suggestion given that some types of research will naturally have a wider impact than others. Impact will also vary over time with some research outputs producing impact after a considerable time and others making immediate significant impact. It is more challenging to articulate the benefit to wider society of research in, say, pure inorganic chemistry than, for example, forestry. When considering the need to granulate the information available, the benefit of using data from open access repositories as suggested above, is the metadata for each record contains information about the author, subjects and clearly the institution.

Response to methodological considerations

What considerations should guide the inclusion of metrics within the assessment?

It has become clear that the established measurement systems such as the Journal Impact Factor (JIF) can be affected by those who seek to manipulate the outcomes. A recent clear example this is occurring is the JIF decision to suppress a larger than usual number of titles this year due to “anomalous citation patterns resulting in a significant distortion of the Journal Impact Factor”. Any reliance on metrics as a measure of quality and/or use of research needs to consider attempts to manipulate new measures as a potential outcome. One way of minimising data manipulation is to use a mix of qualitative and quantitative measures.

What information do universities currently collect that might form the basis for research engagement metrics?

As noted above in section 2 all Australian universities and CSIRO have an open access institutional repository. Such repositories usually collect information on the research that is available, how often it has been downloaded and where the interest has originated.

What metrics are currently available (or could be developed) that would help to reveal other pathways to research benefit?

The act of making a work open access creates a pathway to research benefit. Open access increases the potential impact of the work because it ensures the work can be accessed, applied or built upon by other researchers, industry, practitioners and the public. On this basis, we propose that the act of making research publicly available is a fundamental metric of assessing research benefit. This would also support and endorse the open access policies of the ARC & NHMRC. The metric could be twofold – at the individual researcher level (in terms of promotion) and/or at the institutional level.

While in some cases publisher copyright conditions will prevent work being made available, having an appropriate version of the work deposited in a repository with a ‘Request copy’ button facilitating access could be considered ‘making it available’ for this purpose.

Repositories capture article download information at the level of the individual article. This data could also be used as a metric of a pathway to research benefit. There is a proven link between making work open access and citations. The general collection of download statistics would be only one of several measures that can be aggregated to demonstrate interest in an use of research (see the next point).

In addition to ERA, NSRC, GDS, AusPat and HERDC data, are there other existing data collections that may be of relevance?

Recently there has been a move to develop a series of metrics that assess the value of individual articles rather than placing value on the journal or publication in which the article appeared. These article level metrics offer real time feedback about the way a research article is being used.

One example is the metrics page provided for a published article that lists the number of HTML views, PDF downloads, XML downloads as well as the number of citations and where the article has been shared on social media, such as through Twitter. There are however, many other examples of article level metrics already in existence. Examples include: Altmetric, ImpactStory, Plum Analytics & PLOS ALM. Discussion of research on social media sites indicates a level of impact beyond the confines of the scholarly publication system, with the added benefit of being instantly and easily quantifiable. The timeliness and convenience of these metrics addresses the need for “current information on the prospect of benefits from research” as identified in the Discussion Paper.

What are the challenges of using these data collections to assess research engagement?

It will be necessary to determine which sets of article level metrics are the most appropriate for specific purpose. There may be a need for some aggregation to correlate several sets of metrics about the same item.

Response to ‘other comments’ section

We have two suggestions for additions to Appendix A – “Examples of possible metrics”.

An additional Research engagement mechanism could be “Provision of research outputs in a publicly and freely available outlet”. The Measure could be “The percentage of research that is freely and publicly available within 6 months of publication”, and the Source would be “Institutional repositories, subject based repositories or open access publications”.

Currently one of the research engagement mechanisms listed is “Research engagement via online publications”. The measure suggested is “Unique article views per author” and the source is “Websites such as The Conversation”. We are in full support of this suggestion. The Conversation is an opportunity for researchers to discuss their work in accessible language and the author dashboard for The Conversation provides comprehensive metrics about readership.

However we suggest there are other metrics within the classification of ‘online publications’. Open access repositories can provide metrics on unique article views per author. We therefore suggest an additional source being “Institutional repositories, and other article level metrics”.

Accessibility is more than making the paper OA


Proponents of open access generally agree that there are many benefits to open access, but discussions about the processes involved in achieving open access often stop at making the published research available. But what happens when the issues of accessibility are considered?

A remarkable project is underway in Australia, spearheaded by the Australian chapter of a not-for-profit international development organisation, Engineers Without Borders (EWB). The Open Journal Project aims to explore and promote techniques to make academic information genuinely open and accessible – with a focus on groups that are often excluded from access to this type of information.

EWB is a volunteer organisation, sending volunteers overseas to a local non government organisation to work on the ground on a project. The Open Journal Project considers the needs of individuals and practitioners in other countries.

“The Project doesn’t finish the day you press publish – that’s when it starts,” explained Julian O’Shea, who is the Director of the EWB Institute, the education, research and training section of EWB, and is heading up the Project.

“We are thinking about what we can do to make the work more accessible.”

The EWB Institute is based in Melbourne, and is publishing a peer-reviewed journal as a pilot and case study in their work. The Journal of Humanitarian Engineering (JHE) is piloting innovations in open access, including multi-language access, developing country access, low-bandwidth websites, and disability-accessible content.

“We want to pilot innovations and share our experiences with doing this,” explained Julian. “We want to work out what is world’s best practice, do it and live it and show it is not too hard.”

The problem

The EWB has noticed that practitioners overseas are under-served by the current publishing process. As an example, Julian stated that the leading university in Cambodia does not have access to the largest database in the field of engineering.

The idea for the focus of the journal began because the group saw there were very few that focused on experience, drawing on outcomes from developments and disseminating that information.

“The aim of the journal is not to be published or cited, but to provide outcomes in communities,” explained Julian. “This is different to other research organisations as a metric of success. It gives us a different angle or lens.”

The group wanted to encourage this as a field of research in academia. They were not sure what level of interest there would be in the journal because from a purely technical point of view they are not publishing innovative technologies. Rather, the focus is on new ways of applying this technology.

“We have been surprised and pleased that the journal has been really positively responded to,” said Julian.

Open access

The journal is published open access, with no cost to the author or to the reader. It uses an open source program called Open Journal Systems to run the administration of the peer review and publication. All papers in the journal are available under a CC-BY 3.0 license.

“We have had no negative feedback at all from people wanting to publish in the journal,” said Julian. “People doing this kind of research don’t have any issue with making their work freely available.”

Accessibility – language issues

Academic papers can be difficult to read even for people within a field. They can become impenetrable to researchers in parallel fields. This problem is further exacerbated in an international environment, working with practitioners on the ground who may not have any tertiary education.

There are several issues with language. The first is the problem of making the technical reports understandable to the lay person. Often the papers in this area are very technical, including many equations, and can reach 300 pages.

To solve this problem authors in the JHE are required to submit a two page plain summary about the paper with the formal paper. This means a project manager on the ground can make a decision about applying the technology or approach and then pass the full paper on to the technical manager.

But many of these projects are in countries where English is not the primary language. The Project addresses this by making the reports available in the language of the country it is targeted towards. The Project translates the plain language guides into both the local language of most importance and into other general languages.

The Project called on goodwill to obtain the translations. They sent articles out to the world, asking for volunteers to translate the papers. This had a good response from universities, companies or simply people to help out on the website.

The Project now has an approved translator list. The first time an article is translated it is sent to a native speaker to approve it and once this is done the translator can go onto the list. The quality of translations has been very high, said Julian, with only one that had to be sent back.

To date the plain language summaries have been translated into Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Hindi, Chinese, Spanish, Danish, Khmer and French. The number of languages is growing.

Accessibility – distribution

Another consideration is bandwidth. In many countries the internet connection is through a mobile telephone which prevents the download of large documents. The Project decided to produce the journal on a low bandwidth, and this opened up new issues.

“Generally the journal system distributes through pdfs,” explained Julian. “The problem is it is all or nothing – if the download cuts out at 90% you get nothing.” So the Project looked at releasing html versions of the papers. This has reduced the size of the website to 4.3KB and the journal articles are about 18KB. “We can put about 80 journals onto a floppy disk,” he said.

The Project also has plans to further improve the distribution to remote areas. “We haven’t done it yet but we will have a system that says ‘here’s a postcard, send it to us and we will send the paper to you by donkey’”, said Julian.

Accessibility – inclusion

With a philosophy of sharing research, it was important to the project to provide versions of the papers in an accessible format for people with disabilities.

The choice of publishing html versions of papers assists people with vision impairment, as they translate better using text-to-talk programs than pdfs.  In addition, the project is being proactive about embedding helpful metadata within the document such as describing images.

The Project has used the guidelines for Vision Australia to release a large print edition of the papers. “The first one took about couple of minutes – after that it was very simple,” said Julian. “That is what we are trying to show in this project, to meet a need for some people can be solved in literally two minutes.” The team has also produced Braille editions of the plain language guides.

Future plans

The project hopes to share their experience and inspire others. “We are doing this through the case study approach,” said Julian.  “This is my goal – to be able to communicate better. I am an author – what can I do? I am a publisher – what can I do?”

The Open Journal Project is hoping to formally launch later this year. Meanwhile, Volume 2 issue 1 is about to be released.

Twitter handle – @OpenJournal

Dr Danny Kingsley
Executive Officer
Australian Open Access Support Group

Lost & found: challenges accessing government research

While there’s been much angst about the locking away of academic literature and sky-high fees for libraries to access academic journals, what about all the other sources of publicly-funded material? Why are they also not included in the brave new world of open access?

As a PhD student working in a reasonably cutting-edge area, grey literature* is my life-blood. And yet when it comes to some key sources who take money from public coffers for their work, getting access to material that should be public domain is tricky at best.

My area of interest – not-for-profit, non-government hospitals and large scale clinics in developing countries – has not generally been the focus of briefing papers and articles. But often these health facilities are included in documents for various reasons without being the focus. And given the dearth of directly relevant data, I’m prepared to take what I can get – or at least what I can find.

Government Double Standards?

While recipients of Australian Government funds for research now have an obligation to allow open access, the same can’t be said for government departments, which are encouraged, but not required, to make their work open access. 

Try checking AusAID’s website for their list of advertising projects or FOI procedures and requests or this page on consultation arrangements. The links lead you either to a blank page or an announcement that the information will be added when it becomes available.

And that’s just scratching the surface of the problem. A significant amount of research is now outsourced to specialist consulting firms or hubs at academic institutions. What that means in practice is we have no idea how much information isn’t making it onto indexes on government websites.

As part of my research I went to AusAID looking for any information they might be able to contribute. I should stress the staff I dealt with were professional and went out of their way to check for me. But the end result was a direction to an outside body, the Nossal Institute,  a health knowledge hub for AusAID. After I found some useful reports on Nossal’s website, I went back to the AusAID publications area and searched for them using keywords from the title. Nothing. I searched under health. Nothing. The document register similarly yielded nothing.

So what happens to members of the public who don’t know AusAID has a librarian to ring and ask for advice? Or who doesn’t make the connection between AusAID and Nossal or any other body contracting to AusAID for that matter?

Your ability to track down information funded by the Australian taxpayer shouldn’t be dependent on how ‘in the know’ you are. Whether you’re a researcher or a tradie, these documents should be easy to access.

It’s in the Report

The sad reality is that even when you finally find the document you’re after, you probably won’t be getting the full picture. As anyone who has ever done research will tell you, there’s a lot that misses the final cut. What happens to that uncaptured knowledge?

When all the researchers were in-house, that institutional knowledge collected along the way stayed within the institution. But now, it dissipates out to a complex web of contractors and partner organisations. So what hope does anyone outside the organisation have of tracing detail that didn’t fit the word limit?

Make an Appointment

I imagined a world where I could ring the librarian, put in a formal request to get access to the library and come and thumb the physical pages, letting the Dewey decimal system lead me from one title to another and maybe even hit the jackpot with a title I would never have thought to search for. Or better still, in a face-to-face conversation with that gatekeeper of knowledge, the librarian might plant a thought that led me to the holy grail. Apparently not.

Along with the outsourcing of much research capacity, the AusAID library now resides off site, so even staff put in requests for books to be retrieved and brought in. While it makes sense for archival or rarely accessed material, there are some titles that could and should be read often. And yes, there are electronic books, but not everything comes in e-book format, not to mention the costs if every individual in an organisation paid for an e-book every time they wanted to read a few prescient pages.

While I’ve focussed on AusAID here, I gather from anecdotal conversations with departmental staff and fellow researchers that this experience is far from rare. I’ve singled out AusAID purely because of my recent interaction with them as a source.

And now the good news…

I was preparing to be less than glowing about the World Bank’s open access. I started by writing that the World Bank had an obligation, given their highly specialised research, to make all their reports accessible for free.

As a frequent user of the site in the past, when I started searching the site again I went straight to the publications catalogue. I was appalled that it still cost $100 to get a report as crucial as African Development Indicators. The best they seemed to offer on the online bookshop was a ‘geographic discount’ for developing country purchasers.

What I missed in the catalogue was the announcement on the inside cover page that ‘most publications are now available for free online’. I ended up stumbling on to the Open Knowledge Repository area of the website which is well designed, easy to search and remarkably had the vast majority of reports published by the World Bank available to download free.

There are some exceptions in the open access policy. Open access only applies to external research when that research was commissioned on or after July 1, 2012 which presumably leaves some research still being undertaken now exempt from the rules. However given the volume of current and historical material available free it seems the Bank has worked hard with its authors to get their consent to publish full reports online.

My one criticism is that this needs to be better flagged on the site, and particularly in the online bookshop. Over-familiarity with the old site led me to miss these changes – like many researchers I can be guilty of being a ‘mongrel reader’ and skipping straight ahead if I think I know a website well. The ‘read and share this’ button looked to me like a clunky piece of advertising rather than an invitation to download the research.

So the upshot is that global organisations like the World Bank, with their multitude of stakeholders, are making huge gains rapidly, while Australian government departments are still lagging behind. It’s time government departments similarly made significant inroads into genuine open access.

* Grey literature is defined as ‘ … document types produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats that are protected by intellectual property rights … but not controlled by commercial publishers i.e., where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body.’ –  12th International Conference on Grey Literature at Prague, December 2010

Belinda Thompson
PhD Scholar
Menzies Centre for Health Policy
Australian National University

Shall we sing in CHORUS or just SHARE? Responses to the US OA policy

Well things certainly have been moving in the land of the free since the Obama administration announced its Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research policy  in February.

In short, the policy requires that within 12 months US Federal agencies that spend over $100 million in research and development have to have a plan to “support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government”. (For a more detailed analysis of that policy see this previous blog.)

In the last couple of weeks two opposing ‘solutions’ have been proposed for the implementation of the policy.

In the publishing corner…

A coalition of subscription based journal publishers has suggested a system called CHORUS – which stands for Clearing House for the Open Research of the United States. The proposal is for a “framework for a possible public-private partnership to increase public access to peer-reviewed publications that report on federally-funded research”.

The plan is to create a domain called where publishers can deposit the metadata about papers that have relevant funding. When a user wants to find research they can look via CHORUS or through the funding agency site, and then view the paper through a link back to the publishers site.

While this sounds reasonable the immediate questions that leap out is why would this not be searchable through search engines, and what embargo periods are being held on the full text of publications? The limited amount of information available on the proposal does not seem to address these questions.

The Association of American Publishers released their explanation of the proposal ‘Understanding CHORUS’ on 5 June. There is not a great deal of other information available, although The Chronicle published a news story about it.

The Scholarly Kitchen blog – run by the Society for Scholarly Publishing – put up a post on 4 June 2013 with some further details. According to the post the CHORUS group represents a broad-based group of scholarly publishers, both commercial and not-for-profit There are 11 members on the steering group and many signatory organisations. The blog states the group collectively publishes the vast majority of the articles reporting on federally-funded research.

The time frame is fast, with plans including:

  • High-level System Architecture — Friday, June 14
  • Technical Specifications — Friday, July 26
  • Initial Proof-of-Concept — Friday, August 30

On this blog there is the comment that CHORUS is:

a much more modern and sensible response to the demand for access to published papers after a reasonable embargo period, as it doesn’t require an expensive and duplicative secondary repository like PubMed Central. Instead, it uses networked technologies in the way they were intended to be used, leveraging the Internet and the infrastructure of scientific publishing without diverting taxpayer dollars from research budgets.

Not surprisingly the comment coming from commercial publishers about diverting taxpayer dollars from research budgets has attracted some criticism, not least from Stevan Harnad in his commentary “Yet another Trojan Horse from the publishing industry” :

And, without any sense of the irony, the publisher lobby (which already consumes so much of the scarce funds available for research) is attempting to do this under the pretext of saving “precious research funds” for research!

Harnad’s main argument against this proposal is that it represents an attempt to take the power to provide open access out of the hands of researchers so that publishers gain control over both the timetable and the infrastructure for providing open access.

Mike Eisen in his blog on the topic points out that taxpayers will end up paying for the service anyway:

publishers will without a doubt try to fold the costs of creating and maintaining the system into their subscription/site license charges – the routinely ask libraries to pay for all of their “value added” services. Thus not only would potential savings never materialize, the government would end up paying the costs of CHORUS indirectly.

Harnad notes that this is a continuation from previous activities by publishers to counter the open access movement, not least the 2007 creation of PRISM (the Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine)  which grew from the American Association of Publishers employing a public relations expert to “counter messages from groups such as the Public Library of Science (PLoS)”

In the university corner….

Three days after the Scholarly Kitchen blog, the development paper for a proposal called SHARE was released from a group of university and library organisations.

The paper for SHARE (the SHared Access Research Ecosystem) states the White House directive ‘provides a compelling reason to integrate higher education’s investments to date into a system of cross-institutional digital repositories’. The plan is to federate existing university-based digital repositories, obviating the need for central repositories.

The Chronicle published a story on the proposal on the same day.

The SHARE system would draw on the metadata and repository knowledge already in place in the institutional community, such as using ORCID numbers to identify researchers. There would be a requirement that all items added to the system include the correct metadata like: the award identifier, PI number and the repository in which it sits.

This type of normalisation of metadata is something repository managers have already addressed in Australia, in response to the development of Trove at the National Library of Australia which pulls information in from all Australian institutional repositories. Also more recently here, there has been agreement about the metadata field to be used to identify research from a grant to comply with the NHMRC and the ARC policies.

In the SHARE proposal, existing repositories, including subject based repositories, would work together to ensure metadata matching to become a ‘linked node’ in the system. The US has a different university system to Australia with a mixture of private and state-funded institutions. But every state has one or more state-funded universities and most of these already have repositories in place. Other universities without repositories would use the repository of their relevant state university.

A significant challenge in the proposal, as it reads, is the affirmation that for the White House policy to succeed, federal agencies will need universities to require of their Principal Investigators; “sufficient copyright licensing licensed to enable permanent archiving, access, and reuse of publication”. While sounding simple, in practicality, this means altering university open access and intellectual property policies, and running a substantial educational campaign amongst researchers. This is no small feat.

The timeframe the SHARE proposal puts forward is in phases, with requirement and capabilities developed within 12-18 months, and the supporting software completed within another six months. So there is a two-year minimum period after initiation of implementation before the system would be operational. It is also possible that given the policy issues, it could take longer to eventuate in reality.

There has been less discussion about the SHARE proposal on open access lists, but this is hardly surprising as more energy on these lists will be directed towards criticism of the publishers’ proposal.

So which one will win?

Despite the two proposals emerging within days of one another, the sophistication of both proposals indicates that they have been in development from some time.

Indeed, the CHROUS proposal would have required lead-time to negotiate ‘buy-in’ from the different publishers. On the other hand, the SHARE proposal includes a complex flow chart on page 4 which appears to be the equivalent to the ‘High-level System Architecture’ the CHROUS proposal states would be ready on Friday 14 June. According to a post on the LibLicense discussion list, SHARE was developed without awareness of CHORUS, so it is not an intentional ‘counterattack’.

There are glaring differences between the two proposals. SHARE envisions text and data mining as part of the system, two capabilities missing from the CHORUS proposal. SHARE also provides searching through Google rather than requiring the user to go to the system to find materials as CHORUS seems to be proposing. But as Peter Suber points out: “CHORUS sweetens the deal by proposing OA to the published versions of articles, rather than to the final versions of the author’s peer-reviewed manuscripts”.

So which will be adopted? As one commentator said CHORUS will work because publishers have experience setting up this kind of system, whereas SHARE does not have a good track record in this area. They suggest that.

A cynical publisher might say: Let’s fight for CHORUS, but let’s make sure SHARE wins. Then we (the publishers) have the best of all worlds: the costs of the service will not be ours to bear, the system will work haphazardly and pose little threat to library subscriptions, and the blame will lie with others.

This is an area to watch.

Dr Danny Kingsley
Executive Officer
Australian Open Access Support Group

Recent US developments in open access

Welcome to the Australian Open Access Support Group blog. We hope this will be a place to explore some ideas and happening in open access in Australia. Of course we live in a global world, so it is important to understand what is happening elsewhere and how this might affect us here.

And things certainly are happening.

US Policy – Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research

On February 22, the Obama Administration released a new policy “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research“ that talks about the benefit to society for having open access to government data and research. It requires that within 12 months Federal agencies that spend over $100 million in research and development have to have a plan to “support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government”.

The policy is clear that it incorporates both scientific publications and digital scientific data, and limits embargo periods to twelve months post-publication.

The policy has had an instant effect, at least in registering policies. Steven Harnad yesterday posted an increase of 24 policies to ROARMAP (which lists open access policies) within four days of the policy being announced.

Similarities with Australian mandates

The interesting thing from the Australian perspective is this policy appears to mirror the NHMRC  and ARC policies in that it requires research metadata to be put in a repository.

The policy requires “Ensure full public access to publications’ metadata without charge upon first publication in a data format that ensures interoperability with current and future search technology. Where possible, the metadata should provide a link to the location where the full text and associated supplemental materials will be made available after the embargo period”.

Given the policy provides a series of suggestions about where repositories ‘could’ be housed, it seems the repository infrastructure in the US is less developed than in Australia. Presumably the repositories could be a way of monitoring progress, although the policy indicates that monitoring will be through twice yearly reports the agencies will have to provide for two years after their plan becomes effective.

Differences with the Australian mandates

While the intent of the policies are similar, the US policy relates only to larger Federal agencies (which may include some universities – note their higher education and research funding model is very different to Australia).

It is also a policy that asks the agencies to develop a *plan* to open up access within 12 months, so we might not see action for some time. Experience has shown setting up open access technology and work processes can be time consuming.

Something that strikes me as interesting is the US policy states that the material to be made open access – needs to be in a form that allows users to “read, download, and analyze in digital form”. This relates to the concept of text or data mining, a subject of many discussions recently. Indeed some people argue that if an item cannot be text or data mined then it is not actually open access. One of the big proponents of text and data mining is Cambridge University chemist Peter Murray Rust.

You cannot textmine a pdf. And the vast majority of work in Australian repositories, at least, are pdfs. This issue is something to watch into the future.

Odd components of the policy

The embargo period of 12 months doesn’t appear to be set in stone. I am unsure what this paragraph means in practice: “provide a mechanism for stakeholders to petition for changing the embargo period for a specific field by presenting evidence demonstrating that the plan would be inconsistent with the objectives articulated in this memorandum”.

Given that ‘stakeholders’ include publishers, then I’m sure they could produce ‘evidence’ that somehow will support the argument that making work available does not benefit society.

Another puzzling statement is: “Agency plans must also describe, to the extent feasible, procedures the agency will take to help prevent the unauthorized mass redistribution of scholarly publications.”

I’m not sure what that means. Isn’t making something openly accessible ‘mass distribution’? And surely having proper license restrictions on making work open access – like Creative Commons  licenses – will resolve how material should be redistributed? The scholarly communication norms require attribution within other scholarly articles, regardless of the distribution method. So this statement strikes me as completely at odds with the reminder of the document.

People power

The Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research policy is partially a result of a ‘We the People’ petition in May 2012 which received 65,704 signatures, more than double the required 25,000 signatures in 30 days that means the petition will be considered by the White House. As an interesting aside, in mid January the rules were changed so the petitions need 100,000 signatures before receiving an official response from the White House.

This policy is NOT the same thing as the FASTR

It is easy to get this mixed up. The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR)  was introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in mid February. It follows from the three previously unsuccessful attempts to get the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) passed.

FASTR is similar to the new Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research policy in that it is also restricted to agencies with research budgets of more than $100 million and it requires placement of work in a repository in a form that allows for text or data mining. It differs in that it has an embargo of only 6 months.

The Bill has not been passed through the legislative system in the US, and there are some activities online  that encourage people to support the Bill. The Association of American Publishers have described the FASTR as “different name, same boondoggle” and as “unnecessary and a waste of federal resources”.

Not everyone is cheering

Mike Eisen, an editor and founding member of PLoS argues that the Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research policy represents a missed opportunity  – the thrust of his argument is that the 12 month embargo on the 2008 NIH mandate was seen by some open access activists as a starting point which would reduce over time. But this new policy has cemented the 12 month embargo across the whole of government.

He is specifically angry that the government was so successfully lobbied by the publishers, saying the authors of the policy fell for publishers’ arguments “that the only way for researchers and the public to get the services they provide is to give them monopoly control over the articles for a year – the year when they are of greatest potential use.”

If the publishers have been successful in their lobbying, it might explain why the Association of American Publisher’s response to the policy was almost the polar opposite to their response to (the very similar) FASTR. The AAP have said the policy is very positive, saying it was a “reasonable, balanced resolution of issues around public access to research funded by federal agencies”. Interesting.

Dr Danny Kingsley
Executive Officer
Australian Open Access Support Group