SSP London: A New Opportunity for Cross-Stakeholder Discussion About the Industry’s Necessary Evolution
A few weeks ago, I helped organise the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s (SSP) inaugural London event in Covent Garden. The rooftop bar provided the perfect location for attendees to gather for drinks, nibbles, and a chance to hear Liz Allen, Director of Strategic Initiatives at F1000, speak about the changes we’re seeing – and need to see – in the scholarly communications landscape. Her presentation was provocative and informative, and it stimulated a lot of questions – both immediately, from the audience, and afterward about whether the industry is moving quickly enough to support the rapid changes in what researchers require.
Liz has a rare perspective, having moved from funding (Head of Evaluation at the Wellcome Trust) to one of the newer publishing platforms (F1000). She is also involved in such initiatives as the CASRAI CRediT (Contributor Roles Taxonomy) Programme, ORCID, and Crossref, and as such was able to bring a challenging, multi-stakeholder view of the evolution of research and new models of publishing.
Just some of the issues she touched on, and questions she raised, included:
- That there is a need for more stakeholder collaboration: Despite the fact that publishers, funders, researchers, and institutions all want to ensure that research is conducted as well and as efficiently as possible, there has been relatively little collective work to further this joint goal. Liz said that one of the things that struck her most after joining F1000 was how little publishers tend to interact with funders. Happily, there seems to be an increasing number of multi-stakeholder initiatives, which may reflect the complexity of the issues being addressed.
- Changing patterns in scientific research are requiring new approaches: For example, the issue of researcher contribution is being complicated by several trends: that there has been an increase in the average number of authors per paper over time; that researchers are increasingly contributing to papers in different ways (such as data analysis and coding support); and that authors have greater requirements to demonstrate the impact of their work. All of this means that understanding an individual researcher’s contribution is simultaneously more difficult and more important than ever. There is some promising work being done in this area – for example, Liz drew attention to the CRediT initiative, which is a joint initiative between publishers, funders, and institutions, and which aims to improve the visibility and transparency of an author’s specific contributions (examples of the taxonomic terms that researchers can use to describe their roles include: “funding acquisition”, “writing – original draft” vs “writing – review and editing”, “software”, and “data curation”). Untangling what are often informal or ad hoc contributions will remain challenging, but frameworks such as CRediT aim to improve how people across the ecosystem assign or claim credit for work done.
- Understanding impact is still a key difficulty – new tools are focusing on turning data into actionable insights: More research is being funded than ever before, and yet Liz said that funders often struggle to know which projects and people are most deserving of their resources. Similarly, at the other end of the research life-cycle, there is a need to have a fuller understanding of how research can and should be evaluated. Liz flagged initiatives like the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), and tools such as Dimensions and Grantome, which are helping to provide frameworks and analytics to better understand funding patterns and impact.
- There has been too much of a fixation on outputs, rather than on the full cycle of research and what science actually needs. Liz argued that sometimes the industry can get distracted from its core activity, which is to support the doing of great research. For example, while there is rightly a lot of attention on post-research peer review, arguably the lack of transparency of grant peer review is an even bigger issue. Liz said, “If we don’t get the funding right, the rest is just tinkering around the edges.”
- And finally, is the word ‘publishing’ out of date?
Liz finished by asking us to consider what the future of science should look like, and what we need to do to achieve it. She quoted Arturo Casadevall and Ferric C Fang’s 2011 paper, where the authors stated that “incentives in the current system place scientists under tremendous stress, discourage cooperation, encourage poor scientific practices, and deter new talent from entering the field. It is time for a discussion of how the scientific enterprise can be reformed to become more effective and robust”. Given that it is seven years on from this paper, and the quotation is in many ways as true now as it was then, Liz put forward a call to action. She argued that, despite the many developments of the last decade, we still have a long way to go as an industry.
This ended the presentation on a poignant and reinvigorating note, and gave the cross-stakeholder group much to talk about afterwards; it was great to see the SSP provide an opportunity for this kind of lively and impassioned discussion. As organisers, this is exactly what we had hoped for; over time we hope to bring in an increasingly wide range of attendees, including, for example, more early career professionals and other internal roles, so that more colleagues have the opportunity to meet people representing such a broad range of perspectives.
Liz’s presentation was followed by more drinks, snacks, and lively conversation, before a trip to the pub.
The SSP London Chapter received an enthusiastic response both on the day and afterwards, and we are looking forward to the next event in the summer! Do get in touch with me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have ideas for events or for topics you would like to be covered in the future.
- Isabel Thompson, Holtzbrinck Publishing Group
- Sara Grimme, Digital Science
- Tom Ciavarella, Clarivate Analytics
- Fiona Carr, Highwire Press
- Ginny Hendricks, Crossref
A version of this post is available on the SSP website.
Isabel Thompson is Senior Strategy Analyst at Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, a media group dedicated to science and education. There her role focuses on strategic planning and investments, as well as product development and innovation. Isabel has a powerful interest in how technology and psychology interact, and so enjoys using these lenses to consider how businesses should define their strategies in an increasingly unpredictable world. She earned her BA in Classics from the University of Oxford, and then an MEd in Psychology and Education from the University of Cambridge, and was one of the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s Fellowship Award winners for 2016.