research managers & administrators

At the end of January 2012 we were invited to take part in an AHRC event with members of the Association of Research Managers and Administrators UK (ARMA). This was a great opportunity for us, as we’d identified that research managers would play an important role in any move towards a more open model for publishing monographs. But we also knew that, for many, publication of research findings could be a sort of addendum to their main business of attracting and managing research funding and grants. Particularly in the humanities and social sciences, where publication cycles can be very slow, a book might not appear until several years after the research that supported it has actually ended. So it was a bit of a challenge to think about how to approach the subject of open access monographs with this particular group.

In the end, we decided to use a modified version of an activity we’d used in our other focus groups. We gave participants a set of cards, upon which were written things that might affect a move to open access monograph publication – these were distilled from the earlier focus groups. We then asked them, in groups of eight or nine, to order the cards, putting the ones that would have the biggest impact on them as research managers near the top. We also gave them a couple of blank cards, so they could record anything else that might affect them in a move to open access monograph publication.

In some ways, the results weren’t that surprising. Most groups put the simple question of ‘who pays?’ near the top of their ranking. This is fairly consistent with what we’ve found in the other workshops we’ve run. But once you get past that initial big question (and it is a biggie), some really interesting nuances began to emerge, especially in the issues that the participants identified for themselves.

Research managers have a great deal of contact with academics, and this clearly informed some of their responses. They recognised that academic cultures would have to change to accept open access publication. One group thought that this could be a generational issue, which is an interesting point that we will want to explore more thoroughly in our survey of researchers later this year. Another was concerned about the status and prestige of open access publishing, which we know from earlier focus groups and the literature review are important issues for academics. Yet another group raised concerns about quality assurance in open access models, and highlighted a worry about vanity publishing that we have also seen from academics.

Other issues, though, were more closely connected to what might be thought of as institutional concerns. Three of the seven groups mentioned the REF, often as an overarching issue which would affect every aspect of a move to open access. Another group mentioned student recruitment as an important issue for universities, and wondered how a more open model for dissemination of research might affect this or perhaps be used to entice students to their institution.

Overall, the sessions gave us quite a bit to think about. It’s clear that moving to an open access publishing system could create a very wide ripple effect, with changes occurring in places that we have not yet identified – areas such as student recruitment.