Infrastructure > Cloud

Research councils' open access goal prompts HE archive action

David Bicknell Published 16 August 2015

EPSRC and RCUK policies drive open access to research data; Salford adopts Arkivum and Figshare solution


A mandate on open access to data imposed by research-funding organisations such as Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is driving higher education bodies such as universities to take steps to meet their data management requirements.

The RCUK policy follows the government's desire, on the back of its transparency and open data agenda, to ensure that published research findings should be freely accessible. EPSRC has previously set a deadline of May 2015 to have a strategy in place for long-term storage at the universities it funds. The framework is designed to ensure that data is available to the wider research community in a timely, cost-effective manner, creating open access data.

Bodies charged with investing public money in research, such as the Research Councils, have therefore had to take seriously their responsibilities in making the outputs from this research publicly available, not just to other researchers, but also to potential users in business, charitable and public sectors, and to the general taxpaying public.

RCUK defines open access as providing "unrestricted, online access to peer-reviewed and published research papers". That means a user must be able to read published papers in an electronic format, and search for and re-use the content of published papers both manually and using automated tools such as those for text and data mining. RCUK defines the content of a paper as including the text, data, images andfigures within a paper.

Following in the footsteps of the EPSRC mandate, the Swedish Research Council, on behalf of the Swedish government, recently announced proposed national guidelines to support open access to research data in Sweden. Both the UK and Swedish councils have designed their guidelines to ensure that publicly funded research data is available to the wider research community in a timely and cost-effective way so as to maximize the return on their investment. While British mandates went into effect in May, Sweden has formulated its national guidelines to be applied within the next 10 years.

One university which has taken appropriate measures to ensure its research data is stored securely with the appropriate metadata and still made freely accessible on the Internet is the University of Salford.

It chose to adopt an integrated solution provided by a partnership between Cloud-based digital archiving specialist Arkivum - itself formed in 2011 as a spin-out from the University of Southampton - and Figshare, its research data management discovery platform. Salford had wanted to ensure that the solution would mean lower operating costs as well as mean that it could comply with RCUK funding guidelines and legal requirements.

Loughborough University has similarly deployed an Arkivum and Figshare solution as part of a collaborative solution to long-term research data archiving and discovery in a campus-wide initiative.

Open access tends to lead to an increase in citations. According to one study, open access articles have an average 307% higher citation count than articles with gated access. With open access, researchers will receive immediate visibility for research output, and as a result, there will be an increased usage of their results.

For open access to remain effective for the future, data curation must play a key role. Managers of journals need to ensure that they're maintaining, preserving and adding value to digital research in order to achieve data integrity. Some argue that as institutions face rising data volumes, the need for centrally-managed, cloud-based digital archiving grows.

RCUK believes open access is transforming the scholarly dissemination of research. Its policy applies only to the publication of peer-reviewed research articles (including review articles not commissioned by publishers) and conference proceedings that acknowledge funding from the UK's research councils.

The RCUK policy supports two routes to open access, 'Gold' and 'Green', though RCUK has a preference for immediate open access with the maximum opportunity for reuse.

'Gold' open access is the immediate, unrestricted, online access to peer-reviewed and published research papers, free of any access charge and with maximum opportunities for re-use. 'Green' open access is online access to peer-reviewed and published research papers, usually via a repository, after a period of delay known as an embargo.

RCUK said it recognises that the journey to full open access is a process and not a single event and it therefore expects compliance to grow over a transition period anticipated to be five years. RCUK added that it will undertake a periodic, comprehensive, evidence-based review of the effectiveness and impact of its open access policy beginning in 2014 and periodically thereafter.

In a review earlier this year, RCUK said one area of communication where further clarity would be helpful is in the relationship between the two green and gold models of open access.

Despite the mixed model approach that RCUK takes, allowing both green and gold routes to open access to count towards compliance with the policy, the fact that the policy states a clear preference towards the gold model has, it seems, caused confusion in the implementation of the policy.

Although some of those submitting written evidence have indicatedthat the policy's strong preference for gold is creating a two-tier system with those favouring the green routefollowing a perceived inferior route, the RCUK's preference towards gold, which reflects government policy, is said to be at odds with a preference for green in some disciplines and institutions, where there is currently minimal movement towards the gold model.

One area that Arkivum considers to be important for organisations is workflows. The company's blog suggests that workflows are the actionable and practical day-to-day aspects of research data management (RDM) because they ensure clarity for all those involved, including researchers and support staff, by giving a clear description of what to do, how to do it, and when.

While there is currently a lot of activity in institutions around RDM policy including the raising of awareness of the need and benefits of RDM, and supporting researchers through guidelines and training, these activities can lack the detail needed on a practical day-to-day level. Workflows and their implementation in an RDM infrastructure helps fill the "I need to know what to actually do" gap.

Adopting a workflow-based approach can help with cost reduction, particularly when scaling up RDM activities, and lower barriers to use, which helps ensure researcher participation. It also creates higher levels of confidence for an institution when addressing funding body expectations or trying to get the maximum value and impact from its research outputs.

In general, workflows, as part of good research practice, can help ensure that RDM gets embedded within the day-to-day operations of an institution and its researchers.


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