As many people reading this post will know, HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) have recently published their second consultation on the assessment and funding of research. This document, which sets out proposals for the Research Excellence Framework (REF), has helped cement in my mind the areas in which institutional repositories (Open Research Online [ORO], in the case of us here at the Open University) will play a crucial role.
The first, and perhaps least exciting role that institutional repositories (IRs) can and should play in the REF is an administrative one. So, the physical gathering together of publications for the submission process itself. Last time, for the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) 2008, we (the Open University) were one of few institutions, I believe, to use our IR to populate HEFCE’s spreadsheet. I imagine, given that IRs are now much more mature and prevalent, that this will be more common-place across institutions for the REF.
HEFCE’s consultation document finally spells out exactly how they expect bibliometrics and citation analysis to contribute to the REF’s assessment process. The detail can be found in Annex C of the document, but essentially it will inform the process for certain subjects, and it seems to have been left fairly flexible as to how the panels can use the information. So, it’s a reality. Maximising citations is now in the interest of the REF-submitted researcher… and this is the second role that IRs can play. I’ve blogged in the past about evidence (anecdotal and non-anecdotal) for IRs helping to maximise citations, and so I’m not going to repeat the detail again. However, what I will say, is for those still sceptical about the citation advantage of open access, is that really a reason not to deposit in your IR? Even if there is only a small chance that your paper may pick up just one extra citation, surely that is worth the minute it takes to deposit the paper in your IR? There is nothing to lose by depositing, but potential citations to lose by not. To me, it’s a no-brainer.
Finally, I want to talk about impact. Not impact in the context of citations, but impact of research to society, the economy… to UK plc… beyond the realms of academic circles. This, according to HEFCE, will constitute 25% of the assessment in the REF. Not only does research need to create that impact in the first place, but we also need to be able to evidence it in our REF submissions. In my mind, this is rapidy becoming the most important aspect for the institutional repository to affect. Specifically, what proportion of those people in UK industry and society will have access to the academic journals, books, and proceedings in which you publish? How will they get to know about the (hopefully) world-leading research you are producing? And thus, how will that knowledge be transferred to society, for the benefit of the economy and UK plc, as HEFCE are so keen to see? Well, one way is to make sure as much of your research as possible is made openly available through your IR. Then, hopefully, all that work that is all too often locked up behind journal subscription barriers can begin to filter out and have the positive effects that the UK government want to see. This, of course, is the very essence of the open access “movement”, and I for one hope that HEFCE’s emphasis on “impact” in the REF will do wonders for it.
So, there is no doubt in my mind an institutional repository is an essential component in the engine that is “research assessment”. Indeed, to take the analogy further, it is like the petrol tank for the REF: keep it filled up with research output and you will travel greater distances than without it.