It was great to be back at ALPSP in Manchester this year, with many thought-provoking sessions, 1-2-1 meetings with clients and new contacts, and excellent social events. Research Culture featured throughout the conference –especially in the context of changing research practices, evaluation, and DEI. Other notable themes covered open research, including evaluation and measurement, equitable funding, and marketing.
On Day 1, Elizabeth Gadd gave the Keynote on the important and contentious topic of assessments and research trends. She talked about Wellcome Trust’s recent landmark study which showed how competition trumped collaboration, creating a toxic and stressful environment for academics with PhDs particularly vulnerable.
She highlighted the issues with an evaluation system that relies on publication. Publication-based assessment skews the scholarly record, for example there is naturally a bias towards positive results. There is no citation glory to be found in negative trials no matter how important they are to scholarship and to science. She discussed the disadvantages in the system – women are less cited, as are those in global south. Whilst open access is generally seen as very positive, there is bias in the system caused by APCs – not everyone can afford them.
Elizabeth highlighted key themes for research assessment reform:
- Being value-led, valuing a broader range of things and recognising diversity of contributions.
- Call for open and transparent infrastructure
- People centricity in evaluation: put equity at the heart of what we do. Research talent is everything,
- There is a need to completely rethink rankings
- Move towards narrative methods: qualitative judgement
There is an important role for publishers in this reform; to increase the range of output types, communicate research results in different ways, put a greater focus on team science and evidence peer review activity.
Next up we attended the DEI Panel where Simon Holt noted that change happens one conversation at a time and there needs to be a culture for inclusion.
Dianndra Roberts said it was important to share stories – as exhausting as it is – let people know there is space to be heard by hearing others. If it is authentic experience and there is a genuine desire to change, it is less exhausting.
Pooja Aggarwal talked about meaningful change: what do the fancy logos and slogans mean? There are good things happening but why is it taking so long and why so slow? Benchmarking is very important as any DEI action plan requires measurement. And also, there needs to be investment – for example putting funds together to help authors who can’t afford image fees; support for SDG publishing; author fellowships. These changes are small and meaningful.
Mark Richards commented that DEI is so broad and there are so many things you could tackle, benchmarking is a good starting point to understand where you are, which enables you to set a plan.
PLOS’s Iain Hrynaszkiewicz chaired a practical discussion on measurements for evaluating the benefits of open science. Speakers including UKRI’s Rachel Bruce and publishers including Springer Nature and PLOS showcased that there needs to be a range of measurements in place to understand progress and impact. REF 2028 acts as a strong motivator for good open science practices in the UK. Meanwhile at the institutional level, Delwen Franzen, BIH QUEST Center at Charité, Berlin, talked enthusiastically about the impact a dashboard for open science has made in supporting awareness and communication across the institution, emphasising the importance of visibility for good practices and culture change.
Curtis Brundy oversaw a powerful discussion on what he deemed ‘the year for equitable open access.’ Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association’s Malavika Legge gave a clear picture of how the current APC-based model for open access is leaving out many scholars in lower and middle-income countries, as well as junior researchers around the world. In her words, Open Access done in this way is leaving out most of the world’s researchers and cannot deliver global equity.
TBI chaired a session that we know will resonate with many of our publisher and society clients: the changing practices for marketing in the shift to open access. We heard from Rachael Harper at IOPP, Sara Killingworth at IET and Mathias Astell at ResearchGate, who shared the strategic drivers impacting their marketing teams. This included the need to leverage growth in new markets, and to ensure that strategy aligned to community needs. Mathias spoke to the increasing need for researcher centricity, considering every interaction that a researcher has with a publisher throughout their work, and the role that marketing teams have in establishing an understanding of that research cycle through analysis. The panel emphasised there are many routes to understanding the research community: pulling market research and audience insights in alongside customer data, third party platform tools and analysing the connections and interactions between customers and content were all considered to be vital. The panel also spoke to the changing skill sets within the marketing team. We’ll be pulling together a more comprehensive summary of the session combined with our findings from the SSP education session TBI held earlier in the year.
There was a notable complement between TBI’s session and Friday’s excellent session on the China market, facilitated by Andrew Smith of The Charlesworth Group. The session pointed to the incredible growth of open access in China, with more than 1.1m gold OA articles published from 2012-2021. As Nicko Goncharoff explained, this growth is an increasing burden financially, with a full flip to gold open access unsustainable. Publishers must be increasingly aware of the availability of locally launched journals with the goal of becoming world class publications. As these publications grow, these deliver viable alternatives for authors in China to established and new launch journals from the global market. Gin Li’s excellent presentation made the case for why a local digital marketing strategy is so critical for China. As well as a radically different channel mix available, non-search categories are responsible for over 50% of a publisher’s traffic, making a multi-channel marketing strategy essential for publishers. She highlighted the versatility of WeChat as a vehicle to drive every stage of marketing to researchers, from awareness to publication. Yet leveraging WeChat must be a long-term strategy. The platform keeps traffic within its ecosystem, and it is therefore essential to establish an author community directly within WeChat to be successful.
There were several other disruption topics covered during the conference, notably AI. Here again, the inevitable themes of responsible and sustainable approaches can be seen, whether the discussion relates to decentralisation of science, the access of research outside of academia, or in the application of AI. Disruption is both opportunity and threat, at the end of the day, and there remain many questions to address.
We’ve come away with many pages of notes, ideas and inspiration and look forward to following up on many conversations in the coming weeks! If you didn’t get a chance to catch Mithu Lucraft at ALPSP, Kelly Henwood and Tracy Gardner will be at Frankfurt Book Fair in October; will we see you there?, or contact one of the team.