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- Academics can easily leave Twitter’s town square, but it will be much harder for their institutions
The fate of Twitter, both for academics and everyone else, has been a pressing issue in the past weeks. In this post Andy Tattersall argues that whilst individual academics could quite easily leave the platform, the centrality of Twitter to academic institutions makes a wholesale departure unlikely. Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has ignited much debate about and on the social media platform of choice for academics. Mass sackings and major changes in terms of the Twitter blue tick have led some to predict the demise of the platform, whilst Musk himself promises to bring an end to bots and fake news content. Whether his depleted staff can bring about such major changes only time will tell. Do old platforms die, or just fade away? Whilst it is easy to get swept up in these debates, a longer-term perspective can also be instructive. When Web 2.0 arrived in circa 2004, it promised a new dawn of free tools that allowed academics to engage with ‘the Web’ without knowing html. However, one consequence of this has been the relative ease of becoming locked into these platforms. This period was when the internet commonplace ‘if you are not paying for the product, you are the product’ emerged. Of course, we did pay for the products with our data, but largely as freemium users, and as such we were always going to be limited in deciding the destination of a platform despite our labour and emotional investment. I have seen a few very useful tools widely adopted by the academic community that have entirely ceased to exist. Perhaps the most notable instance was Google Reader, which was a brilliant tool for aggregating new research stories and publications. When Google closed Reader in 2013, not only did it herald dominance of social media platforms, but it also saw an uptick in subscribers to The Old Reader, which gained millions of subscribers in very little time. This happened because there was a ‘like for like’ platform. A similar pattern also occurred when Netvibes benefitted at Pageflakes’ demise. This raises the question, is there such a platform for Academic Twitter and all its users, be they individuals or organisations? I have seen a few very useful tools widely adopted by the academic community that have entirely ceased to exist. Twitter continues to have significant value for academics. Fine examples of this potential, such as the outreach work undertaken by public health experts like Professor Trisha Greenhalgh and Dr Deepti Gurdasani during the COVID-19 pandemic, are easy to find. Yet, anyone who uses Twitter knows it can be better, notably around freedom of non-harmful speech without the threat of intimidation and violence, as could many other social media platforms. In the case of the aforementioned academics as well as many others, they have endured abuse as a result of posting about their research. Reputation management and personal wellbeing are key issues when it comes to sticking your head above the social media parapet and whilst not every discipline or topic faces the same level of scrutiny or abuse, none of it should be acceptable. Image Credit: Adapted from Joshua Hoehne via Unsplash. Research by Bianca Kramer and Jerome Bosman as part of their Innovations in Scholarly Communications project further shows Twitter’s popularity within the academic community. The platform topped the charts for the tool most adopted by academics due to its ease of access, simplicity and its network linking academia and its institutions to the world, whether that be journalists, policymakers or even members of the public. It is unlikely Mastodon, or other alternatives, will reach the breadth of audiences or generate the kind of impact that the likes of Greenhalgh and Gurdasani have experienced, at least in the short term. Can academic institutions leave twitter? For most individuals using Twitter the choice of leaving the platform or changing how they use it is relatively simple. A more mindful approach to social media, splitting out knowledge exchange from academic community building, as advocated by Dr Mark Carrigan in a recent post on this blog is certainly possible. However, for academic institutions, who have often developed extensive and complex audiences, the possibility of jumping ship is less appealing it also presents the prospect of a chasm forming between institutions and individuals. Universities have become better at adopting new social media in recent years, using platforms like TikTok and Instagram to market themselves. Twitter has become a mainstay of university level communications and is used widely for key institutional goals, notably student recruitment (something that might be causing a crisis of confidence for some marketing professionals right now), alerting staff and students to live and upcoming events and news, public engagement, research impact and connecting with local and commercial enterprises. For the time being, I doubt any academic department or university will move away from Twitter, as they have invested much time and effort into building a following. To move and start again, to reconnect with old audiences and build new ones requires collective decisions and action. Moving social media platforms at an institutional level might not require the same kind of effort and financial cost between changing VLE (Virtual Learning Environments) providers, but the consequences for the reputation of the institution could be very much similar if they get it wrong. I suspect what we might see instead of a major switch right now, is a greater use of Instagram, Facebook Pages, Reddit and LinkedIn. how exactly do universities and other institutions assess how platforms are changing and the value of new ones? Is there a point at which one could say confidently Twitter is no longer the same, or a site like Mastodon is the new Twitter? But, how exactly do universities and other institutions assess how platforms are changing and the value of new ones? Is there a point at which one could say confidently Twitter is no longer the same, or a site like Mastodon is the new Twitter? Twitter has always been a collection of communities, and there have always been unsavoury parts of the network that are worth staying clear of. The issue of politicisation is likely a key factor and the extent to which Twitter is now a plaything or experiment for Musk to shape politics, as for instance in his recent tweet, may well determine its value for reaching wider audiences. Afterall, there is not much of an academic presence on Donald Trump’s preferred social media platform, Truth Social. Equally, establishing new social media platforms and engaging with them meaningfully at an organisational level is a significant undertaking. As academic institutions tend to have unequally distributed social media skills and resources, this points towards slower incremental changes. Ultimately, this reliance on free web platforms to disseminate our research highlights two issues. First, that there is no guarantee that we’ll always have access to the platforms we rely on. Second, that whilst blogs, podcasts and video are important for communicating research, a good, open social network to share these outputs (something like Twitter) has become an (almost) inescapable part of academic communication today. This post was originally published on the LSE Imact of Social Sciences Blog via Creative Commons
- Finding your niche in the four styles of research communication
Let’s get straight to the point. After a decade of experience using digital platforms for research communication, it has become apparent to me that there are four styles of research communication: Academic Departmental Institutional Third Party Whilst for those in the know, this may seem obvious. As I have previously discussed, alongside increased support, funding and demands for research communication, there are inherent inequalities around both knowledge and access to different kinds of research communication. In my work, I see many academics who feel they should be communicating their research, but do not have a clue as to what any such activity should look like. I would argue that for those setting out on their research communication journey, or even those who are more experienced, there is benefit from a better understanding of these styles, the demands they impose, the support available and following this, the niche your research project fits into. Image Credit: Faye Cornish via Unsplash. Academic led research communications Research dissemination at an individual level often starts with social media. This can mean Twitter, but ultimately, it should be the platform that links you to your intended audience. The barriers to entry are low and starting out can often be faltering, something I once likened to ducklings taking to water or baby giraffes. I have also found this immediacy has two results: academics communicating their research without a plan and to an imagined ‘non-specialist’ or ‘public’ audience. Whilst social media like Twitter takes a minute to set up, it can take months and years to master and build a meaningful audience. However, when used well social media can connect you to a wide spectrum of stakeholders (peers, government departments, charities, even potential students). Whilst no academic is an island, it can often feel that way for researchers when trying to find the right support for their research. The greatest benefit of this style is that no one knows your research as well as you do. It also affords the opportunity to develop transferable skills. Knowing where to publish a good research blogpost, or how to produce a podcast are (hopefully) considered useful. Especially, for Masters and PhD students building their career and reputation. It also offers an opportunity for academics to lead and inspire their colleagues in being more creative in their own communications. Whilst no academic is an island, it can often feel that way for researchers when trying to find the right support for their research. Being individually proactive with communications, or as part of a group can be beneficial, but invariably greater success requires support. That success depends on a variety of factors, not least what resources internally are at hand. Departmental led research communications At departmental level you begin to find more interests at play (notably student recruitment). On the upside, embedded departmental communication support should have a good understanding of the academics and subject matter they work directly with. This can help in getting the research shared, but more importantly it allows you to tap into existing relationships with academics in your field and prevents you having to painstakingly build your profile across different media. I work within an academic department and actively try to give colleagues bespoke help or the practical skills to disseminate their research through a variety of media. These include a podcast and webinar series that I started in the Lockdown of 2020, a service that was especially valuable when normal communication channels, such as conferences and invited seminars were shut down. My colleagues work on high impact health research which has a very wide audience. However, it is rare for a department to have this model, where an individual is trusted to plan, create and share outputs. It’s a model I explored on this blog with the idea of the Research Technologist. Naturally, the success of these roles depends on the funds to licence creative packages and the space to pursue new kinds of projects. Institutional led research communications At the top of the pyramid of university comms are central communications and media teams operating at anything between institutional to faculty level. Depending on the organisational structure, much of their capacity may be taken up by student recruitment activities. In terms of central research communications there is also a cost-benefit analysis as to what out of a very large and eclectic set of research outputs they can and can’t support. The relationship between central communications and the media should at least be established, so research outputs selected for coverage will have a better chance of reaching the right medium and audience for coverage. These teams will often also be points of access to institutional web pages and social media accounts. However, most research is not newsworthy from a national media perspective and many central teams may have just one person representing a whole faculty or department. Adding those together means that only select research outputs will get picked up centrally. That being said, all research is newsworthy. At an institutional level it might feel like only professors might receive notable coverage and support. But, that does not mean they have a monopoly on the most interesting and impactful research. Some of the most newsworthy research is happening at the grassroots level of PhD students and early career researchers. The key is to let the right people in the media team know about it. Third-party led research communications The past decade has seen a significant increase in interest from external partners looking to support research communication. Research funders, publishers, NGOs and even commercial consultancies all have different interests in research communication. Working with external organisations and consultants can be very rewarding, although this is very much dependent with their alignment to your own goals. Research consultancies can also shade into predatory practices, where offers of large audiences, colourful online magazines, podcasts, or social media posts are made in exchange for exorbitant fees. Research communication consultancies are a relatively new phenomenon and represent some of the key challenges in this area. Firstly, this style of communication is dependent on funding, some funders now actively support these activities, although as per usual, it is essential to plan ahead for these activities. Once funded, whilst it might be easy to defer to outside expertise (or sales pitches), it is essential to have an idea of what those activities will look like. If you are disseminating findings to those with hearing difficulties then creating a podcast is not a good idea. Unlike the other styles, you may have to invest time in explaining, sometimes complex outputs to non-experts which will require multiple revisions. Research consultancies can also shade into predatory practices, where offers of large audiences, colourful online magazines, podcasts, or social media posts are made in exchange for exorbitant fees. My colleagues are regularly contacted by various small consultancies or individuals offering such services. Of course, not all are bad, but it goes back to my previous point about academics feeling that they need to be doing something to communicate their research, this reflex can easily translate into noise, rather than good research communication. This is especially true, when there is a pot of research money to dip into. If you are approached by an external consultant, it is important to ask questions, is there a cost? How much? What can they offer? What kind of audience can they guarantee? Are there any hidden extras? Have they worked with any notable academics or organisations before? Much like when thinking about where to publish your research using your networks and the advice of peers can be immensely helpful when looking for a partner, who has the knowledge and expertise to communicate your work effectively. Unifying the four styles These four styles do not exist in isolation, but the more coverage you capture for your research the more likely they come together as one. Until that time comes you need to explore what resources you have to hand and who is best placed to help you. Making your research known to media and communication professionals internally is a good place to start. This needs to be ahead of publication and should be part of your research design. Timing is essential, especially for media work where publication elsewhere can effectively kill interest in the work, as most professionals are juggling multiple demands and they are also unlikely to drop things to focus on promoting your new research paper the day it comes out. Ultimately research communications are a long game. It can take time to build up any kind of visibility, particularly if you are just starting out on your career. The start of that communications journey may invariably mean doing much of this for yourself, but with tenacity and determination the attention will come as will those wishing to amplify your message. Article originally published on the LSE Impact of Social Science Blog Image Credit: Faye Cornish via Unsplash.
- Wikipedia is open to all, the research underpinning it should be too.
There has (too) long been a debate as to Wikipedia’s relationship with academia and whether the former is a credible platform for sharing and citing research. Much of that discussion has been around how it is used by students. Whilst certain academics have had a tendency to turn their nose up at the popular encyclopaedia, not seeing it as a credible source of knowledge. Yet, for many it is simply the first stop for authoritative information and as such it offers an opportunity for the research community to share their work with a huge, global audience. This happens when their research is cited as part of a Wikipedia entry, as the encyclopaedia is built upon evidence, not anecdotes. One of the first news features on Wikipedia in Nature in 2011 suggested that editing the platform could be an influential way of improving a researcher’s visibility and communicating their work to the academic community. Bringing that forward a decade and we can see this go much further, as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Wikimedia Foundation collaborated to expand the public’s access to the latest and most reliable information about COVID-19. Image Credit: Everett Bartels via Unsplash. At the White Rose universities of Sheffield, Leeds and York, we looked at how much of our research is cited by Wikipedia and more importantly, how much of that is available via Open Access. In an age where more research is being published open access, it can be very easy to assume that every link to a research paper in the world’s most accessible encyclopedia is also freely accessible. Sadly much current and historical research is still behind a publisher’s paywall. This of course undermines one of Wikipedia’s three principal core content policies of ‘verifiability’ with the other two being ‘neutral point of view’, and ‘not original research’, meaning that it does not publish original thought. If a piece of evidence is behind a paywall it becomes harder for someone to verify it for themselves, even though it might have been through a peer review process. It is also incoherent and ironic, like research papers on the topic of open access that are themselves behind a publisher paywall. If a piece of evidence is behind a paywall it becomes harder for someone to verify it for themselves, even though it might have been through a peer review process To deal with the issue of articles cited in both journal websites and repositories, Wikipedia introduced the option for dual references to be added to a Wikipedia citation, meaning that the repository version of a research paper can be included alongside one that might still be behind a subscription wall. Some institutions, such as Leeds have hosted their own Wikipedia Editathons to address a variety of issues, such as de-colonisation of Wikipedia which heavily favours white, male content, in addition to linking to open access materials. Wikipedia does promote the use of the OABOT tool that facilitates making links to the OA versions of publications. As part of our research we obtained data from Altmetric.com to explore how much research across the three universities had been cited by Wikipedia. The data showed there were 6454 Wikipedia citations across the three institutions (Sheffield 2523, Leeds 2406, York 1525). We used an Unpaywall API to check the DOIs of all articles appearing in the sample to explore which of these articles were open access via the Gold publishing model and through our institutional repository available under the ‘Green’ route. The two tools we employed to explore this data, Unpaywall and Altmetric.com, are largely automated, whereas research that is cited in Wikipedia is created manually. To validate our sample we carried out a manual, random check of 100 Wikipedia citations from each of the three institutional datasets to check for accuracy and confirm that each paper was attributed to that institution correctly. We also checked that the open access status given by Unpaywall was correct. The oldest publication that was available open access and cited in a Wikipedia entry was from 1910, whilst the oldest paywalled research article was published in 1922. The fact there is a paywalled journal article from 100 years ago is rather depressing in itself. It is noteworthy that publication data that is tracked in Altmetric.com appears to go back to as far as 1666. We also looked at which disciplines received the most citations and found Biological Sciences and Medical and Health Sciences had by far the highest number of citations for each institution. Several disciplines returned similar results across the institutions, whilst others did much better than their fellow White Rose universities. Physical Sciences research at University of Sheffield received considerably more Wikipedia citations than Leeds or York. The University of Leeds Earth Sciences and Chemical Sciences research received much higher numbers of citations than the other two. York led the way in History and Archaeology compared to Sheffield and Leeds. Our sample indicated that around half of all academic citations on the platform are paywalled. This is a major flaw in the Wikipedia model. All three institutions performed similarly well in terms of open access coverage in Wikipedia. York did best with 56% of their references openly available compared to Sheffield with 54% and Leeds with 52%. Even though that highlights a majority of open links, it also shows there is still some way to go for a truly open resource. The data from Altmetric.com also highlighted editing patterns with multiple Wikipedia entries edited by the same accounts. Sadly we do not know the source of these editors, but can only assume they are either academics or professionals working in that particular field or possibly citizen scientists with a keen interest in current research. Our study reveals there is still much work to be done in opening up research citations on Wikipedia. Differences in coverage across disciplines also likely reflect wider issues around the availability of open access. However, Wikipedia’s ethos of verifiability should extend to the accessibility of academic references. Our sample indicated that around half of all academic citations on the platform are paywalled. This is a major flaw in the Wikipedia model. Openly available published research helps support the development of Wikipedia. This in turn assists Wikipedia’s ultimate goal of access to transparent and evidence-based knowledge. It would also lower barriers to access research, which ultimately is good for academics and society. We appreciate that not everything is open for the rest of society and it might be some time before that happens. But, given Wikipedia’s global influence and stated mission, the research that underpins each entry should be as open and accessible as possible. To take full advantage of this it requires a greater understanding amongst academics and Wikipedians as to the importance of citing open access works over those behind a paywall. Image Credit: Everett Bartels via Unsplash. This post draws on the authors’ co-authored paper: Tattersall A, Sheppard N, Blake T, O’Neill K and Carroll C, Exploring open access coverage of Wikipedia-cited research across the White Rose Universities, published in Insights. Originally posted on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2022/02/21/wikipedia-is-open-to-all-the-research-underpinning-it-should-be-too/
- Time, Finances, Confidence, Knowledge – Research communicators should be attentive to the resource i
Research communication is rarely thought of as an inequality, due to its seeming simplicity and low barriers to entry. You can set up a Twitter account in minutes, a Tweet takes even less time. However, as anyone who has tried to communicate research findings to broader audiences will know the complexity can quickly escalate. Promoting research as part of a modern communications campaign may now include producing, videos, podcasts, infographics and other design elements all communicated through different social and traditional media channels. More often than not, this requires professional skills and training, which is where research communicators come in. However, these people and their resources are finite, which leads to the question how should they be distributed? As Benjamin Franklin said: “There are three kinds of people: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those who move”. Whilst we should champion those who ‘move’, we should also be wary of a potential Matthew Effect, whereby those already effectively communicating their research accumulate further advantage over those who don’t. If we concede that there are some academics and research, that simply do not want to move, that leaves the possibility of reaching a significant group of researchers who don’t ‘move’ but are ‘movable’. In this regard, I suggest there are four factors that often limit engagement with research dissemination activities: Time, money, confidence and technical skills. Factors, which are of course interrelated and subject to wider inequalities in society and academia itself. Image Credit: Omid Roshan via Unsplash. Lack of time Academic life is accelerating, increasing demands on researchers to win research funding, write papers, as well as navigate the choppy waters of information governance, research ethics and Open Access publishing, often leaves further research communication a distant prospect. This unequal distribution of time within the academy was starkly highlighted during the COVID-19 lockdown, which both increased the demand for digital media engagement and reduced the time available to academics with caring responsibilities and especially women. If you are a part time researcher with no funds or support to engage in research communications, then you are at a disadvantage. Especially so in comparison to a large research project with a communications budget that is able to pay for bespoke content and to develop effective campaigns. You might choose to offset research communications to an in-house communications professional or private consultancy, but this brings us to the next inequality. Lack of finances Disseminating research costs money, especially for more complex outputs. As part of my own work, I have started to see an increasing number of successful research bids that factor in funds for dissemination activities. Whilst digital scholarship may once have had a vaguely indie garage start-up quality to it, it is now an established business. The increase in funding and recognition of these activities also points to a widening gap between those with the support to communicate their research and those without. If funds are forthcoming, there is the issue of who undertakes the work, is it carried out in-house, by third-party consultants, PhD volunteers? There are pros and cons, to all options, bringing with them as they do different skills, levels of subject specific expertise and unequal expectations. Lack of confidence Academia is synonymous with imposter syndrome, something that is even more acute when an academic is thrust in front of a camera to comment on a research story. Whilst not every academic will be on ‘the news’, increasingly social media and research communication is becoming an audio-visual medium. There is a tendency for star performers to dominate this space, but if the thought of appearing in a video causes anxiety, researchers should not be forced into appearing in it, neither should they be excluded from creating one. There are practical ways around this, asking other colleagues involved in the project to present the work citing your involvement. Video also does not have to include anyone at all, animations using tools like Videoscribe or Lumen5, are all possibilities. Perhaps of greater importance though, is building a research culture in which communication is valued rather than seen as a waste of time. If a movable academic’s first experiences of research communications are ad hoc or unfruitful, it can be a missed opportunity, especially if their research has the potential to be of interest to a wide or influential audience. Lack of knowledge For those researchers that move in terms of research communication, not knowing how to can be hard to understand. As I wrote for this blog in 2017, the inertia that is brought on by the fear of ever changing technologies, can be negated somewhat by the support of in-house research technologists. This is a role that transcends so much of the modern academic landscape, from an understanding of Open Research, metrics, technology and media communications. Knowledge of dissemination practices is important, but so is knowing how to access this knowledge, which requires time, resources and the confidence to recognise its potential value. How do we build equality in research communications? Tackling these inequalities depends to an extent on how a range of longstanding issues within academia can be resolved. Research communicators are also constrained within their own institutional contexts. However, this does not mean they should simply be ignored. The introduction of increased funding for communications in research grants, is not without problems, but it highlights a progressive trend towards outreach and communication. There is no one size fits all and any solution requires investment from funders, support from line managers and expertise from research communication professionals. Research communication activities such as podcasting, blogging, and social media are not as onerous as they might seem with the right skills and support. That small band of academics who do move and have built up a good online reputation for themselves and their work started small. With the right support, others can participate in their own research communication activities and help direct their own research impact over time. Enabling this to happen for a more diverse range of research and researchers should be the goal for research communicators. Image Credit: Omid Roshan via Unsplash. Post originally published on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog
- In 2021 let’s do institutional academic social media better.
Chances are you dutifully follow a number of poorly managed institutional academic social media accounts, producing infrequent, unengaging and perhaps occasionally important content. In this post, Andy Tattersall, provides advice on how to approach institutional academic social media in a more productive way and makes the case for its vital role in keeping academia connected in an increasingly digital university. Much of what 2020 threw at academia has been out of it’s control, yet one thing we can do professionally in 2021, is try to execute social media better. With most academics working across thousands of micro campuses (their homes) the connectivity offered by social media is more important than ever. It is very easy to just hope and pray that your hard work will gain the attention or publicity you think it deserves. However, in many cases without proper thought and planning it won’t, and to quote Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; it might as well be; “on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.” Make your case Social media is an invaluable medium to assist any individual or organisation communicate their research or services to a wider audience. That’s not to say it does not come without problems, for instance, resistance from senior management who just don’t get it, because they don’t use it or have one case study – Donald Trump. To get them onside you need evidence as to why they should support not only the technology, but also your time in using it. There is still some reluctance by individuals to engage with the potential of social media on a professional level, as it’s not really seen as work. I’m sure the same might once have been said of email. No one has all the right answers, but you are really looking to avoid the fatal errors and maximise the biggest of wins Gathering evidence is essential, and one way to capture it is to speak to peers in other organisations and find out what did and didn’t work for them. It can be very easy to ‘cherry pick’ the positive stories, but part of your own success with social media is also about discovering the failures. Social media success in a professional setting is ultimately about people and knowledge and connecting to the right people will not only improve your knowledge, but could give an edge to your organisation as you disseminate time sensitive information internally. Don’t be afraid to approach high profile champions online for reflective feedback on how they use and benefit from social media. No one has all the right answers, but you are really looking to avoid the fatal errors and maximise the biggest of wins. Bringing in the voices of esteemed champions will also help if you are in the unfortunate position where your line manager pays little heed to members of their team, but will listen to someone at an equal or senior level. This is especially true if you work in an academic setting. Give the task of running your social media updates to someone who cares If you are in that senior role and looking for someone to run your; group, project, organisational, social media accounts and don’t have funds to hire a specialist (often the case); then think carefully who does that for you. Don’t ask someone to do the job of posting social media updates just because they are 1) junior 2) young (as young people use social media the best in your opinion) 3) because you don’t think it’s important and anyone can do it. I have seen many examples where a person has been given the job of updating a social media account because of the aforementioned reasons. The best fit for the task is someone who can use social media, understands it and wants to use it professionally. This is especially relevant if they are someone who cares about their organisation and reputation (which leads onto the next point). Ideally someone who has been in your team for some time and understands the nuances of the organisation and how to leverage knowledge for its benefit. Further, generic social media accounts for a team, group or organisation do not have to belong to a single person, if you have a few colleagues who want to engage, then create the right environment for them to do so. In some cases you may need a rota, or at least a style guide to help and ensure that they all have a similar level of ability and content. Encourage team members to support each other and nurture their skills under the wing of more skilled colleagues. Somebody may not know how to use social media, but if they know how to communicate professionally and effectively, they are more than halfway there. Own your content Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter still dominate the social media landscape and it is important that any presence on them is consistent. We are not just talking about images and style, but also ownership. A common problem for anyone starting a new professional social media profile is to tie the new account to their own email address. This of course opens up a whole can of worms, especially if they take leave to go on holiday, fall sick or leave the organisation. This can result in a scramble to try and recapture the account details to ensure it can still be used. There are various examples when a disgruntled employee can turn an organisation’s social media account on itself and if they are the only one with access, then it becomes much harder to switch off. Using a generic email address might not stop all problems, but it will head off many before they happen and can ensure a continuity of communication. For Facebook it is useful to have a generic account tied to a generic email address that owns any professional Facebook Pages. This means multiple, trusted users can access the page and post updates without using their own personal account which could be problematic, especially if they post from the wrong account. If you are part of a team using direct messages on Facebook or Twitter, then it is important to sign off messages with your name so everyone can see who is in the conversation. Finally, there is no one size fits all to academic social media accounts. Depending on the use, there can be some freedom to loosen the formal and stuffy shackles of academic communications. Many large corporate social media accounts have increasingly moved towards a more light-hearted and casual approach to their communications, often directed by individuals and leading to increased engagement and publicity. This has proven to be a real success in many cases, but it’s essential to remember that much research is of a sensitive topic and there is a fine line between humour and disrespect. Maintain your Reputation Reputation management has been increasingly overlooked as an important part of a social media communications plan on a micro level. On a personal and professional level it can be treated in the same way some people approach things like breakdown cover for their car or boiler. It’s not the most appealing of issues and it’s sometimes easier to stick your head in the sand and wait to see if anything bad happens. Invariably for most of the time, nothing will happen, but when it does you can guarantee it will be at the most inconvenient time. ‘Reputation’ often seems like something that takes place only in the upper echelons of the organisation, at the level of ‘brand management’. However, social media levelled the playing ground, not just for the branches of an organisation to make use of it, but also for those outside to turn it against you. Since social media took off over a decade ago, it opened a floodgate for trolls and other threats to vocalise about your work and that of others. Whilst the threat level to most academics remains low, they are always there. In the same way the thorny issue of good information governance at a micro level has often been overlooked until recent times, the problem was always there, is changeable and remains ever present today. ‘Reputation’ often seems like something that takes place only in the upper echelons of the organisation, at the level of ‘brand management’. However, social media levelled the playing ground, not just for the branches of an organisation to make use of it, but also for those outside to turn it against you Therefore, it is important that those involved in social media communications (and all communications in the wider sense) are aware of what to do if things turn bad. Rather than reinvent the wheel, you should investigate what reputation management support already exists within your organisation and who provides this support. It’s important to keep an eye on your social media feeds to ensure you become aware of any issues and have a plan ready for when they may come knocking. Conversations with appropriate colleagues can help triage whether a ‘problem’ is merely nothing, or a storm in a teacup. Having a simple guide on how to manage your reputation is not an onerous task, despite the fast-changing nature of social media, most of the core principles remain. Be polite, screen capture any issues, report to the appropriate person or organisation and respond in a timely manner if needed. Much of the media focus on social media at present is being sucked up by events taking place in U.S. politics and global medicine. Whilst there is much to discuss academically in these spheres, seeing all social media as preoccupied with these issues misses the wood for the trees, or rather the numerous conversations about the whole spectrum of research taking place. By refining how you approach the medium it can bring about rewards that it has always promised (and does deliver) that include greater reach, collaborations and critical conversation This article was orginally published on the LSE Impact Blog
- You can publish open access, but ‘big’ journals still act as gatekeepers to discoverability and impa
One of the proposed advantages of open access publication is that it increases the impact of academic research by making it more broadly and easily accessible. Reporting on a natural experiment on the citation impact of health research that is published in both open access and subscription journals, Chris Carroll and Andy Tattersall, suggests that subscription journals still play an important role in making research discoverable and useful and thus still have a role to play even in open publication strategies. "Sometimes you have to do what you don’t like, to get to where you want to be." Tori Amos We recently completed a citation analysis of 10 years of randomised controlled trials published by the UK National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). The biggest public funder of trials in the UK produces their own monograph series, the wholly open-access Health Technology Assessment (HTA) journal and we wanted to analyse the reach and impact of these works when republished in subsequent commercial journals. Such trials cost a great deal of money, so there is a clear interest in determining the impact of this research. Impact can of course be assessed in many ways, but we decided to assess the health policy impact of these trials using citation analysis, by looking at how many times they were cited in key policy documents, or types of research that are known to inform policy, that is systematic reviews and meta-analyses. We also looked closely at how the trials were used in these documents. After all, trials are conducted to help decision-making by health professionals and policy-makers. They need to be easily discoverable and useful. The sample was 133 trials published by the NIHR from 2006 to 2015. As noted above, these trials were all published in the NIHR’s own open-access HTA journal (a model of making publicly-funded research available to the public since its first volume in 1997). The HTA monograph is a peer-reviewed journal with each issue dedicated to a single project – such as a randomised controlled trial – and contains the full report of each trial. This might include not only the trial’s effectiveness findings, but also an economic evaluation and, in some cases, additional but related work, such as a qualitative study. These separate elements of the project might also be published in other peer-reviewed journals, which have paywalls and more restrictive word-counts, but also have the potential to increase the visibility and discoverability of the research. Some of the trials published in our sample (82/133) had elements of the trial research published separately in traditional ‘subscription’ journals, such as The Lancet and the British Medical Journal (BMJ). These are the ‘big’ journals in medicine and public health with massive readerships and impact factors (from around ‘25’ to ‘60’, compared to approximately ‘4 or 5’ for the HTA journal). When conducting the analysis, we included these additional publications of the trials in the ‘impact’ assessment. The citation analysis findings for these additional publications outstripped the impact numbers for the HTA journal. We found that these related publications achieved twice the mean number of citing reviews and more than four times the mean number of citing policy documents than the HTA journal publication: 125 vs 25 citations per trial; 7.16 vs 3.32 reviews per trial; 3.59 vs 0.80 policy documents per trial. These additional publications therefore appeared to generate much larger numbers of key citations, in policy documents and reviews, compared with their equivalent HTA journal publications. So, can we conclude that the additional publication of elements of these trials in subscription journals, including possibly paying their open access charges, enhanced their impact? Well, not really. Good quality research and guidance documents should have found the HTA publication and its data anyway (a proportion cited both the HTA and its additional publication). A direct comparison of citation data to answer this question unequivocally is not possible. However, the numbers for the additional publications, including unique citations in policy documents, are large enough to be compelling. Publishing trial data in big journals such as The Lancet and BMJ might make the data far more ‘discoverable’, and thus enhance the potential impact of publicly-funded research. There might therefore be value for researchers, policy-makers and the public in a publishing model that combines full open-access publication (a must for publicly-funded research, surely) with selective additional publication in certain, select, influential subscription journals (while being aware that ‘salami slicing’ publication strategies do not necessarily represent ‘good practice’). Indeed, public funders could maintain their own lists of appropriate journals for publication of their research, in addition to the open-access versions, though of course, for some, that raises questions concerning academic freedom. Of course, the ideal would be for funders to develop their own high-impact, wholly open-access journals that can compete with the ‘big’ journals but, even if this could be realised, it is a way off. In the meantime, public funders of research should very selectively exploit the system that is there, by ‘using’ the publishers (and certain journals only). This is an arguably a novel ‘reversal’ of the current perceived relationship between publishers and academics, where the author supplies what is in effect ‘second hand’ content to be considered by the journal. In normal circumstances, such works could be declined due to the publisher not having first access to the research. Yet it is the high intellectual value of these works that not only ensures they are published again, but they are given a place in high impact journals. Readers can find the full analysis and findings of Chris and Andy’s study are here.
- In the era of Brexit and fake news, scientists need to embrace social media
Originally published in The Conversation Social media can be an intimidating place for academics as not all of them take to it like ducks to water. For many newcomers, a more appropriate analogy is a newborn giraffe - clumsy, awkward and vulnerable to prey. After all, researchers are employed to win bids, publish research and get cited. Since most of this happens behind closed doors or within circles exclusive to the academic community, the open forum of social media can seem like a distraction from the real work. However, for those willing to make the leap, research suggests that once academics surpass 1,000 followers on Twitter there is an appreciable increase in the diversity of the audiences they reach with their work. Communicating with people outside of academia means reaching those who might directly benefit from the research. These individuals and groups can then help shape future research aims and give useful feedback to scientists. Still, many academics remain reluctant. There is no clear evidence that social media generates research impact that is beneficial to society, culture and the economy or at least it is very hard to measure. Some academics have even lost tenure as a result of their behaviour on Twitter, while others have tried to disguise their limited expertise by building a reputation for authority online. With mounting pressure on the time of academics, social media can seem like it isn’t worth the effort. Despite this, research shows that there is growing curiosity among scholars to use social media in their work, but to sustain this interest there needs to be clearer evidence of the benefits. In the age of Brexit and fake news, social media is more important to academia than ever before. A virtual bridge with the EU after Brexit Brexit has sown uncertainty in British universities among staff who are from the EU. In other sectors, such as the NHS, anxiety over the result has caused a fall in the number of trained nurses coming from the EU to work in the UK. British academics projected across social media could provide reassurance and support to international colleagues who have increasingly felt they are facing an uncertain future in the UK. Without more academics joining Twitter and other platforms, social media will continue to carry the voices of those who shout loudest. As a result, some of the biggest mouths deliver unwelcome messages to European colleagues who have built careers, homes and families in the UK. No one truly knows what will happen in March 2019 when the UK formally leaves the EU, or if that will even happen. Social media presents a way of staying in touch with academics from across the Channel in any case, and allows people to stay abreast of new research, ideas and opportunities with European counterparts. Academics will continue to communicate and collaborate on research after March 2019, but potentially not in the way that they have in the past. We do not know how Brexit will affect travel between the UK and the EU, but blogging and social media could promote openness in research that will bridge the divide left by tightening freedom of movement. The fight against fake news As crude a term as it is, fake news is a threat to the principles of rigorous investigation that academia embodies. In the United States, the suppression of experts and their data by the Trump administration highlights the risks of scientists remaining silent and not using social media channels to challenge misinformation. In this “post-truth” world, we have often heard that people no longer wish to hear from experts. This shift was captured, again, by the Trump administration and their failure to appoint a scientific adviser to the White House. Of course, experts do get things wrong on occasions, but most people surely would rather a qualified pilot flew their plane than an amateur with opinions on aviation. Academics communicating their findings and ideas on social media platforms can attempt to address the balance that has shifted towards ill-evidenced news on these sites. Improving working relationships with journalists can also ensure that stories shared online have links to open access versions of the research, so that science news is more easily checked for accuracy and properly credited to the original scientists. The current moment and media climate may appear unfriendly to academia, but that is all the more reason for researchers to seize the initiative and reset the debate on their terms.
- Nothing lasts forever: questions to ask yourself when choosing a new tool or technology for research
The post below was originally published in the LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog under a CC BY 2.0 Licence Academia has not always been good at adopting new technologies to aid research and teaching. Even a tool as seemingly popular and simple to use as Twitter has been received with some anxiety and trepidation within the scholarly community. There are various reasons for the slow uptake of new technologies, something that is not exclusive to the academic community, as captured in Everett Roger’s Diffusion of Innovations theory. Technology continually changes and the pressures of keeping up with it can actually cause inertia and some to bury their heads in the sand rather than engage with the changing environment. There are genuine concerns about the sustainability of tools we rely on in the academic community, with no guarantee that popular tools like Google Scholar or Twitter will be with us this time next year. Adopting technologies that eventually cease business There have been several examples of really useful tools that were accepted by the academic community only to pull down the virtual shutters for good. It can be quite depressing to have invested time and energy in mastering a tool only for it to disappear offline. This may happen for a variety of reasons Such as a lack of investment (financial or development), slow uptake or the founding individual moving onto a new venture. Those in academia want solid, factual reasons to utilise a new tool; if the one they currently use works fine, why switch to another they haven’t heard of? It can be like the problem of buying a new laptop: why purchase one now when you could buy one with double the processing power for the same price a year later? Sadly that attitude means you end up not moving on at all. Academia is about finding answers to problems and often learning from previous mistakes - that surely should expand to the very tools we use to achieve better outcomes. There are several issues around adopting technologies to carry out, communicate and analyse research; Issues further complicated by the duplication of platforms or providers’ expansions into new areas of business. Take Mendeley, for example, which started as a social network and reference management tool but has since expanded into a data-hosting and a funding search service. Mendeley is not alone in this approach; Facebook proved it could do more than social media as it took a big bite out of Google’s huge advertising market, whilst the same could not be said for Google’s attempts at social media. The sad demise of useful platforms Google Reader, PageFlakes, Readability, Silk and Storify have all ceased business in recent years despite demand for their services. In some cases this can be problematic for some users as they invest great amounts of time in curating their own content, particularly so in the case of personalised dashboard PageFlakes and data visualisation site Silk. Whilst Google was happy to lose millions of RSS fans to other sites such as The Old Reader. Thankfully for most of the aforementioned tools there were suitable alternatives and sites like Alternative.to which can be useful in directing users to similar options. In some cases the provider itself even pointed towards an alternative, such as Readability which used its front page to direct users to Mercury Reader. Others such as Storify proved more problematic, with no immediate like-for-like tool obviously available and Wakelet seeming the best alternative. Choosing the right tool for the job For anyone working with academics to adopt new tools or for those more proactive academics wishing to explore new ways of working, there are several questions you should ask before adopting a new technology. For the most part these are straightforward and it is important to remember you may only use some technologies once. Is it intuitive to use? Is there an alternative? Can you export your content? What are they doing with your data? How often will you use the technology? Do you know anyone using this tool already? Has the technology been around for long? Who created the technology and who owns it? Are the developers on social media and how often do they post new updates? Nothing lasts forever Academia is becoming increasingly reliant on technology, especially third-party tools, to carry out certain processes. This has long been the case with tools such as Dropbox or YouTube offering more functionality than in in-house institutional platforms. With more tools comes greater diversity and potentially more problems. There is no guarantee we won’t see another dot.com crash like the one that happened in 2000, except this time academia would also feel its wrath. Many platforms, especially niche academic ones, are run by a handful of staff or even students. They have investors expecting a return on their capital, families with mouths to feed, and office bills to pay. Whilst there is the thorny subject of open-source versus profit driven platforms within scholarly communications as discussed in previous posts by Jefferson Pooley and Mark Hahnel. Some academics are driven by the open, community driven nature of open-source technology, which has been adopted by popular commercial platforms such as Mendeley and Figshare to advance their software onto the next iteration. Yet turning your nose up to the commercial platforms could result in cutting one’s nose off to spite your face. Not every open-source or commercial platform those in academia use today will be here this time next year and in the course of that time we will see hundreds of new ones appear. Academia’s increasing reliance on these platforms to undertake a multitude of tasks - including carrying out, communicating, and measuring research and its impact - requires greater dialogue around sustainability. It is likely that popular third-party platforms used by the academic community such as Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, Google Scholar, and YouTube will be here for some time. But what about the smaller niche tools that have been essential in changing and enhancing how academics carry out their work? One only has to look at the various reasons why Google Reader, PageFlakes and many others are no longer in existence. Academia needs to be flexible and adaptable to the changes brought on by the shifting sands of technology but also pay attention to the tools you love the most but which might not be around tomorrow.
- Many a true word is spoken in jest, part two: more social media content that mocks, self-ridicules,
In April 2016 I wrote about the growing number of parody Twitter accounts to take the best and worst of academia and serve it up as a comedy dish. As the title suggests, many a true word is spoken in jest but we all know that just below the surface lie the real home truths of our industry. The problem, however, for many academics trying to be “witty”, is that they can fall flat on their faces. I thought it would be good to visit some of the other tongue-in-cheek academic excursions that capture the weird and wonderful within academia. When I wrote the first post it was solely focused on the Twitter community, and sadly neglected to include one of the scholarly Twitterati’s most vocal protagonists: @ScientistTrump. When my post went live I was flattered to receive a tweet from “Donald Trump, PhD” calling my piece “biased” as it had not included him – he even concluded his tweet with one of the real Donald Trump’s trademark sign-offs: “SAD”. Thankfully the Trump obsession with fake news was not yet in full flow, but I am sure the post and the LSE Impact Blog would have been labelled as such. Whoever is behind this great account – and it is the greatest scientific Twitter account – has expanded to a full website and a forthcoming web store. Not wanting to inflate that already fully blown narcissistic ego any more, but the tweets are that of a very stable genius and reflect the kind of communication that is typical of President Trump but with a scientific slant applied. For example, in December Donald Trump, PhD proudly reported: Donald Trump, PhD@ScientistTrump H-INDEX RISES 5000 POINTS ON THE YEAR FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER - MAKE SCIENCE GREAT AGAIN! 1:18 PM - Dec 19, 2017 His supporters will no doubt still be keen to see that wall built to ensure academic literature stays out of the public domain. Given the daily communications coming out of the White House, it is not hard to satirise the 45th President of the United States. Putting an academic spin on The Donald is not so easy but psychologist Matt Crawford made a good go of it with a fictional paper he published. The paper, “A title for a really great piece of research, just the best, really”, is full of classic Trump boasts, so much so that you will hear Donald’s voice inside your head as you read it. Donald Trump’s tweets might make you feel outraged, but imagine how your social media stream would have looked with Hitler kicking and screaming across the web? Putting an academic slant on it, how would he have dealt with scientific peer review? Thankfully someone took that much-parodied scene in Hitler’s bunker from the film Downfall and re-subtitled it to show how Hitler would have responded to negative comments from a third reviewer. After a raging tirade, the Führer concedes that maybe he should just submit to one of those new “open access” journals. Captioned images shared across the web, better known as memes, also offer much light-hearted humour that only those within academia will truly appreciate. Some of the sharpest include the popular memes Boromir (Lord of the Rings) and Willy Wonka alongside the tweets from Research Wahlberg and the Hey Girl. I like the library too blog. Some of the finest moments can be found by searching “academic memes” on Google Image Search or Pinterest. Every institution has professors who are dapper in their fashion choices and those who look like they have crawled out of a hedge before heading into work. Prof or Hobo tests your ability to spot the professors from the tramps. I was made aware of the quiz by a professor in reference to one of his peers who proudly wears his dishevelled look as a badge of honour, actively trying his best to look like he lost a fight with a bear. The site features ten images and for each you simply have to choose whether the man in question is a professor or a hobo. Just remember that looks can be deceiving. Donald Trump’s tweets might make you feel outraged, but imagine how your social media stream would have looked with Hitler kicking and screaming across the web? Putting an academic slant on it, how would he have dealt with scientific peer review? Thankfully someone took that much-parodied scene in Hitler’s bunker from the film Downfall and re-subtitled it to show how Hitler would have responded to negative comments from a third reviewer. After a raging tirade, the Führer concedes that maybe he should just submit to one of those new “open access” journals. Whilst we are on the topic of chairs, there are also the kind you sit on to conduct your research. In case you wondered what happened to them after they were retired from duty, they appear on the Sad Chairs of Academia blog. Before they are dispatched to that great office in the sky, they are captured for one last time for this most surreal of blogs. I’m waiting for the best images to be compiled into a 2019 calendar. Metrics and social media are never are far away from academic discussion, and both are valuable tools in communicating and gauging interest in a piece of research. The two are combined perfectly to calculate the satirical Kardashian Index where a scientist’s citations are compared to followers on Twitter. Of course citations and Twitter followers are no true measure as to a researcher’s true worth, but those with a high Kardashian Index score could indicate popularity over productivity. We are eagerly awaiting the Kanye West Index. For most publishing in the academic sphere, you will no doubt receive regular invites to write for predatory journals. Whilst this issue becomes increasingly problematic there are a few things you can do to tackle these charlatans whilst also having a bit of fun. One idea is to use the tool Re:Scam which is part of the New Zealand online safety website Netsafe. This tool bounces replies back to scam emailers and keeps them tied up with computer-generated emails. Whether this will work with those actually sending out the phishing messages will be hard to tell, but it’s certainly worth a try in case any are bots. If that fails you can do as I did (in my lunch break) after receiving several requests to publish in a dubious fisheries and agriculture journal. I sent them a PDF formatted manuscript with the word “fish” repeated 6000 times, with a few fishy references to Jacques Cousteau and Michael Fish thrown in too, in addition to a table of different fish. For some reason they did not accept. Nor did they ever contact me again. Funny that.
- Following the success of the learning technologist, is it time for a research equivalent?
The post below was originally published in the LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog under a CC BY 2.0 Licence The research cycle is changing at quite a rapid pace and a lot of that change is due to the increasing numbers of technologies and websites that are appearing to support that process. Many of the most useful tools have been captured by Jerome Bosman and Bianca Kramer with their excellent 101 Innovations in Scholarly Communications. Whist this work is a great use to those who are aware of it in academia, for the majority of academics it is a distant and alien world. The majority are not faintly aware of the myriad of tools and technologies at their disposal. There are several reasons for this, workload and deadline pressures, fear of technology and ethical implications around their use and their application, especially when it comes to third party software. Added to this is the issue of choice, there are a staggering number of technologies and platforms to choose from. Most academics are aware of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and many millions have signed up for the academic focused social networks ResearchGate and Academia.edu. Yet these are merely the tips of the iceberg, and below their peaks lie many hundreds, if not thousands of niche and task focused tools that all promise to make an academic’s life easier. Many of these tools are potentially very useful and the likes of Elsevier are investing in some to create their own research cycle workflow. So if Elsevier are changing the research eco-system it should be of great interest to anyone who publishes with them, or perhaps not? With so many tools how do academics navigate their way through them, how do they make the connection between technology and useful application. Also who helps them charter these sometimes scary and unpredictable waters? Lecturers and teachers have their pedagogy, what do researchers have? If we look at the application of technology and social media from the teaching side of higher education we can see more clearly how things have been implemented. Post 2004 and the advent of Web 2.0 there was an increased uptake of technology in the teaching community. The advent of virtual learning environments aided this with the ability to employ discussion forums, blogs, video and more recently social media. Of course research has also taken advantage of these tools but the difference with teaching is that it was often led and facilitated by the learning technologist. This group of central and departmental university-educated professionals help drive teaching innovation which is underpinned by technology - the clue is in their job title. The technology does not drive the teaching innovation but it can help initiate and improve on it. Through the championing of technologies with teaching staff the technologists have helped refresh higher education making it more fit for the 21st Century. They have helped shape learning and teaching through approaches such as blended and flipped classes, video and screen capture, fresh forms of assessment, use of mobiles and social media. In many cases the innovation is led by the lecturer but, like research, in most cases it requires a good degree of guidance and hand-holding to get them there. Better connections Research is supported by a wealth of professional roles from those working in the central research and finance office, library, media team and IT department. All of these offer valuable support in the areas of research and public engagement. Yet for any centralised department they have the disadvantage of being at arm’s length from the researchers. There is also the issue that a lot of their resources are taken up by the day to day running of their systems that support research. As with the learning technologists for example, we have centralised technologists who look after the VLE and assessment and we have departmental technologists who can help drive innovation directly within the department as well as support central systems. Much of that is afforded by building relationships within the department and gaining the trust of teaching staff. The research side of things is far less developed when it comes down to in-house departmental support for innovation. The research technologist Whatever we call them, the research technologist or digital academic specialist, they are not too different from their learning technologist counterpart. They can support research and its dissemination in the use of video, animation, infographics, social media, online discussion, mobile device use and social networks to name but a few technologies. The learning technologist applies pedagogical reasoning for their technology choices, the research equivalent needs to assess the same considerations. Not only that but they need to understand good communication, information literacy, data protection, ethics, be able to judge what is a good technology and, finally, understand how it can be applied to a specific research setting in a sustainable and timely manner. For example the use of video to disseminate research around speech therapy would potentially be more useful than an infographic. In the same way, an infographic showing results ofa public health project might be better at conveying the results via a blog post. The reason why in-house support could benefit the conduct and dissemination of research is that researchers are very pressured for time; and often they do not know what they need with regards to research technologies and especially dissemination. Secondly when they do know what they want, then they often need it as soon as possible. These two problems are more solvable within the department with the research equivalent of a learning technologist, especially as researchers often do not know where to go for specific help. The reason learning technologists work so well within teaching is that they are in a designated and focused role that is often embedded into the department. They are there purely to support anyone delivering 21st Century teaching that extends beyond the traditional face to face lecture. They are a signpost to new ways of working, problem solving and most importantly, can consider all of the ethical and pedagogical issues when passing on advice. They become the ‘go to’ person for anyone wanting to use technology as part of their teaching. More than just using technology The issue of employing more technology in your research does come with various challenges. For example, if you are involved in research that can gain negative attention, such as religion, feminism or politics, then using social media does come with many issues. By instructing researchers to use Twitter to communicate their research is all very well and good until they get negative comments, especially abusive and threatening ones. Something like Twitter requires a technical explanation, how to use the block function or employ a dashboard like Tweetdeck. As well as advice around negative comments, how, if and when to respond, when to block and in some cases when to report to the platform, your institution or the authorities. Unless time is spent helping researchers use tools and being aware of their major issues, like Researchgate and its ease of sharing research inappropriately, YouTube and copyright, Twitter and abuse, then more researchers will be reluctant to use these tools. In addition to this the more who have bad experiences, often through no fault of their own, the more likely others will see good reason to navigate around such opportunities. One bad experience on social media could put a researcher off using it for good. With the right ongoing support these technologies can - in an impact-driven environment - help communicate and disseminate your research to wider audiences. The role I am fortunate to have is akin to a learning technologist but I work more closely with researchers these days. My role was created a decade ago as an information specialist and was established to look at how technologies can be leveraged to support my department at The University of Sheffield. That extended to the research and teaching staff, students and our own academic library. In that time I put my department on the path to their first MOOCs in 2013, edited a book on Altmetrics and championed Google App, as well as the use of video and social media on my campus. Whilst in that time I have seen the creation of new roles around learning technology, marketing and impact, there are areas of support that fall between the cracks. This is where I pick up much of my work, supporting research and teaching colleagues around the use of video, infographics, social media and all the less attractive issues that are associated with them, such as copyright, security, ethics and the negative impact on productivity. I work closely with the centralised departments, which is beneficial for all the parties involved, and I carry out some teaching, marking and write the occasional paper. In effect I am a hybrid model that is able to hopefully better understand the needs of all parties involved, including the centralised departments who work so hard to support the researchers. As with teaching, which has always required librarians, IT technicians and marketing experts, the learning technologist does not replace them, but complements them. The establishment of learning technologists within departments has helped bring teaching forward to take advantage of the many new technologies. For the same to happen within research it needs institutions to consider the learning technologist and explore whether there is value in developing an inhouse research equivalent, a kind of “Swiss Army Knife” professional who can exploit the burgeoning number of opportunities afforded by the many new technologies out there.
- Analysing Altmetric data on research citations in policy literature – the case of the University of
The post below was originally published in the LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog under a CC BY 2.0 Licence Andy Tattersall and Chris Carroll Altmetrics offers all kinds of insights into how a piece of research has been communicated and cited. In 2014 Altmetric.com added policy document tracking to its sources of attention, offering another valuable insight into how research outputs are used post-publication. At the University of Sheffield we thought it would be useful to explore the Altmetric.com data for policy document citations to see what impact our work is having on national and international policy. We analysed all published research from authors at the University of Sheffield indexed in the Altmetric.com database; a total of 96,550 research outputs, of which we were able to identify 1,463 pieces of published research cited between one and 13 times in policy. This represented 0.65% of our research outputs. Of these 1,463 artefacts, 21 were cited in five or more policy documents, with the vast majority -1,185 documents - having been cited just once. Our sample compared very well with previous studies by Haunschild and Bornmann, who looked at papers indexed in Web of Science and found 0.5% were cited in policy, and Bornmann, Haunschild and Marx, who found 1.2% of climate change research publications with at least one policy mention. From our sample we found 92 research articles cited in three or more policy documents. Of those 92 we found medicine, dentistry, and health had the greatest policy impact, followed by social science and pure science. We also wanted to explore whether research published by the University of Sheffield had a limited time span between publication and policy citation. We explored the time lag and found it ranged from just three months to 31 years. This highlighted a long tail of publications influencing policy, something we would have struggled to identify without manual trawling prior to Altmetric.com. The earliest piece of research from our sample to be cited in policy was published in 1979 and took until 2010 before receiving its first policy citation. We manually checked the records as we found many pre-1979 publications to have been published much later, often this century. This is likely due to misreported data in the institutional dataset, giving a false date; highlighting the need to manually check such records for authenticity. The shortest time between research publication and policy citation was a mere three months: a paper published in November 2016 and first cited in National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) policy in January 2017. The Altmetric.com reports are only as good as the data they analyse and our research did uncover errors. Looking at those 21 papers with more than five policy document citations, we found seven were not fit for inclusion. One such example was identified when we discovered research papers had been attributed to the University of Sheffield when the authors were not, in fact, affiliated to the university. As this data is sourced from our research publications system, we assume this was a mistake made by the author; this can happen when authors incorrectly accept as their own papers suggested to them by the system. While this was almost certainly a genuine error, and may have been rectified later, the system had not yet updated to take account of such corrections. Another of these papers was mistakenly attributed to an author who had no direct involvement in the paper but who was part of a related wider research project. Another of the publications was excluded due to it not, in fact, having been cited in the relevant policy document. One of the papers that was included belonged to an author not at Sheffield at the time of publication, but who has since joined the institution. This showed that Altmetric.com’s regular updates were able to discover updated institutional information and realign authors with their current employer. The two most cited papers came from our own department, the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), in the field of health economics. Only two of the 14 most cited publications were in a field other than health economics or pure economics, both of which were in environmental studies. In total, the 14 most cited research outputs were cited by 175 policy documents, but we identified 9% (16) of these as duplicates. Of those 175 citations we found that 61% (107) were national, i.e. from the UK, and 39% (68) were international, i.e. from countries other than the UK or from international bodies such as the United Nations or World Health Organization. Altmetric.com continues to add further policy sources to its database to trawl for citations. As a result, it should follow that our sample of 1,463 research outputs will not only grow with more fresh policy citations, but as older research citations are identified through new policy sources of attention. This work also highlights the importance of research outputs having unique identifiers so they can be tracked through altmetric platforms; it is certain that more of our research will be cited in policy, but if no unique identifier is attached, especially to older outputs, it is unlikely the Altmetric.com system will pick it up. Altmetric.com is a very useful indicator of interest and influence of research within global policy. Yet there are clearly problems with the quality of the data and how it is attributed to subsequent Altmetric.data. We found one third of our sample of the 21 most cited research outputs had been erroneously attributed to an incorrect institution or author. Whether this is representative of the whole dataset only further studies will find out. Therefore it is essential that any future explorations of research outputs and policy document citations be double-checked and not taken on face value. This blog post is based on the authors’ article, “What Can Altmetric.com Tell Us About Policy Citations of Research? An Analysis of Altmetric.com Data for Research Articles from the University of Sheffield”, published in Frontiers in Research Metrics and Analytics (DOI: 10.3389/frma.2017.00009).