According to a recent study, there are now more than 663 funding agency/institutional policies requiring public access to research papers. Last January I wrote about the unexpected consequences of these policies and the administrative nightmare around efforts to keep researchers in compliance. Nature’s recent “Author Insights” survey provides some new evidence of of the scope of the problem.
We are in the midst of an era where funders and institutions are imposing more and more requirements on researchers. Increasingly, researchers have to prove the value they’ve returned on those scarce grants, and both funders and institutions are looking for ways to drive public access to, and impact of, the research that’s being performed. Many of these policies require researchers to publish their results in a particular manner, either under specific access and licensing terms, or more often, to provide public access to some version of each research paper after an embargo period.
Failure to comply will result in a loss of funds — either the agency will hold back the rest of your current grant or you’ll be ineligible for future funds. Institutional policies seem a bit less mandatory, with ways to opt-out and no clear punitive measures stated. Regardless, it’s in a researcher’s best interests to keep these folks happy. But to do so, you have to be aware of what they’re asking you to do.
Nature’s recent survey of some 21,000 authors give a sense of how well funder policies have been communicated (spoiler: not well). Of those surveyed, 25% reported that, “they did not know their funder’s requirements with respect to open access.” Of those that did claim to know their funder’s policy, more than 40% got it wrong. So that means more than half of those surveyed were in the dark when it comes to compliance.
The RCUK has already shown us the enormous cost and effort involved in getting minimal compliance for a small population of researchers for a single policy. Multiply those costs by at least 663, then assume that each paper has multiple authors from multiple institutions (possibly different countries as well) and multiple funding sources. If you are a research administrator or a librarian at a research-intensive institution, you may find yourself beginning to break out in a cold sweat.
As we learned from GI Joe, knowing is half the battle. There is an enormous amount of work that needs to be done to raise researcher awareness of their coming obligations. Cornell University has started a website to provide information on compliance to researchers, although this is limited to just 5 US federal funding agencies and some suggestions about how to track down info from “all other funders”. It’s a good start and I suspect we’ll be seeing more resources like this across the research community.
It’s the other half of the battle though, the actual compliance, where the majority of effort and costs come into play. So far, funding agencies don’t seem to be offering a great deal of financial support for the increased administrative burden, either to schools or to researchers themselves. Compliance is a valuable service that journals could offer to authors, but even for the most technologically sophisticated publisher, running each paper through a complex combinatorial matrix of 663 factors and potential outcomes, followed by sending multiple versions of the paper to multiple repositories under differing terms may be too much to handle, certainly at least without passing on costs to customers.
What’s obviously needed here is automation. Where these policies can agree on standardized terms and require the use of open tools like DOIs, ORCID IDs, and CrossRef’s FundRef service, complexity can be reduced and systems can be built. SHARE’s notification tool can help institutions track their researcher’s obligations, although the onerous task of fulfilling those obligations still remains. A centralized, common system for automated compliance that is built directly into the publication process, such as CHORUS, seems an obvious way to reduce everyone’s time, effort and expense.
No one wants to see researchers losing their vital funds over administrative details. The more we can do about this in advance, both in terms of awareness and lifting that burden, the better.