Blog posts

A Universal Open Access Policy?

Despite claims to the contrary, open access as such is not very complicated. Either publish your scholarly output with a publisher who will immediately make it available as open access, or put a copy of the (peer-reviewed) manuscript in a repository. What makes open access complicated is the myriad of policies that regulate it.

The Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies (ROARMAP) alone lists way over 700 OA policies – just from research organisations and funders. If you add publisher policies it gets even more confusing. As a sector we often complain about the difficulties publishers create with journal embargoes. We are also criticising funders for not aligning their policies. These criticisms are valid, but we tend to gloss over that universities are not always aligning their policies either. Policies that vary across universities make it more difficult for third parties to provide solutions as they need to map onto a wide range of workflows resulting partly from different policies. Different institutional policies also make it harder to communicate open access to academics.

I have on a few occasions suggested that we should aim to align institutional policies more, and that we should also simplify them. Thankfully, I am not the only one thinking about this. Jisc, SHERPA Services and ROARMAP have jointly developed a Schema for Open Access policies. The schema should help policymakers “to express their policies in a systematic manner”, as “an initial step to ensure greater clarity and uniformity in the way information about OA policies is recorded and made available”. Imperial College was one of 30 institutions that  provided information to the new initiative. You can read more about the schema, initial findings and how to engage on the Jisc blog.

My ideal would be that over time we move to a single open access policy, or at least to a core policy to which institutions can add a selection of clearly defined elements to reflect their specific needs – where this is really necessary, of course. In the UK we do already have what could be considered the core of an OA policy, the Policy for open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework. Leaving the details aside, the policy requires deposit on acceptance (for publication). Currently it only applies to scholarly articles and conference proceedings, but I would argue that that makes it ideal as a starting point as these more formalised outputs (compared to e.g. performances) are easier to deal with across institutions.

Therefore, my suggestion for a minimal universal OA policy would be:

  • Publish in the journal of your choice, including full open access journals (subject to availability of funding).
  • Deposit a copy of the peer reviewed manuscript of your journal article or conference proceeding into a repository on acceptance for publication.

Incidentally, that is effectively the OA policy at Imperial College. As the vast majority of College publications are articles or conference proceedings we can effectively limit the policy to these, at least for the moment. An institution with a more diverse range of outputs may decide to add monographs, videos, websites etc., and those who cover costs for hybrid open access (Imperial’s own fund does not support it) may want this included as well.

I fully understand that just two bullet points will not be enough. However, I would like to put out a challenge: look at your institution’s open access policy and think about which elements you really need, and how you could simplify it in a way that would help us moving towards a universal policy. And make sure to check out the schema!

Why Open Access reporting is difficult (Imperial College London 2014/15 RCUK Open Access report)

Earlier today Imperial College London submitted its open access compliance report to RCUK. Like most UK universities, the College is in receipt of an annual open access block grant from RCUK. The funds are made available to support universities in meeting the requirements of the RCUK open access policy, in particular meeting the cost of article processing charges (APC) to make articles open access through the publisher. RCUK allocate funds in relation to research effort and Imperial College receives the second largest grant – £1,353,480 for 2014/15 (Cambridge is #1 with £1,355,073). The report, based on a template developed by Jisc, details how the money has been spent and provides headline compliance figures. It has been put together by the College Library and the Research Office, with support from ICT.

Report - CC BY licensed image by Jake Rust
Report – CC BY licensed image by Jake Rust

You can access the report via Spiral, the College repository.

The headline figure is an estimated 31% compliance via the gold and 38% compliance via the green route; we also provide details on APCs for 350 open access articles processed by the College Library. However, before you delve further into the spreadsheet or start comparing these figures to other universities I would like to draw your attention to some of the inherent issues with these reports and figures.

First of all you may notice that the numbers do not seem to add up. We report an APC spend of £597,029 and yet the 350 APCs add up to £679,721.08. The reason for this apparent mismatch is that the first figure is for the period from April 2014 to March 2015, as requested in the spreadsheet, whereas the APCs are reported to RCUK until August 2015.

Secondly, the number of APCs does not equal 31% of the outputs we report on. This is because some of the articles originating from RCUK funding have been paid for by other institutions, usually because the principal investigator was based there and not at Imperial College.

Most importantly though I would caution against directly comparing compliance figures between universities – unless you know exactly how they have been calculated. The biggest challenge, especially for large research intensive universities, is establishing what 100% is: how many outputs are related to RCUK funding? Currently there is no reliable way to derive funder information from article metadata, even where authors report the funders to the publisher. RCUK-funded authors are asked to report outputs to the research councils, but the reporting period does not overlap with the OA reporting period. That means even if all authors would reliable link all outputs to all relevant grants (this is a manual process) the information would not be sufficient to report on. Earlier this year Imperial College introduced a new workflow (for depositing outputs on acceptance) that encourages authors to link outputs and funding, but it will be a while until we can be reasonably confident that close enough to 100% of outputs are linked to all relevant grants.

Why do we not just manually go through all articles and speak to the authors? It is a question of scale – College academics publish between 10,000-12,000 articles and conference proceedings per year. We estimate that some 4,000 of these outputs may be linked to RCUK funding.

So how did we come to the compliance figures reported to RCUK? We analysed a sample of some 1,500 outputs we know to be linked to RCUK funding. Sadly, there is currently no reliable way to automatically establish the open access status of an output as publishers do not usually add licence information to output metadata and tracking outputs in repositories also creates problems. We do of course know how many outputs the College Library paid an APC for and also which outputs were deposited into the College repository Spiral. We do not know where other universities have paid an APC for an article, or where an author may have used departmental or other funds to pay an APC.
We were able to identify additional open access outputs by cross-referencing our data with the list from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and the Europe PubMed Central database. Even so we will have missed outputs, for example papers deposited into repositories like arXiv. We do track arXiv deposits, but there is currently no way of telling what version has been deposited. Even if we knew the version, deposits in repositories pose another problem: where an APC has been paid and the output deposited, do we report it as green or gold OA? In the case of RCUK we have decided to mark it as gold, as that is the preferred route for the UK research councils, but others may have decided differently.

I could go on much longer, but I hope the above gives you an idea of the issues that universities face when reporting on open access. Should you still want to compare university open access reports, make sure to check the data source and methods. The good news is that in the future these reports should become more meaningful, in particular when publishers and system vendors add funder, institutional and author identifiers (such as ORCID) to output metadata.

Finally, I would like to highlight two issues we raised with RCUK when submitting the report:

Many points made by the College in last year’s submission regarding policy implementation are still valid (see paragraphs 35 ff.). The College has made good progress in delivering support infrastructure (significantly reducing processing time for gold and green OA), but concerns about the wider policy landscape and publisher support for open access remain. In particular, we would like to highlight two points:

  • Hybrid open access remains significantly more expensive than full OA (~50% more per APC), even without taking into account “double dipping”. Processing APCs for hybrid journals continues to require more resource, i.e. in relation to licensing and invoicing. The Finch report saw hybrid as a means of transitioning from a subscription to a full OA model, but there is very little evidence of that transition taking place. The majority of OA funds are still spent on hybrid.

  • Differences in funder policies make it harder for academics to understand how to comply and increase the workload for support services. RCUK is encouraged to harmonise policy requirements with other funders, in particular with the Policy for open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework. We note that HEFCE have made changes to align policies with regards to gold OA and we would encourage RCUK to consider a similar step for green OA.

UK ORCID members meeting and launch of Jisc ORCID consortium at Imperial College London, 28th September 2015

On Monday 28th September representatives of over 50 UK universities, ORCID, Jisc, GuildHE, RCUK and CRIS vendors met at Imperial College London for the first UK ORCID members meeting, and to launch the Jisc ORCID consortium. ORCID provides a persistent identifier that links researchers to their professional activities and outputs – throughout their career, even if they change name or employer. The unique iD ensures that authors receive credit for their work and allows institutions to automate information exchange with other organisations such as funders, thereby increasing data quality, saving academics time and institutions money.

In 2014, Imperial College London was one of the first universities in the UK to make ORCID available to researchers, working with the Jisc-ARMA-ORCID pilot. We have since actively engaged with ORCID and the community to increase uptake and improve systems integration.The UK ORCID meeting was designed to bring together different strands of these discussions, andto facilitate a broad discussion about the next steps for ORCID in the UK. Following the pilot programme, Jisc has negotiated an ORCID consortium through which universities can benefit from premium ORCID membership at significantly reduced cost. The meeting was the official launch event for the consortium.Over the last two years ORCID, a relatively new initiative, has gained a lot of momentum, not just in the UK:

  • over 1.65m researchers registered globally
  • ORCID iDs associated with over 4.3m DOIs
  • over 300 member organisations
  • 3 national consortia agreements signed (Italy, UK and Denmark) with more in progress

In 2011, Jisc had set up a “researcher identifier” task and finish group, that included funders, libraries, IT directors, research managers and organisations like HESA. This group eventually recommended ORCID as a solution for the UK. Since then, ORCID has seen increasing support from research organisations and funders. Recently, both the Wellcome Trust and NIHR have mandated the use of ORCID for grant applications. RCUK’s Overview of Systems Interoperability Project resulted in a strong endorsement for ORCID, as did HEFCE’s Report of the Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management.

Neil Jacobs from Jisc speaking at UK ORCID members meeting

The UK ORCID meeting was not in the first instance about funders and their mandates though, it was about a discussion between the ORCID member organisations, the Jisc consortium and the way we as a community want to move forward. Specifically, the meeting had four aims:

  • to raise awareness and understanding of ORCID and the Jisc consortium offer and benefits
  • to bring together the UK ORCID community and establish how we want to work together
  • to discuss community expectations for system and platform providers, funders and publishers
  • to inform the Jisc technical and community support offering

Audience at UK ORCID members meeting

The aim of the morning session was to raise awareness and create a shared understanding of ORCID. It started with presentations from ORCID and Jisc, followed by four university case studies from the pilot programme (Kent, Imperial, Oxford and York) and a Q&A panel. After lunch we discussed community requirements, and ways to work together to achieve these. Four thematic areas were discussed in breakout groups, organised through a community document where participants and others who could not attend in person, had listed their issues and expectations in advance of the meeting. This approach helped focus the discussions and led to a broad agreement on key issues.

Below is my summary of the key community requirements:

CRIS and repository platforms:

  • actively prompt users to link their ORCID iD
  • facilitate iD creation by pre-populating ORCID profiles with institutional affiliation and other relevant information
  • harvest metadata for outputs associated with an iD from other systems
  • allow users to push output metadata into the ORCID registry

Publishers:

  • collect ORCID iDs for all authors, not just the corresponding author
  • make iDs of all authors available with output metadata
  • mint DOIs on acceptance and link to authors’ iDs
  • make the author accepted manuscript available on acceptance, with an ID

Funders:

  • fully integrate ORCID into their workflows and systems
  • move towards mandating ORCID

This is only a high-level summary of a much richer discussion. Some of the detail that I have conveniently skipped over will no doubt lead to further discussions later, but I found it remarkable how broad the consensus was – across more than 50 universities with very different approaches, requirements and cultures. There is still a lot of work to be done until we can reap all of the benefits that ORCID can enable, but the members meeting showed that universities are keen to work together with Jisc and ORCID to make progress.

Universities across the UK are now actively considering how to roll out ORCID, and there was much interest in lessons learned and emerging best practice. A UK ORCID mailing list is currently being set up and Jisc and ORCID are looking into ways to capture and share information through the new consortium. Jisc are currently hiring for staff to support the consortium and help members to implement ORCID. I am looking forward to follow-on discussions with Jisc, ORCID and the community about the next steps.

 

Presentations (in order of appearance):

 

Making Open Access simple – The Imperial College approach to OA

When you come at it for the first time, open access looks pretty complicated. Funder policies, institutional policies, publisher policies, different flavours of OA including ‘green’, ‘gold’, ‘libre’ and ‘gratis’ and a whole new language with mystifying terms like ‘hybrid journal’, ‘article processing charge’ and ‘author accepted manuscript’ await. Even librarians sometimes struggle to understand journal policies, or what certain licensing conditions actually mean.

It was perhaps for this reason that, when we started the College open access project, academics gave us a clear mission: a one button solution to open access.

We haven’t quite achieved that yet, but since May we are running a new workflow that reduces the complexity to one sentence: ‘When you have a paper accepted, deposit the peer-reviewed manuscript – we do the rest, no matter what type of open access.’

The workflow is based on two ideas:

  1. Ask authors for the minimum information required.
  2. Offer authors a single publications workflow that covers green and gold OA as well information required for funder reporting.

The frontend for this workflow is Symplectic Elements, the system used by our academics to manage their scholarly outputs. We have worked with the vendor to deliver an OA workflow that kicks in on acceptance for publication, and then we customised the system to interface with ASK OA, our in-house APC management system.

On acceptance for publication, authors add minimal metadata and the manuscript to Elements, link the article to relevant grants and if they want the College to pay an open access charge they simply tick a box. Colleagues in the Library’s open access team then check the submission, set necessary embargoes and make the output available through Spiral, the College repository. If payment is requested, the data is automatically transferred to ASK OA, the cloud-based, workflow-driven system that we launched last year. Through that process, authors receive a purchase order number to send to their publisher. When the College receives the electronic invoice, our finance system matches the PO and the payment process starts. No author interaction needed.

OA form

Above you see a screenshot of the information we require from authors. In addition, they deposit the manuscript (or share a link if it was already deposited in an external repository) and link the output to relevant grants. That allows us to charge costs for open access publishing to the correct funders and, once funder systems are ready, will enable the College to automate funder reporting on research outputs. If you want to see a demonstration, check out this video guide produced by the College Library:

The feedback we had from academics has been positive so far, and the numbers show that as well:

June 2015

While the workflow is working well so far, we are still far away from what I would consider the ideal scenario. There are still enough journals with difficult and unhelpful policies, and no university workflow will be able to fix that. Publishers being unable to issue correct invoices is another issue. We also have the problem to reliably match the metadata entered on acceptance with the metadata for the published output. Publishers could help by issuing authors with a DOI on acceptance.

Even better, publishers could feed publication metadata into systems like CrossRef on the date of acceptance. If the metadata had funder, licence and embargo information attached and a link to the manuscript, then open access would indeed become a one-click-problem. Authors enter their data on submission, and following acceptance it automatically travels through all relevant systems, until it ends up in an institutional repository. There would be no additional effort for authors, and admin overhead would be reduced greatly. The components to enable this already exist, for example the author identifier ORCID that was rolled out across the College last year.

We are still working towards the goal of a “one button” solution for open access with our partners. Until then the message remains: deposit the manuscript on acceptance, we do the rest.