As research becomes ever more digital, the ways in which it tackles transparency and accountability must change.
These changes are cultural, organisational, legal, technological and social; government, research funders and universities have important roles in shaping the environment in which they take place.
The health of that environment is vital in attracting the international staff, students, collaboration and investment that will determine whether, or not, the UK meets its target of investing 2.4% in research and innovation by 2027.
In a move which could further this aim, the government has just released advice from Professor Adam Tickell on moving toward greater open access (OA) to research publications, and the report of the Open Research Data Taskforce (ORDTF).
Advice and guidance
Both pieces of advice are important in themselves, and inform longer term national exercises that, together, will influence how the UK pursues open science.
Tickell’s advice will, no doubt, be considered by UKRI in its review of OA policy, and the ORDTF recommendations will surely influence the roadmap for research and innovation infrastructure, also being drafted by UKRI. While we wait for those exercises to complete, the advice has more immediate implications for the UK research sector, for universities and for Jisc.
Taking the Tickell advice first, perhaps the key point is the unambiguous emphasis on the “financial sustainability for research performing organisations, and value for money on public investment in research”. Plan S starts from the same constraints, and now frames the discussion on OA, certainly for journal articles and published conference papers. To realise OA here, within these constraints, the advice highlights Jisc’s roles as negotiator, sector representative and provider of digital services and infrastructure.
A clearer way forward
With the sector, we have developed a clear set of conditions for the kinds of agreement now needed with journal publishers – they need to be transitional, constrain costs, help implement funder policies, be transparent, and improve workflows to reduce administrative burden.
We pioneered both offsetting and ‘read and publish’ agreements that have been world-leading steps in this direction, and are working hard to improve on those in the next round of negotiations, both with large commercial publishers but also, importantly, with smaller and society publishers.
Tickell also recommended that university leaders should be more involved in these negotiations and, working with Universities UK, we have revised sector engagement in the negotiations to make sure this happens.
Via the European University Association, we are also liaising closely with consortia in other countries and, in particular, as recommended, have paid close attention to difficult negotiations in Germany, during which journals were unavailable to universities for an extended period. While we hope no UK negotiations would come to that point, the German experience, which is repeated elsewhere, suggests that some loss of access to publisher sites is not fatal to a nation’s research.
One of the drags on progress to OA has been that it involves completely changing several workflows and parts of the journal supply chain, and Tickell recommends that “Jisc, with the support of sector leaders, [should] set out a roadmap for developing a suite of tools which, as far as possible, reduce the burden of administration underpinning open access for institutions”.
We have been developing OA tools for some time, for example recently announcing Elsevier participation in our Publications Router service. However, this recommendation goes further and, in our regular meetings with sector bodies, we will now draft an OA infrastructure roadmap that will enable universities more easily to meet funder policies and will exploit, as recommended, a set of agreed unique identifiers.
The ORDTF recommendations are less specific, and instead draw from a wealth of evidence to provide a strategic steer. Some, in effect, overlap with Tickell’s recommendations:
- Better incentives, such as via revised research assessment practices, to share and use research data
- Harmonised funder policies on open science, and the provision of adequate funding to support the transition to more open science
- More user-friendly services for research data management, reducing the administrative burden
- The need to maintain strong international engagement in pursuing open science
Other recommendations are more specific to research data infrastructure. The report advocates a set of principles for negotiation with commercial providers of research data infrastructure to maximise interoperability, retain data ownership and reduce the risk of ‘lock-in’, and also that the costs, business and funding models of current data services be reviewed. On that, it is worth noting the recent soft launch of the Jisc open research hub, for universities managing, preserving and sharing research data.
The UKRI research and innovation infrastructure roadmap will likely address these priorities, which together point to the UK taking a much more coordinated and strategic approach both to research data management, and to the procurement of research data infrastructure.
Engagement on an international stage, with activities such as Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) and the National Research Data Infrastructure (NFDI), is important and, if we are able to participate in the European Open Science Cloud, to further our collaborated and coordinated approach, this too is worth pursuing.
And, at this time, it is that international engagement in open research that is perhaps the key takeaway from both the Tickell and ORDTF advice. UK research, and our infrastructure, must maintain and strengthen a global outlook if the benefits of, for example, the industrial strategy are to be realised.