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WEEKEND READING: Why Open Access is not enough – how research assessment reform can support research impact

  • 29 January 2023
  • By Liz Allen and Victoria Gardner
  • This blog has been kindly contributed by Liz Allen, Director of Strategic Initiatives, F1000, and Victoria Gardner, Director of Policy, Taylor & Francis.
  • View the recording of our recent webinar about the Policy Note here.

HEPI and Taylor & Francis have been exploring the theme of open access and research impact over the past year, informed by inputs from a range of experts and culminating in publication of a Policy Note at the end of 2022, Why open access is not enough: Spreading the benefits of research (HEPI Policy Note 42).

The Policy Note was inspired by a theoretical framework proposed by Sarah Chaytor at UCL as a means to realise the wider potential benefits of research. The framework comprises functional elements for action by, and for, academia, decision makers, industry, publishers, and the wider public. The five elements are:

  1. Capabilities (translational, relational, and curational) – researchers, institutions and publishers making research comprehensible to a non-specialist. This could be facilitated by knowledge brokers or intermediaries.
  2. Connections – building long-term reciprocal relationships with inherent trust between parties to support the transfer and application of insights.
  3. Coordination – grouping people as well as outputs, synthesising research to provide digestible insights.
  4. Collaboration – across groups, organisations, disciplines and regions, facilitating interactions by moving away from the traditionally competitive academic environment.
  5. Coproduction – academics, policymakers, businesses and civil society working together to design, investigate, and communicate the outcomes of research questions.

In further discussions on the Framework another component has regularly emerged, focused on the underlying rewards and incentives structures needed to support these five elements, which we might call ‘Credit’. In the Policy Note we touched on how current rewards and incentives structures are calibrated to focus on publication counts and citations to those publications. Consequently, outputs have become more important than the outcomes of research. There is agreement across communities of the need for reform, and a great deal of activity is already in train.  For example, there is widespread support for the Agreement on Reforming Research Assessment and the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA). These initiatives (broadly speaking) signal a desire to move away from rewarding competition to encouraging and crediting collaboration, openness, and transparency in the research and publication process. Many of these elements align with those proposed in the conceptual framework above, and serve to make research more efficient, effective and impactful.

We reflect below on how ‘Credit’ could be facilitated by decision makers, academia, and publishers to help realise the potential broader benefits of research across these groups, as well as for industry and the wider public.

Decision makers

Funders and policymakers are already alive to the need for research assessment reform – with this being a priority focus area for UKRI as it looks ahead to the next UK Research Excellence Framework exercise. The Future Research Assessment Programmes Metric Tide envisions new ways to evaluate research, and initiatives like the Hidden REF highlight the importance of giving credit for a wide range of contributions and contributors to research that have been historically ‘hidden’ from more traditional research assessment exercises (written about in a past HEPI blog). In fact, there is another increasing well used way to recognise the range of contributions to research, captured through the Contributor Role Taxonomy (CRediT).  CRediT is designed to give visibility, discoverability and accountability to individuals who contribute to the research process and the outputs delivered. Used mainly by scholarly publishers to date, CRediT allows the contributions of authors to be described in detail (e.g. on a published article as part of its meta-data) in a structured and machine readable format – from the methodologists, data curators, those providing visualisation, alongside those drafting the narrative.  Tools like CRediT can provide important additional information to support the research and researcher assessment process by providing a more balanced and holistic view of myriad contributions to research such as in published research works.  By endorsing CRediT and other initiatives, decision makers could accelerate their widespread adoption by the community.


Researchers are influenced by how their contributions and discoveries are valued by their employers, their funders and their peers. They want to see their research accessed, used, and built upon and aspire for research to have real world impact despite this not being a focus of current assessment measures. 

There is an important role for research leadership, a concept espoused by Prof. Matthew Flinders in his recent HEPI report, Research Leadership Matters: Agility, Alignment, Ambition. Professor Flinders describes research leadership as “supporting and facilitating the production of inclusive research in a way that maximises both its scientific value and its societal value.”

Institutions can help to build that trust and foster change through this research leadership: recognising the diversity of research outputs and contributions, valuing engagement with a diversity of audiences, and crediting researchers who openly and transparently share the outcomes of their research process. There are an increasing number of examples of leadership and experimentation in research assessment reform emerging like the UK Reproducibility Network, the Open University’s Open Research University project and the University of Utrecht’s  Open Science strategic plan.


Publishers can play an important role in facilitating research assessment reform. For example, many publishers have now signed DORA and are exploring and implementing ways for a more balanced and responsible use of publication and journal-based metrics across their publishing portfolios. Publishers are also developing new article options and providing new formats for researchers to be able to share multi-media, animations, videos, and other artefacts from all parts of the research journey, exemplified by Open Research Europe, provided by F1000 for the European Commission. Publishers are also thinking about how to make research more accessible to the wider public, beyond simply opening up access. Many make plain language summaries available alongside articles, but there is also an opportunity to support practitioner abstracts, and to provide more digestible research outputs in the forms of syntheses or policy briefs. 

Closing thoughts

We propose building on the original framework by adding a sixth component, summarised below: 

  • Credit – ensuring that rewards and incentive structures are calibrated to support the elements above.

A final thought: the vision articulated by many of the future research assessment environment has much in common with the underlying principles of Open Research or Open Science. Open Research is defined as a system of values and behaviour that encourage sharing, transparency, and cooperation throughout the research process. As such the values of Open Research should be built in to any new research assessment system. Open Research principles could be applied more broadly to realise the wider benefits of research, and could be the bricks, that help us to build on the foundational framework outlined above. 

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