Building an open research culture

2nd March 2022

Author: Shelley Allen, Head of Open Research at Emerald

What is most striking about this year’s report, is that less than half of academics (46%) are willing to consider publishing open access and sharing links to supporting datasets. This reinforces what we know – that we still have a long way to go to convince authors of the research benefits of publishing open access.

I think it’s interesting that 74% say funding is the top barrier to publish openly and that the main issue lies with Article Processing Charges (APCs). That’s why it’s important to Emerald that we have multiple routes to publish openly because we know funding is a major issue for our communities and that there are inequalities depending on the wealth of your institution and their access to transformative deals. 

We offer a progressive green route, zero embargo, and have Emerald Publishing Services (EPS) which has no APCs and helps global publications to professionalise their titles and make their research as open as possible. We are also entering into transformative deals, but these things are really challenging if you are not a large ‘big deal’ publisher.

There is no one route to transforming and this shows that even with all the efforts going on in Europe, we’re still a long way off from bringing the rest of the world with us – and that’s something that’s important to us.

Supportive infrastructure and incentives are key

It’s noteworthy that sensitivity of personal data (53%) continues to remain the biggest challenge to open data sharing. Our experience at Emerald Open Research is that in comparison to well-funded areas like STEM, we’re the first people to ask authors about making their data available as they haven’t had support from their institution to do this, and they don’t have a funding partner to give them advice at the start, before the research has happened. It’s important to view this as an ecosystem and that everybody in it has a role to play in helping research practices become more open.

There’s a lot we can do as a publisher to make it easier for people to share their data, such as offering support around data availability statements as well as services and advice on how they can make their data open. However, the infrastructure and the incentives are quite far away from where they need to be, and that probably also plays into people’s worries about sensitive data, and there aren’t many examples they can point to.

Social science is still lagging in terms of publishing open access and there’s even more work to be done around open research practices, as well as around knowledge mobilisation

If you’ve already done your research and the first person to ask you about it is the publisher, then you won’t have necessarily collated that data in a way that makes it easy to share. Going back and unpicking that can be quite challenging, so it is incumbent on all of us, including institutions, to support authors to understand this at the beginning of their research journey because it will help to make research more impactful. It’s great to see more institutions creating open research policies but it seems as though we’re still in the early days. There is a way to go before the support is holistic.

I like the mantra ‘as open as possible and as closed as necessary’. There are ways to share sensitive data that builds on the research you have done and ensures that things can be tested robustly, and that research can continue to flourish, but without betraying the trust of human participants.

From competition to collaboration

When it comes to people’s worries around data sharing, many are worried that their research might be scooped and I really think the issue is rooted in incentives, because it’s so difficult to change practices if the culture is based on competition rather than collaboration. We’re increasingly seeing calls throughout the ecosystem that we move towards a more collaborative approach in how research is conducted, disseminated and used.

Until we change the incentives, it will always be quite challenging because who would move towards sharing their research assets if they’re not going to be rewarded and in fact could be at a disadvantage if somebody else did something with their work? In an unequal ecosystem, that seems a tall ask of a researcher already disadvantaged.

Rapid publication without the worry

I was surprised that 1 in 10 don’t know what preprints are and that the majority prefer to stick with traditional peer-review. I think here we have a moment to understand the benefits of preprints and build the right infrastructure for people. I have no doubt awareness will grow.

The benefits of preprints have been made clear during the pandemic. Now it’s about how to facilitate these within workflows, particularly for people who do find it very new, without losing that quality marker that helps people pick through what would be a huge number of papers. We need to ensure we help researchers in particular to find the best research to build upon.

Open should be business as usual

Social science is still lagging in terms of publishing open access and there’s even more work to be done around open research practices, as well as knowledge mobilisation. But if the culture of the academy is still around publication volumes and the incentives are not aligned to enable researchers to communicate to wider audiences, this is always going to be the case.

Knowledge mobilisation isn’t something we’re really talking about right now because we’re still trying to make the research openly available. The more we can get those things systematised and business as usual, then you can move on to even harder problems like making it understandable and accessible to the public, not just openly available to them.

Emerald is moving the needle

We’re doing our part to support Open, and right now I’m focussed on investing in our workflows. For example, we are launching Emerald Submit across all our journals early next year. That has been designed to encourage Open and make it as easy as possible to understand where authors are eligible for discounts/waivers and where they have a prepaid APC via a transformative agreement. Then it’s also about us providing helpful and supportive infrastructure to encourage open research practices.

The biggest thing that will move the needle is more collaboration across the system – publishers, institutions, funders, Europe, USA – no one can do it alone

We already have Emerald Open Research, but we are keen to introduce data availability statements as standard. It’s not about insisting our communities make their data openly available as I don’t think they are ready for that, but even just asking the question, ‘Do you have data? And would you be willing to share it?’, and make it easy for them to answer. That’s on our roadmap and something we would like to introduce soon.

We are also working with industry bodies like STM to create standards so that authors are asked the same things in the same way across different publishers. And we’re working with our consortia customers to build workflows and deal structures that supports both them and the authors.

Collaboration across the ecosystem

I feel very positive about the future of Open, there’s no doubt it’s the direction of travel. There are some stakeholders who are impatient about the speed of transition, and that’s totally understandable, and actually quite important. Whenever you’re seeking to make changes, there will always be that one person that thinks you haven’t gone far enough, and you need those voices to get momentum and keep progressing. But the biggest thing that will move the needle is more collaboration across the system – publishers, institutions, funders, across the globe – no one can do it alone.  For that reason, the pace may be more incremental that we would like, but there is a lot we can do to get ready for it.

As a publisher, the best thing we can do is build the right infrastructure for Open. A lot of academics are being asked to think about things beyond their area of expertise or even interest, such as licensing and publishing agreements. It’s about making it as frictionless as possible. Given that business models are still evolving, research best practices and standards are still evolving, it’s going to take time.

The aim is to make things as seamless as possible for the author, so that they don’t even have to think about it, they’re already supported, things are automatically applied for them. Then they can just concentrate on their research, so they don’t have to worry about publishing or dissemination as that’s not their area of expertise, that’s our area of expertise.