Open Discussion Necessary: Reflections on a Study of the Output-Based Research Support Scheme in University College Dublin

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This presentation reflects on the necessity of open discussion based on a study of the Output-Based Research Support Scheme in University College Dublin. In Jürgen Habermas’ Theory ofCommunicative Action (1), an open and public discourse is an ideal condition for negotiating meanings of action and language, as well as norms and rules in society. In the cultural milieu of scholarly publication, however, discussions about openness of data, science, scholarly communication, peer review, and so on, are seemingly limited to subject experts. A study of the OBRSS indicates that academic staff are quite passive in their involvement in policy-making in research support and research evaluation. I argue that an open and public discourse about openness in scholarly publishing is important for pursuing open data and open science, ethical publication practices, and fair and transparent research policy. University College Dublin has implemented the Output-Based Research Support Scheme (hereafter “OBRSS”) since 2016.Adapted from the Norwegian model (2), the Scheme involves establishing a master list of publications based on the Danish BFI, Finnish, Norwegian lists as well as SNIP (Source Normalised Impact Factor) and CiteScore. Academic staff are awarded discretionary fund based on their research outputs. They are requested to update their publication records in the CurrentResearch Information System (hereafter “CRIS”) regularly. In the first year of implementation,85% of academic staff updated their profiles as opposed to 75 % over the previous three years.This has resulted in having more complete and up to date publication records in CRIS. The differences between coverage in Scopus and the master publication list are quite significant,particularly in the Colleges of Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences & Law, and Business.

A qualitative study was conducted immediately after the second points statement release,between October 2017 and January 2018, to understand the perception of OBRSS, including its benefits and shortcomings and potential changes in publication and research practices.The study includes: (i) a survey disseminated to all academic staff via email during a one-month period, (ii) Semi-structured interviews with eighteen participants of 25-55 minutes each, and (iii) Interviews with administrators involved in the implementation. Emerging themes include discretionary funding, consultation and implementation, motivation and morale (3). Whilst the data analysis is still ongoing, there are a few points worth noting. First,the response rate of the survey is only 17.76 % with an invitation and two follow-up prompts in a one-month period. As the OBRSS affects every academic staff in the university, it was expected that there would be more engagement. Second, most interview participants in the study stated that they have only checked the master publication list against their own publications. There is a general perception that their comments and suggestions on the construction of the list were not or would not be heard. Third, although there were mentions about submitting to open access journals using the discretionary fund, most did not consider the inclusion on open access publications in the master publication list as an urgent matter.And lastly, albeit feedbacks for the master publication list were solicited by the Research Office, the interview participants stated that there were no formal discussions about the Scheme or the master publication list. While a few interview participants indicated that there were some informal conversations, others stated that they kept away from talking about theOBRSS to avoid embarrassment and/or comparison. In sum, there is a general lack of participation and engagement in discussing the new research support scheme. The reasons are multifaceted and would require in-depth socio-cultural investigation. Nevertheless, the lack of discussion about OBRSS among other issues in scholarly publishing is thought provoking.

In this presentation, I will discuss the necessity of open discussion based on Habermas (1)concept of ideal speech situation. In an ideal speech situation, every agent has equal opportunity and right to express and negotiate meanings-of language, of action-which constitute norms, standards, and rules in a community and society at large. Using examples in the study of the OBRSS, I will argue that open discussion is a necessity in everyday academic life to reflect and make policy recommendations on issues such as open data and open science, responsible metrics, and ethical research.

Location: Date: September 20, 2018 Time: 15:30 - 15:45 Lai Ma, University College Dublin Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License