OA Good Practice: What We’ve Learned So Far…

path path path by Barbara Agnew CC BY-NC 2.0

path path path by Barbara Agnew CC BY-NC

Over 2015, our Pathfinder worked with a group of four diverse HEIs (Hull, Lincoln, Durham and Teesside) to develop case studies on open access in different institutional contexts. These give an overview of different approaches to dealing creatively with the problems posed by OA policies.

It should come as no surprise that all institutions, no matter how large or small in research terms, face issues in implementing OA policy and approaches or strategies which work in one context may not always work in another.

Nevertheless, it is useful to reflect on what we have learned so far. This post pulls together some of the good practice identified in the case studies and summarises the challenges still to be addressed. In the New Year, we plan to expand this ‘good practice identification’ work through a series of workshops targeted specifically at institutions which have received low RCUK block grants for OA, but which have ambitious research aspirations.

Cost management

Institutional approaches to cost management are often dependent on the extent of external funding available for this, which in turn is linked to (historical) research activity primarily through the RCUK block grant. The four institutions we worked with had received block grants of varying sizes and this was reflected in the different approaches to managing and paying for APCs:

Durham: £371,326

Hull: £26,333

Lincoln: £14,913

Teesside: N/A

Good practice: Both Durham and Lincoln offer APC funds on a “first-come, first-served”. In both cases the full block grant was not spent in 2014/15, although in Lincoln’s case the full grant was spent quickly in early 2015/16 after awareness raising. Where institutions have higher block grants, then it makes sense to put more robust processes and procedures, and potentially staffing, in place to deal with higher levels of request, but for those lower down the scale, a simple first-come, first-served institutional-level process may be more efficient and effective. Hull, meanwhile, emphasised the importance of devolving decision-making to faculties to ensure academic selection is the basis of any funding decisions. Teesside received no block grant in 2015/16 so APCs are managed at departmental level.

Challenges: In terms of challenges, one of the main ones for Durham has been monitoring compliance with RCUK policy as it is difficult to accurately identify RCUK funded publications involving Durham authors – both things independently can be identified, but linking the two is much more challenging. Other issues include cases where APCs were paid but the publisher failed to make the article OA in a compliant format.

Structure and Workflows

In all cases, the Library is primarily responsible for the operational aspects of OA though often in close collaboraiton with the Research Support Office. As many institutions prioritise Green OA over Gold, the institutional repository workflow is often central to this, and here there may be differences with some institutions opting for “fully mediated” deposit and others mandating “self deposit”. In reality, even for those who choose the latter route, Library staff are often involved in mediation of deposit to some extent, for example checking compliance with publisher and funder policies.

Good practice: Durham have opted for a ‘partly mediated’ approach to deposit: staff make a request via the online staff profile system by filling in basic details about the publication (title, authors, publication, RCUK grant reference etc). This not only updates the staff member’s profile but also automatically sends an email to the repository team which notifies them whether an APC is required and enables them to edit or approve metadata for entry in the repository. This replaces a previous two-step system and is seen as a more efficient way to prepare for REF while at the same time ensuring publications are open access. Hull and Lincoln’s case studies both focused on the importance of clear lines of responsibility for OA with a single point of contact as the focus for staff. Teesside offers fully mediated deposit for researchers, which has saved time in going back and correcting incorrect metadata, for example.

Challenges: Most of the challenges in this area were around staffing levels to cope with increased demand expected from the introduction of the HEFCE REF OA policy. There are also concerns about system interoperability, particularly with introduction of new CRIS systems.

Institutional Policy and Strategy

There was some variation in lengths of time institutions had policies in place. Durham’s policy has been in place for several years and it has been updated as new funder policy requirements have come to light. Teesside, meanwhile, has only recently (June 2015) adopted their policy, but a high profile announcement from the VC also saw deposits in the repository shoot up that month.

Good practice: Policies are important, but equally if not more important to ensure engagement is senior academic staff who are willing to act as OA ‘champions’. Both Lincoln and Hull testified to the importance of senior academic staff and management being aligned with and supportive of OA. Durham’s approach is to ensure that policies and workflows relating to OA APC funding in particular are approved by University Research Committee, which includes an OA and Research Data Subcommittee with representation from Research Office, the Library, Finance, Legal services, academics and IT. The significance of cross-university representation on OA committees cannot be overstated. This is something echoed at Teesside, which has set up a user forum for the repository and wider open access issues. Participants in this forum include institute directors, administrators, library and graduate school.

Challenges: Durham is concerned about HEFCE policy dominating OA discussions, especially as we move towards April 2016. Other HEIs expressed similar concerns and also questioned whether policies alone would effect a behaviour change around OA.


Embedding knowledge about OA systems and processes is a big challenge for HEIs, not least when the external policy environment is constantly shifting. Nevertheless all HEIs surveyed as part of our case studies had undertaken some form of advocacy programme, albeit some were more embedded than others. Disciplinary differences between engagement were also noted, and sometimes this was to do with typical publishing processes in some areas: for example, Durham noted that humanities and social sciences researchers tend to be less willing to deposit accepted manuscripts in the repository, as in these areas papers can be subject to editing much later in the publication process than in STEM fields.

Good practice: Advocacy at research group or department level was seen as a more effective approach than Faculty/College or institutional level. While Durham had found an approach focusing on policy compliance to be more effective than a moral argument, Hull cautioned that we should not lose sight of the positive benefits of OA: don’t focus entirely on the sticks, otherwise you risk creating disengagement. Durham runs an OA module on a ‘Leading Research’ course annually which consists of 10-20 minutes of presentation and 40 minutes of Q&A. This balance has been more effective and productive.

Challenges: Teesside were concerned that there are not enough opportunities to engage with staff around the OA question and that this can lead to the spread of misunderstandings. Lincoln indicated that, despite all of their efforts to get the message out, there is still persistent confusion about the correct version to upload.


The proliferation of systems around research management generally, and OA in particular creates huge headaches for academics, research managers and librarians tasked with inputting or extracting data from them. In some cases, bespoke systems are being developed internally to try to link together data from different systems, while in many other institutions are procuring commercial CRIS solutions.

Good practice: The principle for academic users should be inputting information once which can then be reused. Durham have achieved this to some extent with their staff profile system which also notifies the Library repository team. Hull are transitioning towards a self-deposit system which places emphasis on authors to take responsibility for engaging with HEFCE policy. Lincoln have developed their own “Research Dashboard” system, based on WordPress which is primarily designed to link and track disparate sources of data, effectively an in-house mini-CRIS. Teesside meanwhile have found that implementation of an Altmetrics plugin has been successful, giving a visual appraisal of article-level impact.

Challenges: Primarily, these are related to interoperability between systems, with Durham citing RCUK’s adoption of Researchfish as particularly problematic.


About David Young

I'm a Research Funding & Policy Manager based in Research & Business Services at Northumbria University. I support research funding bids to a range of funders, focusing on the Faculty of Engineering and Environment. I also support a number of research policy areas across the university: open access, research data management, CRIS, research strengths, and REF impact.
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