Tag Archives: funder

Sustaining open research resources – a funder perspective

This is the second in a series of three blog posts which set out the perspectives of researchers, funders and universities on support for open resources. The first was Open Resources, who should pay? In this post, David Carr from the Open Research team at the Wellcome Trust provides the view of a research funder on the challenges of developing and sustaining the key infrastructures needed to enable open research.

As a global research foundation, Wellcome is dedicated to ensuring that the outputs of the research we fund – including articles, data, software and materials – can be accessed and used in ways that maximise the benefits to health and society.  For many years, we have been a passionate advocate of open access to publications and data sharing.

I am part of a new team at Wellcome which is seeking to build upon the leadership role we have taken in enabling access to research outputs.  Our key priorities include:

  • developing novel platforms and tools to support researchers in sharing their research – such as the Wellcome Open Research publishing platform which we launched last year;
  • supporting pioneering projects, tools and experiments in open research, building on the Open Science Prize which with the NIH and Howard Hughes Medical Institute;
  • developing our policies and practices as a funder to support and incentivise open research.

We are delighted to be working with the Office of Scholarly Communication on the Open Research Pilot Project, where we will work with four Wellcome-funded research groups at Cambridge to support them in making their research outputs open.  The pilot will explore the opportunities and challenges, and how platforms such as Wellcome Open Research can facilitate output sharing.

Realising the long-term value of research outputs will depend critically upon developing the infrastructures to preserve, access, combine and re-use outputs for as long as their value persists.  At present, many disciplines lack recognised community repositories and, where they do exist, many cannot rely on stable long-term funding.  How are we as a funder thinking about this issue?

Meeting the costs of outputs sharing

In July 2017, Wellcome published a new policy on managing and sharing data, software and materials.  This replaced our long-standing policy on data management and sharing – extending our requirements for research data to also cover original software and materials (such as antibodies, cell lines and reagents).  Rather than ask for a data management plan, applicants are now asked to provide an outputs management plan setting out how they will maximise the value of their research outputs more broadly.

Wellcome commits to meet the costs of these plans as an integral part of the grant, and provides guidance on the costs that funding applicants should consider.  We recognise, however, that many research outputs will continue to have value long after the funding period comes to an end.  Further, while it not appropriate to make all research data open indefinitely, researchers are expected to retain data underlying publications for at least ten years (a requirement which was recently formalised in the UK Concordat on Open Research Data).  We must accept that preserving and making these outputs available into the future carries an ongoing cost.

Some disciplines have existing subject-area repositories which store, curate and provide access to data and other outputs on behalf of the communities they serve.  Our expectation, made more explicit in our new policy, is that researchers should deposit their outputs in these repositories wherever they exist.  If no recognised subject-area repository is available, we encourage researchers to consider using generalist repositories – such as Dryad, FigShare and Zenodo – or if not, to use institutional repositories.  Looking ahead, we may consider developing an orphan repository to house Wellcome-funded research data which has no other obvious home.

Recognising the key importance of this infrastructure, Wellcome provides significant grant funding to repositories, databases and other community resources.  As of July 2016, Wellcome had active grants totalling £80 million to support major data resources.  We have also invested many millions more in major cohort and longitudinal studies, such as UK Biobank and ALSPAC.  We provide such support through our Biomedical Resource and Technology Development scheme, and have provided additional major awards over the years to support key resources, such as PDB-Europe, Ensembl and the Open Microscopy Environment.

While our funding for these resources is not open-ended and subject to review, we have been conscious for some time that the reliance of key community resources on grant funding (typically of three to five years’ duration) can create significant challenges, hindering their ability to plan for the long-term and retain staff.  As we develop our work on Open Research, we are keen to explore ways in which we adapt our approach to help put key infrastructures on a more sustainable footing, but this is a far from straightforward challenge.

Gaining the perspectives of resource providers

In order to better understand the issues, we did some initial work earlier this year to canvas the views of those we support.  We conducted semi-structured interviews with leaders of 10 resources in receipt of Wellcome funding – six database and software resources, three cohort resources and one materials stock centre – to explore their current funding, long-term sustainability plans and thoughts on the wider funding and policy landscape.

We gathered a wealth of insights through these conversations, and several key themes emerged:

  • All of the resources were clear that they would continue to be dependent on support from Wellcome and/or other funders for the long-term.
  • While cohort studies (which provide managed access to data) can operate cost recovery models to transfer some of the cost of accessing data onto users, such models were not appropriate for data and software resources who commit to open and unrestricted access.
  • Several resources had additional revenue-generation routes – including collaborations with commercial entities– and these had delivered benefits in enhancing their resources.  However, the level of income was usually relatively modest in terms of the total cost of sustaining the resource. Commitments to openness could also limit the extent to which such arrangements were feasible.
  • Diversification of funding sources can give greater assurance and reduce reliance on single funders, but can bring an additional burden.  There was felt to be a need for better coordination between funders where they co-fund resources.  Europe PMC, which has 27 partner funders but is managed through a single grant is a model which could be considered.
  • Several of the resources were actively engaged in collaborations with other resources internationally that house related data – it was felt that funders could help further facilitate such partnerships.

We are considering how Wellcome might develop its funding approaches in light of these findings.  As an initial outcome, we plan to develop guidance for our funded researchers on key issues to consider in relation to sustainability.  We are already working actively with other funders to facilitate co-funding and make decisions as streamlined as possible, and wish to explore how we join forces in the future in developing our broader approaches for funding open resources.

Coordinating our efforts

There is growing recognition of the crucial need for funders and wider research community to work together develop and sustain research data infrastructure.  As the first blog in this series highlighted, the scientific enterprise is global and this is an issue which must be addressed international level.

In the life sciences, the ELIXIR and US BD2K initiatives have sought to develop coordinated approaches for supporting key resources and, more recently, the European Open Science Cloud initiative has developed a bold vision for a cloud-based infrastructure to store, share and re-use data across borders and disciplines.

Building on this momentum, the Human Frontiers Science Programme convened an international workshop last November to bring together data resources and major funders in the life sciences.  This resulted in a call for action (reported in Nature) to coordinate efforts to ensure long-term sustainability of key resources, whilst supporting resources in providing access at no charge to users.  The group proposed an international mechanism to prioritise core data resources of global importance, building on the work undertaken by ELIXIR to define criteria for such resources.  It was proposed national funders could potentially then contribute a set proportion of their overall funding (with initial proposals suggesting around 1.5 to 2 per cent) to support these core data resources.

Grasping the nettle

Public and charitable funders are acutely aware that many of the core repositories and resources needed to make research outputs discoverable and useable will continue to rely on our long-term funding support.  There is clear realisation that a reliance on traditional competitive grant funding is not the ideal route through which to support these key resources in a sustainable manner.

But no one yet has a perfect solution and no funder will take on this burden alone.  Aligning global funders and developing joint funding models of the type described above will be far from straightforward, but hopefully we can work towards a more coordinated international approach.  If we are to realise the incredible potential of open research, it’s a challenge we must address

Published 26 July 2017
Written by David Carr, Wellcome Trust (d.carr@wellcome.ac.uk)

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Cambridge RCUK Block Grant spend for 2016-2017

Much to our relief, last Friday we sent off our most recent report on our expenditure of the RCUK Block Grant fund. The report is available in our repository. Cambridge makes all of its information about spend on Open Access publicly available. This blog continues on from that describing our spend from 2009 – 2016, and from the blog on our open access spend in 2014.


We are pleased to be able to report that we reached 80% compliance in this reporting period, up from 76% last year. The RCUK is expecting 75% compliance by the end of the transition period on 31 March 2018, so we are well over target.

According to our internal helpdesk system ZenDesk, our compliance is shared between 52% gold (publication in an Open Access journal or payment for hybrid Open Access), and 28% green (placement of the work into our institutional repository, Apollo). We do not have the breakdown of how many of the gold APC payments were for hybrid. In the past it we have had an overall 86.8% spend on hybrid.

Not only do we have an increase from 76% to 80% in our compliance rates overall, this is even more impressive when we consider that this is in the face of a 15% increase in the number of research outputs acknowledging RCUK funding. Web of Science indicated in a search for articles, reviews and proceedings papers that Cambridge published 2400 papers funded by RCUK in 2016. In 2015 Web of Science the same search counted 2080 RCUK funded research outputs.

Headline numbers

  • In total Cambridge spent £1.68 million of RCUK funds on APCs (this is up from £1.28 last year)
  • 1920 articles identified as being RCUK funded were submitted to the Open Access Service, of which 1248 required payment for RCUK*
  • The average article processing charge was £1850 – this is significantly less than the £2008 average last year, reflecting the value of the memberships we have (see below)

*Note these numbers will differ slightly from the report due to the difference in dates between the calendar and financial years (see below).

Non APC spend

In total Cambridge spent £1.94 million of RCUK funds in this reporting period, of which £1.68 million was on APCs.  Approximately 13% was spent on other costs,  primarily distributed between staffing, infrastructure and memberships.  The greatest proportion is staffing, with £95,000 spent on this cost. Memberships were the next largest category, mostly arrangements to reduce the cost of APCs, including:

  • £42,000 on the open access component of the Springer Compact
  • £22,000 on memberships to obtain discounts – there is a list of these on the OSC website
  • £18,000 on the University’s SCOAP3 subscription

The RCUK fund has also supported the infrastructure for Open Access at Cambridge, with £62,000 covering the cost of several upgrades of DSpace and general support for the repository. This has allowed us to implement new services such as the minting of DOIs and our hugely successful Request a Copy service which allows people to contact authors of embargoed material in the repository and ask them to send through the author’s accepted manuscript. This category also covers our license for our helpdesk system, ZenDesk, which helps the Open Access team manage the on-average  responses to 60 queries a day. We are also able to run most of our reporting out of ZenDesk.

There are some other smaller items in the non APC category, including £1500 on bank charges that for various reasons we have not been able to allocate to specific articles.

Are these deals good value?

Some are. The Springer Compact is shown as a single charge in the report with the articles listed individually. The RCUK Block Grant contributed £46,020 to the Springer Compact and 128 Cambridge papers were published by Springer that acknowledged RCUK funding. This gives us an average APC cost per paper to the RCUK fund* of £359.53 including VAT. This represents excellent value, given that the average APC for Springer is $3,000 (about £2,300).

*Note that in some instances the papers acknowledging RCUK may also have acknowledged COAF in which case the overall cost for the APC for those papers will be higher.

Cambridge has now completed a year having a prepayment arrangement with Wiley. Over this time we contributed £108,000 to the account and published 68 papers acknowledging RCUK. This works out that on average the Wiley APC cost was £1,588 per paper. Like Springer, the average APC is approximately £2,300 so this amount appears to be good value.

However the RCUK has contributed a higher proportion to the Wiley account than COAF because at the time the account was established we had run low on COAF funds. Because the University does not provide any of its own funds for Open Access, there was no option other than to use RCUK funds. We will need to do some calculations to ensure that the correct proportion of COAF and RCUK funds are supporting this account. It is a reflection of the challenges we are facing on a rolling basis when the dates are fluid (see below).

It appears we need to look very closely at our membership with Oxford University Press. We spent £44,000 of RCUK funds on this, and published 22 articles acknowledging RCUK funding. This works out to be an APC of £2000 per article, which is not dissimilar to an average OUP APC, and therefore does not represent any value at all. This is possibly because our allocation of the expense of the membership between COAF and RCUK might not reflect what has been published with OUP. We need to investigate further.

Caveat – the date problem

We manage Open Access funds that operate on different patterns. The COAF funds match the academic year, with the new grants starting on 1 October each year.  The RCUK works on a financial year, starting on 1 April each year. Many of our memberships and offset deals work on the calendar year.

To add to the confusion, the RCUK is behind in its payments, so for this current year which started on 1 April 2017, we will not receive our first part-payment until 1 June. That amount will not cover the commitments we had already made by the end of 2016, let alone those made between 1 April when this year started and the 1 June when the money is forthcoming. This means we will remain in the red. Cambridge is carrying half a million pounds in commitments at any given time. The situation makes it very difficult to balance the books.

Our recent RCUK report covers the period of 1 April 2016 – 31 March 2017 and refers only to invoices paid in this period. In the report the dates go beyond the 31 March 2017 because the reconciliation in the system sometimes takes longer, so items are logged as later dates even though the payment was made within the period. The publication dates for the articles these invoices relate to are wildly different, and many of these have not yet been published due to the delay between acceptance and publication which ranges from days to years.

This means working out averages is an inexact science. It is only possible to filter Web of Science by year, so we are only able to establish the number of papers published in a given calendar year. This set of papers is not the same set for which we have paid, but we can compare year on year and identify some trends that make sense.

Published 22 May 2017
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley

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How open is Cambridge?

As part of Open Access Week 2016, the Office of Scholarly Communication is publishing a series of blog posts on open access and open research. In this final OAWeek post Dr Arthur Smith analyses how much Cambridge research is openly available.

For us in the Office of Scholarly Communication it’s important that, as much possible, the University’s research is made Open Access. While we can guarantee that research deposited in the University repository Apollo will be made available in one way or another, it’s not clear how other sources of Open Access contribute to this goal. This blog is an attempt to quantify the amount of Cambridge research that is openly available.

In mid-August I used Cottage Labs’ Lantern service in anLantern_Oct2016_Graphic attempt to quantify just how open the University’s research really is. Lantern uses DOIs, PMIDs or PMCIDs to match publications in a variety of sources such as CORE and Europe PMC, to determine the Open Access status of a publication – it will even try to look at a publisher’s website to determine an article’s Open Access status. This process isn’t infallible, and it relies heavily on DOI matching, but it provides a good insight into the possible sources of Open Access material.

To determine the base list of publications against which the analysis could be run,  I queried Web of Science (WoS) and Scopus to obtain a list of publications attributed to Cambridge authors. In 2015, the University published 9069 articles, reviews and conference papers according to Web of Science. Scopus returned a slightly lower figure of 7983 publications. Combining these two publication lists, and filtering to only include records with a DOI, produced one master list of 9714 unique publications (that’s ~26 publications/day!).

In 2015 the Open Access team processed 2746 HEFCE eligible submissions, so naïvely speaking, the University achieved a 28.3% HEFCE compliance rate. That’s not bad, especially because the HEFCE policy had not yet come into force, but what about other Open Access sources? We know that other universities in the UK are also depositing papers in their repositories, and some researchers make their work ‘gold’ Open Access without going through the Open Access team, so the total amount of Open Access content must be higher.

In addition to the Lantern analysis, I also exported all available DOIs from Apollo and matched these to the DOIs obtained from WoS/Scopus. WoS also classifies some publications as being Open Access, and I included these figures too. If a publication was found in at least one potentially Open Access source I classified it as Open Access. Here are the results:

Figure 1. Of 9714 DOIs analysed by Lantern, 51.8% appear in at least one open access source.

It is pleasing that our naïve estimate of 28.3% HEFCE compliance closely matches the number of records found in Apollo (26.2%). The discrepancy is likely due to a number of factors, including publications received by the Open Access Team that were actually published in 2014 or 2016, but submitted in 2015, and Apollo records that don’t have a publisher DOI to match against. However, the most important point to note is the overall open access figure – in 2015 more than 50% of the University’s scholarly publications with a DOI were available in at least one “open access” source.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the analysis. Using everyone’s favourite metric, the journal impact factor (JIF), the average JIF of articles in Apollo was 5.74 compared to 4.33 for articles that were not OA. Other repositories and Europe PMC achieved even higher average JIFs. On average, Open Access publications by Cambridge authors have a higher JIF (6.04) than articles that are not OA, which suggests that researchers are making value judgements on what to make Open Access based on journal reputation. If a paper appears in a low(er) impact journal, it’s less likely to be made Open Access. Anecdotally this is something we have experienced at Cambridge.

Figure 2. Average 2015 JIF of papers classified according to their open access status.

The WoS and Scopus exports contain citation information at the article level, so we can also look at direct citations received by these publications (up to 16 August 2016)  rather than relying on the JIF. I found that Open Access articles, on average, received 1.5 to 2 more citations than articles that are not Open Access. However, is this because authors are making their higher impact articles Open Access (which one might expect to receive more citations anyway) and are not bothering with the rest? Or this is effect due entirely to the greater accessibility offered by Open Access publication? Could the differences arise because of different researcher behaviour across different disciplines?

My feeling is that we have reached a turning point – the increased citation rates of Open Access material is not caused by the article being Open Access as these articles would have naturally received more citations anyway. Instead of looking at formal literature citations, the benefits of Open Access need to be measured outside of academia in areas that would not contribute to an articles citations.

Figure 3. Average citations received by papers according to their open access source.

Breaking it down by the source of Open Access reveals that articles that appear in other repositories receive significantly more citations than any other source. This potentially reveals that collaborative papers between researchers at different institutions are likely to have greater impact than papers conducted solely at one institution (Cambridge), however, a more thorough analysis that looks at author affiliations would be needed to confirm this.

If we focus on the WoS citation distribution the difference in average citations becomes clearer. Of 8348 WoS articles, not only are there fewer Open Access articles with no citations (14% vs 17%), but Open Access articles also receive more citations in general.

Figure 4. Citation distribution of papers found in WoS depending on their open access status.

What can we take away from this analysis? Firstly, Lantern is a valuable tool for discovering other sources of Open Access content. It identified over a thousand articles by Cambridge researchers in other institutional repositories that we did not know existed. When it comes time for the next REF, these other repositories may prove a vital lifeline in determining whether a paper is HEFCE compliant.

Secondly, more than 50% of the University’s 2015 research publications are potentially Open Access. Hopefully a similar analysis of 2016’s papers will show that even more of the University’s research is Open Access this year. And finally, although Open Access articles receive more citations than articles that are not Open Access, it is no longer clear whether this is caused by the article being Open Access, disciplinary differences, or if authors are more likely to make their best work Open Access.

Published 28 October 2016
Written by Dr Arthur Smith

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