From Couch to Almost 5K: Raising Research Data Visibility at The University of Manchester

Love is all around us this week it seems. Coinciding with Valentine’s Day, by chance or otherwise, this is also Love Data Week. So, we thought we’d share how we’ve been loving our data by making it more visible, shareable and re-usable!

This is an area of growing interest across the RDM community and if you, like us, are kept awake at night by questions such as how do you identify your institution’s datasets in external repositories or what’s the most efficient way to populate your CRIS with metadata for those datasets, then read on to learn how we’ve been meeting these sorts of challenges.

At the University of Manchester (UoM), the Library’s Research Data Management team has been using Scholix to find UoM researcher data records and make them available in the University’s data catalogue and Researcher Profiles, which are publicly available and serve as a showcase for the University’s research.

We saw here an opportunity not only to increase further the visibility of the University’s research outputs but also to encourage researchers to regard data more seriously as a research output. We also had in mind the FAIR Principles and were keen to support best practice by researchers in making their data more findable.

The headline result is the addition of more than 4,500 data records to the UoM CRIS (Pure), with reciprocal links between associated data and publication records also being created to enrich the University’s scholarly record.

So how did we go about this…

Following the launch in 2017 of the University’s Pure Datasets module, which underpins our institutional data catalogue (Research Explorer) and automatically populates Researcher Profiles, we created services to help researchers record their data in Pure with as little manual effort as possible. We’re delighted to see these services being well-received and used by our research community!

But what about historical data, we wondered?

We knew most researchers wouldn’t have the time or inclination to record details of all their previous data without a strong incentive and, in any case, we wanted to spare them this effort if at all possible. We decided to investigate just how daunting or not this task might be and made the happy discovery that the Scholix initiative had done lots of the work for us by creating a huge database linking scholarly literature with their associated datasets.

Working with a number of key internal and external partners, we used open APIs to automate / part-automate the process of getting from article metadata to tailored data records (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Process summary: making research data visible

ProcessScholix

To generate and process the article metadata from Scopus we partnered with the Library’s Research Metrics, and Digital Technologies and Services teams. We submitted the article DOIs to Scholix via its open API which returned metadata (including DOIs) of the associated research data. Then using the DataCite open API we part-automated the creation of tailored data records that mirrored the Pure submission template (i.e. the records contained the relevant metadata in the same order). This saved our Content, Collections and Discovery team lots of time when manually inputting the details to Pure, before validating the records to make them visible in Research Explorer and Researcher Profiles.

Partnering with the University’s Directorate of Research and Business Engagement and Elsevier, we followed the same steps to process the records sourced from Pure. Elsevier was also able to prepare tailored data records for bulk upload directly into Pure which further streamlined the process.

Some challenges and lessons learned…

Manchester researchers like to share, especially if we can make it easy for them! Seeing the amount of data being shared across the institution is bringing us a lot of joy and a real sense of return on investment. In terms of staff time, which amounts to approximately 16 FTE weeks to upload, validate and link data in Pure, plus some additional time to plan and implement workflows. Cross-team working has been critical in bringing this project towards successful completion, with progress relying on the combined expertise of seven teams. In our view, the results more than justify this investment.

Of course, there are limitations to be addressed and technical challenges to navigate.

Initiatives, such as the COPDESS Enabling FAIR Data Project, that are bringing together relevant stakeholders (data communities, publishers, repositories and data ecosystem infrastructure) will help ensure that community-agreed metadata is properly recorded by publishers and repositories, so that it can feed into initiatives like Scholix and make our ‘downstream’ work ever more seamless. Widespread engagement for use of open identifiers would also make our work much easier and faster, in particular identifiers for researchers (ORCID) and research organisations (RoR). As ever, increased interoperability and automation of systems would be a significant step forward.

There are practical considerations as well. For instance, how do we treat data records with many researchers, which are more time-consuming to handle? How do we prepare researchers with lots of datasets for the addition of many records to their Researcher Profiles when there is such variation in norms and preferences across disciplines and individuals?  How should we handle data collections? What do we do about repositories such as Array Express that use accession numbers rather than DOIs, as Scholix can’t identify data from such sources. And since Scholix only finds data which are linked to a research article how do we find data which are independent assets? If we are really serious about data being an output in their own right then we need to develop a way of doing this.

So, there’s lots more work to be done and plenty of challenges to keep us busy and interested.

In terms of the current phase of the project, processing is complete for data records associated with UoM papers from Scopus, with Pure records well underway. Researcher engagement is growing, with plenty of best practice in evidence. With REF 2021 in our sights, we’re also delighted to be making a clear contribution towards the research environment indicators for Open Data.

Working with the UK Data Service to support researchers with managing and sharing research data from human participants

Following the introduction of GDPR last May the Research Services team have been getting more and more enquiries about how to handle sensitive data, so we invited  Dr Scott Summers from the UK Data Service (UKDS) to visit us and deliver a one-day workshop on ‘Managing and sharing research data from human participants’. My colleague, Chris Gibson, worked with Scott to develop and arrange the session. It was a thoroughly engaging and informative day, with lots of opportunity for discussion.

The workshop attracted a group of 30 to come along and learn more about best practice for managing personal data. We invited colleagues from across all faculties and ensured that there was a mix of established and early career researchers, postgraduate researchers and professional services staff that support research data management. As well as getting advice to help with data management, the aim was to gather feedback from attendees to help us to shape sessions that can be delivered as part of the Library’s My Research Essentials programme by staff from across the University including Research Services, Information Governance and Research IT.  

As a fairly new addition to the Research Services team, I was keen to attend this workshop. The management of research data from human participants is a complex issue so any opportunity to work with the experts in this field is very valuable. My job involves working with data management plans for projects which often include personal data so gaining a deeper understanding of the issues involved will help me to provide more detailed advice and guidance.

The workshop began with looking at the ethical and legal context around gathering data. This is something that has been brought sharply into focus with the introduction of GDPR. We use ‘public task’ as our lawful basis for processing data but it was interesting to hear that ‘consent’ may be more prevalent as the preferred grounds in some EU countries. Using public task as a basis provides our participants with reassurance that the research is being undertaken in the public interest and means researchers are not bound by the requirement to refresh consent.

The session on informed consent led to lively discussion about how to be clear and specific about how and what data will be used when research may change throughout a project. One solution for longitudinal studies may be process consent – including multiple points of consent in the study design to reflect potential changing attitudes of participants. Staged consent is an option for those wanting to share data but give participants options. The main point that arose from this session is that we should aim to give participants as much control over their data as possible without making the research project so complicated as to be unworkable.

The final session generated debate around whether we can ever truly anonymise personal data. We worked through exercises in anonymising data. It quickly became apparent that when dealing with information relating to people, there are many aspects that could be identifying and in combination even seemingly generic descriptors can quickly narrow down to a small subset of participants. For example, ‘Research Officer’ is a term that could apply to a large group of people but mention this in relation to ‘University of Manchester Library’ and it quickly reduces to a subset of 3 people! The general consensus was that referring to data as ‘de-identified’ or ‘de-personalised’ would be more accurate but that these descriptions may not be as reassuring to the participants so it is imperative that consent forms are clear and unambiguous about how data will be used.

At the end of the session it was great to hear lots of positive feedback from researchers across many disciplines that the workshop took what could be quite a dry topic and made it engaging with numerous opportunities for discussion.

Our second workshop with Scott Summers is due to take place on 26th February and we are looking forward to gaining more feedback and insights into how we can enhance the support we deliver to researchers who are managing research data from human participants – so, watch this space!

Plan S feedback

UoM_image

On Friday I submitted the University of Manchester’s feedback on Plan S. We’d invited feedback from across campus so our response reflects views from a wide range of academic disciplines as well as those from the Library.

Our response could be considered informally as ‘Yes, but…’, ie, we agree with the overall aim but, as always, the devil’s in the detail.

Our Humanities colleagues expressed a number of reservations but noted “we are strongly in favour of Open Access publishing” and “we very much welcome the pressure, from universities and funders, on publishers to effect more immediate and less costly access to our research findings”.

The response from the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health also flagged concerns but stated “if Plan S is watered down, the pressure exerted on journal publishers may not be acute enough to force a profound shift in business model”.

A number of concerns raised assumed launch of Plan S based on the status quo. Updates from the Library have tried to reassure our academic colleagues that there’s work going on ‘behind the scenes’ which makes this unlikely and remind them that UK funder OA policies may not be exact replicas of Plan S.

We’ve been here before in the sense that when the UK Research Councils announced that a new OA policy would be adopted from April 2013, publishers amended their OA offer to accommodate the new policy requirements. Not every publisher of Manchester outputs did, but things did shift. For large publishers this happened fairly quickly, but for smaller publishers this took a bit longer, and in some cases required nudging by their academic authors.

It’s worth reflecting on how that policy played out as we consider Plan S: put simply, it cost a lot of money and most publishers didn’t provide options that fully met the Green OA requirements.

The key points in our response are concerns about affordability, Green OA requirements and the current ‘one size fits all’ approach. You can read it here: UoM_Plan-S_feedback.

‘A new world of possibilities’ – reflecting on OpenCon2018

Guest post by University of Manchester Library scholarship winner Chukwuma Ogbonnaya, PhD Student at the school of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, and early career Lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo in Abakaliki, Nigeria.

OpenCon is a unique conference because it brings Librarians, Publishers, Civil society organisations, Policy makers,  Government agencies, Post-doctoral, Doctoral and Undergraduate students, across the globe together. These participants think, discuss, engage and co-create solutions to promote open philosophies. OpenCon2018, which was held at York University, Toronto, Canada between 1-4 November 2018, was my first Opencon attendance. I applied to attend the Berlin conference in 2017 but unfortunately was not selected. When I saw the notification for OpenCon2018 from The University of Manchester Library, I quickly applied because I wanted to be involved in open research based on my findings during the last application. I was pleasantly surprised when I was announced the winner and that was the beginning of a chain reaction of surprises.

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Chukwuma and fellow attendees enjoying a discussion session during OpenCon2018

Immediately the announcement was made, I was pleased and I did not waste time to share the news with my family, friends and my home University in Nigeria through the Vice-Chancellor (Professor Chinedum Nwajiuba). I quickly started my visa application the following day. It can be time-consuming and stressful for researchers from African countries and the Global South to obtain visas to travel to conferences, which is a real problem as it prevents researchers from these countries participating in important discussions – this tweet by Zaid Alyafeai sums up the problem. I was apprehensive, especially given the tight turnaround time – will it be possible to obtain a Canadian visa in three days for a Nigerian, I pondered? Now, here is the second surprise. I was given a multiple entry Canadian visa that  will expire in 2022. What this means for me is that I can easily apply for conferences in Canada to present my research as well as listen to experts in my field. This has been made possible by the OpenCon2018 award.

The third pleasant surprise was the design and programming of OpenCon2018. The programme was so unique with collaborative and engaging sessions. It was highly participatory and everybody has multiple choices of what activity/topic/theme to participate in. There were discussion panels comprising presenters with practical experiences and those at the early stage of their career.

My favourite panel was “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” because it was simply outstanding. They focused on the need to include everyone in the emerging open infrastructure designs irrespective of gender, race, country and region. It was obvious that allowing people to have access to the knowledge infrastructure would empower them to contribute to the development of the wider society. Associate Professor Leslie Chan really made a long lasting impression on me during the panel discussion. He described a situation where open science should not just translate into an “automation of knowledge inequality” but should indeed be a “commitment to think critically and to push the boundaries to imagine a more inclusive, equitable and radical future”.

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The diversity, equity and inclusion panel at OpenCon2018 included discussion of “the need to include everyone in the emerging open infrastructure designs irrespective of gender, race, country and region”

I want to share my experiences in some of the activities I participated in during the conference:

STORY CIRCLE AND STORY OF SELF

OpenCon2018 believes that “stories are at the core of how we identify and express ourselves, interpret and shape our worlds, and connect with others”. The intention of story circle was to create a safe space where participants can tell a small group of people about themselves as well as share their thoughts on what open science means to them. No comments or questions are expected to follow beyond highlighting what brought the participant to OpenCon2018. For me, it was good that it came quite early in the conference because it provided an opportunity for me to start networking as well as gaining insights into how others perceive open access.

DESIGN THINKING WORKSHOPS I & II

I participated in the Europe workshop. The interactive workshop was to inspire contextual culture change towards a more open, diverse, inclusive and equitable research and education system. We addressed the question of how we might, as open advocates, congratulate our peers on non-open successes while staying true to our values. Within the group, we were divided into clusters based on our current activities/work. I was in a PhD and Post-Doctoral group and we explored how design thinking can be used to understand, design and communicate Open Access solutions for PhD students. The process involves defining the problems based on an understanding of the system, empathising with a typical PhD student based on how they think and feel, brainstorming and ideating solutions, prototyping the solution, testing it and implementing it in the real world. The videos and slides were used for a systematic analysis of the personhood of a typical PhD student. Current experiences and future aspirations of a PhD student were captured in order to reveal where and how interventions can be implemented to help PhD students understand how Open Access can support their current and future career development. The skills and learning acquired from the design thinking workshop are transferable and I will be applying it in designing human-centred systems within my research projects in the future.

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Chukwuma’s Design Thinking team

PUBLISHING WITH OPEN ACCESS JOURNALS (UNCONFERENCE SESSION)

The unconference session is a hands-on session in which a speaker lead participants through exploring critical questions on the topic. The session focused on how to identify predatory journals and legitimate Open Access journals. It was a discussion session with rich experience-sharing on how fake Open Access publishers can be identified and avoided. It was apparent that Open Access publications can contribute to making a researcher’s work more available, visible and accessible whilst giving the researcher more control on how and who can use their work. When a scholar’s work becomes accessible, it can increase citation, and such recognition can support funding applications to carry out further work. However, falling prey to fake/predatory Open Access publishers could be disastrous. Such predatory journals lack strong peer review mechanisms and reputation within the research community. Consequently, the time and money spent on undertaking quality research could be lost when the wrong choice of journal is made. The degree of openness of Open Access journals were discussed including types of Open Access copyrights. Finally, the presenter (Vrushali) shared how DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals), which indexes and provides access to peer-reviewed Open Access journals, can assist researchers identify recognised Open Access journals. In summary, the session was very informative and I would use the strategies discussed to make informed choices in the future, as well as guiding others.

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Unconference session on identifying credible and predatory journals

DITCHING JOURNAL IMPACT FACTORS AND JOURNAL BLACKLISTS FOR GOOD (UNCONFERENCE SESSION)

The unconference session on spotting predatory journals influenced my choice of the discussion group. The discussion group led by Emma Molls focused on how impact factor metrics play a role in influencing researchers to publish in traditional journals instead of Open Access journals. The fundamental question was “how might we rethink journal quality in a way that it benefits authors, editors, and librarians without duplicating the faults of the past?” A critical discussion and questioning on whether impact factor captures the ideals of quality and impact were raised. For instance, a question on whether the impact factor of a journal should be equated to the impact factor of an article was raised. We also explored other possible metrics which can act as a measure of the impact of an article including citation, reproducibility, transparency and significance. We then considered the incentives that could motivate scholars to consider Open Access publishing.  These include the recognition system in the research community/workplace and sponsors’/funders’ influence on where outputs should be published, among other factors.

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OpenCon 2018 Discussion Group

DO-A-THON GROUP

This activity of the OpenCon2018 is the creativity and innovation session where new ideas and organisations are birthed through collaboration and networking. Individuals  are encouraged to propose ideas no matter how sketchy they might be! Participants interested in a proposed idea come together and use their diverse skills to develop the idea and create a possible network that can allow them to continue collaborating on the idea after the conference. My group started developing a platform that can bring together those who have good ideas but cannot develop them due to lack of resources or expertise and those who can transform the ideas into reality. We applied a design thinking approach in seeking a solution. Afterwards,  we set up a Whatsapp group to continue working on the idea. Members are from UK, Canada, Germany, Jordan and Tanzania and we held a Skype discussion on the project in early December 2018 to review progress on the assigned tasks at the conference.

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The Doathon group hard at work designing a platform that can bring together those who have good ideas but cannot develop them due to lack of resources or expertise

SUMMARY

OpenCon2018 may have come and gone but one thing is certain – it has opened a new world of possibilities for me in becoming an advocate for Open Access, open research, open data, open education, open government and indeed open philosophy. This was what I wanted and I now have it! I’m looking forward to working with The University of Manchester Library to contribute to the promotion of the Open philosophy across the University. My experience will also be promoted in my other institution, Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo, Nigeria after I complete my PhD studies at Manchester.

Finally, I look forward to contributing towards supporting and volunteering with communities/organisations/institutions seeking to build tools, processes, systems and infrastructures that promote open philosophy to achieve an inclusive, fair, participatory and equitable system. I believe that applied open principles can empower people to bring on board their professional and personal diversities and uniqueness into the building blocks of a better society we all desire.

Chukwuma Ogbonnaya

Connecting the dots: Creating a joined up approach to Data Management Plans

Eight months on from a major revision of data management planning processes at the University of Manchester, we’re often asked about how we work and so we thought it might be useful to share how we created a process that gives researchers maximum value from creating a Data Management Plan (DMP) and assists in the University’s compliance with GDPR.

The University of Manchester has required a DMP for every research project for nearly 5 years, as have most major UK research funders, and we had an internal data management planning tool during this period. Whilst this tool was heavily used we wanted something that was more user-friendly and easier to maintain. We were also keen on having a tool which would allow Manchester researchers to collaborate with researchers at other institutions so turned to DMPonline, maintained by the Digital Curation Centre. Once the decision had been taken to move to DMPonline we took the opportunity to consider links to the other procedures researchers complete before starting a project to see if we could improve the process and experience.

The One Plan That Rules Them All

We brought together representatives from the Library, Information Governance Office, Research IT, ethics and research support teams to map out the overlaps in forms researchers have to complete before beginning research. We also considered what additional information the University needed to collect to ensure compliance with GDPR. We established that whilst there were several different forms required for certain categories of research, the DMP is the one form used by all research projects across the University and so was the most appropriate place to be the ‘information asset register’ for research required under GDPR.

We also agreed on common principles that:

  • Researchers should not have to fill in the same information twice;
  • Where possible questions would be multiple choice or short form, to minimise completion time;
  • DMP templates should be as short as possible whilst capturing all of the information needed to provide services and assist in GDPR compliance

To achieve this we carefully considered all existing forms. We identified where there were overlaps and agreed on wording we could include in our DMP templates that would fulfil the needs of all teams – not an easy task! We also identified where duplicate questions could be removed from other forms. The agreed wording was added to our internal template and as a separate section at the beginning of every funder template as the ‘Manchester Data Management Outline’ to ensure unity across every research project at the University.

The Journey of a DMP

Once we had agreed on the questions to be asked we designed a process to share information between services with minimal input from researchers. Once a researcher has created their plan the journey of a DMP begins with an initial check of the ‘Manchester Data Management Outline’ section by the Library’s Research Data Management (RDM) team. Here we’re looking for any significant issues and we give researchers advice on best practices. We ensure that all researchers who create plans are contacted, so that all researchers benefit from the process, even if that is just confirmation that they are doing the right thing.

First stage of data management plan checks

If the issues identified suggest the potential for breaches of GDPR or a need for significant IT support, these plans are sent to the Information Governance Office and Research IT respectively. At this point all researchers are also offered the option of having their full DMP reviewed, using DMPonline’s ‘request feedback’ button.

Second stage of DMP checks

If researchers take up this service – and more than 200 have in the first eight months –  we review their plans within DMPonline, using the commenting functionality, and return the feedback to the researcher within 10 working days.

DMP and Ethics integration

If a research project requires ethics approval, researchers are prompted whilst filling in their ethics form to attach their DMP and any feedback they have received from the Library or other support services. This second step was introduced shortly after the move to DMPonline so that we could ensure that the advice being given was consistent. These processes ensure that all the relevant services have the information they need to support effective RDM with minimal input from researchers.

Implementation

On 17th April a message was sent to all researchers informing them of the change in systems and new processes. Since then Manchester researchers have created more than 2000 DMPs in DMPonline, demonstrating brilliant engagement with the new process. Sharing information between support services has already paid dividends – we identified issues with the handling of audio and video recordings of participants which contributed to the development of a new Standard Operating Procedure.

Next Steps

Whilst we have seen significant activity in DMPonline and a lot of positive feedback about our review service there are still improvements to our service that we would like to make. We are regularly reviewing the wording of our questions in DMPonline to ensure that they are as clear as possible; for example, we have found that there is frequent confusion around the terminology used for personal, sensitive, anonymised and pseudonymised data. There are also still manual steps in our process, especially for researchers applying for ethics approval, and we would like to explore how we could eliminate these.

Our new data management planning process has improved and all the services involved in RDM-related support at Manchester now have a much richer picture of the research we support. The University of Manchester has a distributed RDM service and this process has been a great opportunity to strengthen these links and work more closely together. Our service does not meet the ambitious aims of Machine Actionable DMPs but we hope that it offers an improved experience for the researcher, and is a first step towards semi-automated plans, at least from a researcher perspective.

Open Access Week 2018 musings: engaging authors, new staff and publishers

OA social graphic

When we’re planning for Open Access (OA) Week we reflect on where we’ve got to in our services, both in the delivery and the level of researcher engagement with OA.

It’s always rewarding for us to remember how well established our service now is and the important part we play in increasing access to the University’s research and, of course, funder compliance. This year we worked with colleagues in the University’s Global Development Institute to showcase their OA research, which aligns with the theme of OA Week 2018, and highlighted our top 5 most accessed theses.

nick&rachel

It’s also rewarding to be out and about on campus, talking to researchers about OA. This year librarians from our Academic Engagement team held OA pop-up events in various buildings, away from the Library, and a screening of Paywall: the Business of Scholarship in a lecture theatre.

Levels of engagement with OA at the University are high – while it’s undoubtedly true that this is related to funder policies , it’s also partly because our services are designed to make the process easy for authors. OA isn’t always easy for researchers to understand but our process is, and it prompts conversations with us about what to do, and the reasons why, all year round. Our webpages underpin our current processes but now – we’ve just launched new-look webpages – also look ahead, encouraging and supporting engagement with Open Research more broadly.

What I’ve been reminded of as we’ve been preparing for OA Week is that however well we’re doing at the moment, there are still challenges to tackle. And I’m not referring to Plan S.

Working in an Open Access service

OA teams have formed and grown over the past 5 years. Most of us learned on the job and we’re now training the new colleagues on the job. I’m part of a national group considering how best to prepare the next generation of people for work in this area. One way we’re doing this is by inviting staff already working in this area to share their experiences.

We often receive applications for our vacancies that suggest a lack of understanding about the nature of the roles so I’ve asked Lucy May and Olivia Rye from our team to talk about what it means to work in a role with a strong focus on Gold OA at a large research-intensive university.

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See Cambridge’s Unlocking Research blog for examples of other types of Scholarly Communication roles.

OA monographs and book chapters

A further challenge is OA monographs and book chapters. We really need greater clarity on publisher processes as they relate to OA for these output types. Over the past week we’ve been reviewing the status of 14 payments we arranged for our School of Arts, Languages and Cultures from our 2017-18 institutional OA fund (last payment made in early September), totalling just over £61,000. Of these, 6 outputs are not yet OA. Another output, a monograph, is not flagged as OA on the publisher’s page. This may be an oversight, but it’s telling of developments still needed – the publisher of this book told the author that they don’t have processes in place for this yet.

Of the 6 outputs, two were book chapters, from a commercial publisher that I assume has a process, because they have a webpage offering OA for chapters as an option, but although I’ve had an apology I’ve not yet had confirmation of when the chapters will be OA. One was an article from a US University Press – I had a fast response and apology but have been told it will take at at least a week for the article to be made OA.

The 3 remaining outputs are monographs. From the responses I’ve had I’m understanding that there’s a delay in converting a monograph to OA once a Book Processing Charge is made – what I’ve yet to learn is how long this is likely to be. We can’t have meaningful discussions with authors without this kind of information and the lack of publisher procedures affects confidence in engagement with OA.

So, this is now on my To Do list both here at Manchester and for the RLUK Open Access Publisher Processes group. By the time we’re planning OA Week activities next year, and reflecting on how far we’ve come, I’m determined we’ll have answers.

PhD student with a passion to promote the Open philosophy wins our sponsored OpenCon 2018 place

We’ve now assessed all applications for our sponsored OpenCon 2018 place and are pleased to announce that the successful applicant is Chukwuma Ogbonnaya. Chukwuma is a PhD Student at the school of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, as well as working as an early career Lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo in Abakaliki, Nigeria.

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Chukwuma Ogbonnaya, winner of The University of Manchester Library’s sponsored OpenCon2018 place

Chukwuma’s application stood out due to his ability to combine passion with practical ideas for improving openness in research, based on his own experiences as a researcher and student. Having experienced both the frustration of gaining access to the supporting data of other scientists, and the substantial effort required to manually explain his own data to ensure it’s meaningful to readers, Chukmuna is motivated to explore the development of systems to support effective and systematic sharing of important research artefacts such as contextual data and code to aid analysis and reproducibility of published research findings.

The panel was particularly impressed with Chukwuma’s ideas for establishing a researcher network to support and encourage research staff and students across The University of Manchester to embrace the Open philosophy. Chukwuma plans to achieve this through both developing strategies for and engaging in outreach activities to explain the benefits of open research and learning.

Chukwuma was keen to attend OpenCon 2018 to network with like-minded fellows to develop his knowledge and critical skills. Collaboration is essential to developing serious challenges to established norms of scholarly communication, and we’re hoping Chukwuma will meet equally passionate delegates to help him develop and hone his ambitious plans.

We look forward to hearing from Chukwuma on his experiences at OpenCon 2018 and working with him on upcoming open research activities, including Open Access Week 2018 and our next Open Research Forum in November.

Provocative and inspiring: Force11 Scholarly Communications Summer School, 2018

I was delighted to win a tuition scholarship to attend this year’s Force11 Scholarly Communications Summer School in San Diego, California. The demanding pace of our work in the Library’s Research Services division means it’s tricky to take time out to consider our work in broader contexts. I was therefore grateful for the opportunity to spend a whole week debating pressing issues and potential innovations in the scholarly ecosystem with researchers, fellow librarians and thought leaders, especially in such a beautiful location with the chance of a trip to the beach!

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Exploring the Geisel Library at the University of California San Diego campus

Force11’s Summer School (#FSCI) is more intense than a conference, both in duration and active participation: I signed up for classes, not talks, taking place over 5 days. I chose classes on the nature of collaboration in research; alternative approaches to peer review; and exploring what we mean by public Humanities – topics that I hoped would allow me to both apply and stretch my existing practical experience of supporting research dissemination. On the whole, classes were well-structured with a combination of expert insight, stimulating practical activities, and thought-provoking discussions. These were my highlights from each class:

Collaboration, Communities and Collectives: Understanding Collaboration in the Scholarly Commons

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Envisaging an alternative dynamic research system inspired by the principles of the Scholarly Commons

I loved hearing from Daniel O’Donnell and Maryann Martone on the concept of the Scholarly Commons, developed from considering what our system of scholarship would look like if we started it from scratch nowadays, with access to the internet and public funding. The Commons is ‘an extension of the Open Science concept,’ a ‘conceptual space or spaces onto which we can map principles, best practices, service and standards that govern the production and dissemination of scholarly and research works so that they are maximally useful to all who need or want them.’ Its underlying principles are still being developed, and we were encouraged to contribute our suggestions. We considered how implementation of the Commons principles could disrupt the scholarly ecosystem, with my group envisioning a dynamic system of research communication centred on the connections between research objects, allowing continuous, versioned peer review rather than final, formal publication. Our instructors likened this approach to Cameron Neylon’s aggregation model of scholarly communication.

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Summarising peer review and what it means to researchers

Pre- and Post-Publication Peer Review: Perspectives and Platforms

Cochrane’s John Hilton led an engaging class where we problematized the practise of peer review and appraised alternative methods of quality control for research. I was astonished to learn that peer review didn’t become standard practice until around the 1970s – did you know Crick & Watson’s ground breaking paper on the structure of DNA was never peer reviewed?! It was fascinating to consider how peer review occurs in many varied forms in addition to the formal, pre-journal-acceptance stage, though it’s often not recognised as such when it happens less formally, e.g. after conference presentations, on social media, and as comments on pre-print servers. I enjoyed exploring alternative approaches to peer review, such as F1000’s post-publication peer review platform (adopted by funders The Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation); RIO’s multi-phase peer review model; PubPeer; the Pinterest-like overlay journal tool Peeriodicals; and Elsevier’s awkwardly named Volunpeers. A key objective for me over the coming months, aligned with the Library’s plans to extend our open research support offer, is to increase my knowledge of the use of pre-prints in research today, including via pre-print repositories.

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Attempting to sketch what a Public Humanities could look like

Public Humanities as Scholarly Communication

This provocative class unapologetically generated more questions than answers. We’re increasingly comfortable thinking about Digital Humanities, but what about Open or Public Humanities? Can we have a Humanities which is Open or Public without being Digital? Can the Humanities be Public without being Open? (I think not). What do we even mean when we talk about the Humanities? Faced with instructor Samantha Wallace’s challenging question, ‘Can the University be removed from the Humanities?’, I was forced to confront my proprietorial stance, realising for the first time my assumption that expression or culture only become ‘the Humanities’ when the academy gets involved. I also recognised unpleasantly cynical and paternalistic notes to my thinking about Public Humanities, with assumptions about outreach work or community engagement as impact-demonstrating add-ons to research projects. I was grateful for UCSD Library’s Erin Glass’ insight that it’s unhelpful to refer blandly to ‘the public’ – this is an anonymous signifier for what are in reality distinct, identifiable communities with whom we in academic institutions should seek to build real relationships. Despite the often abstract discussion, I left this class with a practical takeaway. Prompted by Sidonie Smith’s comment on platforms and tools that ‘Just trying to stay abreast of what’s out there becomes a dizzying affair,’ I want to explore the Library’s role in supporting Humanist researchers interested in working more publicly and openly, perhaps through developing expertise with relevant platforms, tools and methods and sharing this with Humanities researchers through personal consultation. I’ll also be considering the class reflections of Micah Vandergrift, one of our instructors, for further thinking and ideas.

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Aside from deepening my understand of scholarly communication, especially problematic aspects of the traditional research publishing ecosystem and emerging challenges to these, the most valuable aspect of the Summer School was the opportunity to meet colleagues from around the world. Delegates represented six continents (no applicants from Antarctica sadly!), and it was amazing to share experiences of managing Open Access funds with a librarian from Canada; discuss our Library’s DMP service with a research student from Chile; hear the plans of one of the first Scholarly Communication librarians to be appointed in Nigeria; and consider new theories of research collaboration developed by sociologists from Russia. Everyone I spoke to was passionate about open scholarship, generous with their insights and unafraid to challenge assumptions with nuanced arguments. The people – instructors, delegates and organisers – made FSCI a stimulating and inspiring event, and I left California with a refreshed sense of purpose and creativity which I hope to channel into enhancing our scholarly communication support at Manchester.

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Photo: R2RC.org, CC-0

OpenCon 2018: Apply now to win a Library-sponsored place!

We’re excited to be sponsoring a Manchester PhD student or early career researcher with a passion for Open Research to attend OpenCon 2018 in Toronto, Canada, from 2nd – 4th November.

Photo: R2RC.org, CC-0
Delegates at OpenCon 2017

Organised by SPARC, the Right to Research Coalition and a global conference committee, OpenCon encourages the exploration of opportunities to advance Open Access and Open Data in a positive and supportive environment (see Code of Conduct). This is a great opportunity to learn more about Open Research issues, develop critical skills, contribute to collaborative projects and meet members of a growing global community advocating for a more open system of sharing the world’s information.

The travel scholarship covers the cost of the registration fee, flight and shared accommodation. The University Library will reimburse the cost of sundries not covered by the scholarship.  In return we’ll ask the successful applicant to contribute to one of the Library’s upcoming Open Research Forum events and write up their conference experience in a short report for our Library Research Plus blog.

To apply, please complete the application form available via https://apply.opencon2018.org/referral/uomlibrary telling us:

  • Why you’re interested in Open Access and/or Open Data
  • How these issues relate to your work
  • Your ideas for taking action on these issues, and how you would use your OpenCon experience to have an impact
  • Your participation (past or planned) in global Open Research events

Selection will be based on demonstration of active engagement with the Open Research agenda.

The deadline for submissions is 5pm on Thursday 20th September. We’ll review applications and contact all candidates by the end of September.

Photo by: Rachael Ainsworth, License: CC-BY
Research Data Librarian Rosie Higman and Astronomy Open Science Champion Rachael Ainsworth at OpenCon 2017

For inspiration and info, check out our blog posts on experiences of OpenCon 2017, from the perspective of the winner of last year’s sponsored place, Astronomy Open Science Champion Rachael Ainsworth, and our Research Data Librarian Rosie Higman.

Good luck!

A clear appetite for Open Access amongst PGRs and supervisors

At The University of Manchester Library, we’re passionate about supporting and facilitating Open Access (OA) research and helping our Postgraduate research (PGR) students to thrive. These concerns form two key elements of our new Library Strategy to support the University in producing world class research. Last year I worked with colleagues across the University to target these important areas simultaneously, by introducing an Open Access policy for postgraduate research theses. One year and 999 thesis submissions later, 88% of final theses have been approved to be immediately OA or OA within 12 months of submission. The success of the policy so far suggests an appetite for OA amongst PGR students and their supervisors at Manchester.

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Motivations for an Open Access policy for theses

Manchester is committed to ensuring as wide an audience as possible can read the outputs of its research. In 2016, following the launch of Research England (previously HEFCE)’s OA policy, we introduced our long-planned institutional policy, requiring all staff to make their published papers OA. The University recognises postgraduate theses as valuable research outputs, and Manchester Doctoral College champions the importance of treating PGR students as academic staff wherever possible.  We were keen to bring PGRs and theses in line with Manchester’s other academics and research outputs, to ensure everyone can benefit from this important work, complementing ongoing work by the Library’s Content, Collections and Discovery team to digitise older, paper-based theses.

We’ve supported electronic submission of PhD theses since 2010, and around 1,000 PGRs use our bespoke eThesis submission system developed by the Library each year. Having expert developers in-house who built and maintain this system allows us to offer a consistently high level of support, as well as being able to adapt the system to support the OA policy without having to submit costly work requests to external developers.

PGRs are supported by a range of University departments, from administrators in Faculties, to development officers tasked with training, and senior leaders responsible for graduate education, so it was important to consult with key stakeholders throughout the project. The outcome was a refreshed submission form, enhanced submission management system, and brand new supervisor approval portal which have all proven straightforward for students, supervisors and administrators to use. We’ve also improved our eThesis Support Service webpages, with dedicated pages for different stakeholders offering a more personalised user experience, and developed robust guidance materials and well-received student and supervisor training.

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Access decisions: a clear preference for Open Access

Our PGRS can choose from two access levels within the terms of the policy: immediate OA or OA with a 12 month embargo, or they can request an exception to the thesis OA policy. If they request an exception, they select from five formally agreed reasons, related to sponsorship or sensitive content, plus a free text ‘Other’ box. They can then select an exceptional access level: a 2 year or 5 year embargo, or indefinite closed access.

To ensure that appropriate access levels are applied to theses, we added a supervisor approval step to the thesis submission process. Supervisors access a dedicated portal to either approve or override their student’s access level selection, based on their understanding of the policy and the specific requirements of the student’s thesis. The final thesis is made available via the University’s Research Explorer according to the supervisor’s approved access level.

eThesis blog post Research Explorer

Since we launched the policy in June 2017, 999 students have completed eThesis submission, and 877 (88%) of these have selected an access level in line with the policy: either immediate OA or a 12 month embargo. This suggests that the majority of students feel it’s appropriate to make their thesis open within 12 months of submission, and are therefore able to comply with the policy. Although the data suggest an overall increase in OA for Manchester theses, introducing the option of a 12 month embargo means that a higher proportion of our theses are only becoming OA after a delay. Prior to the policy, approximately 60% of theses were made immediately OA, compared to around 52% now. Although we’d like to see the selection of immediate OA increase, on the whole I feel this dip is a reasonable trade-off for improved thesis access long-term.

Most supervisors have endorsed their student’s preferred access level, approving the selection in 71% of cases (708 submissions), and only overriding 35 selections (3.5%). Where students requested exceptions to the policy, the most common reason was that the thesis contained data likely to be included in future research by supervisor or collaborators (39 cases, 4% of all submissions). We deliberately omitted publishing plans from the agreed reasons for requesting an exception, as we wanted to avoid prejudicing students against making their work open within 12 months for this reason. As most academic publishers don’t consider a thesis to be a prior publication, we opted to handle this issue by exception, providing guidance on our support website, and less than 2% of submitting students opted for a longer embargo for this reason.

One year on: embedding Open Access into the thesis submission process

A year on from launch, both the policy and revised submission process are well-established. The system architecture has worked consistently and effectively, including during our peak submission period in late September – its first major test – when 314 submissions took place in one week. We’ve only had a small number of enquiries from students and supervisors concerned about access levels, and responses are generally favourable once the policy’s motivations and requirements are explained.

Some follow-up work was required to address a handful of issues including handling redacted theses; improving back-end functionality to aid monitoring of access levels; and enhancements to how theses are displayed in our Research Explorer. Aside from these issues, we’ve succeeded in embedding OA considerations into the PhD submission process, and we’ll continue to explore ways in which we can support PGRs on their academic journeys, and open up Manchester’s research to the world.