06 April 2014

How should institutions respond to changes in journal data policies?

The Public Library of Science (PLOS) recently announced some changes to its data policy that immediately affected authors submitting manuscripts to any of the PLOS suite of high profile journals. From 1 March 2014, authors must submit a data availability statement. Unless exceptional circumstances apply, the data that supports the findings in an article must be made publicly available under conditions no more restrictive than a Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC-BY).

I don't intend to discuss the mixed responses that the PLOS announcement generated: Carly Strasser's blog post, Lit Review: #PLOSFail and Data Sharing Drama, provides an excellent overview if you are interested in this. Rather, I want to talk about how this policy change represents an opportunity to raise awareness amongst researchers of institutional infrastructure (such as repositories that can be used to publish data) and advisory services.

When I first read the announcement, my initial thought was that I needed to find out which Griffith researchers had already published in PLOS (on the assumption that if they've been published there before they might try there again). I wasn't sure of the extent to which our researchers may have targeted PLOS previously and following on from that, what the likely impact of the PLOS changes would be at our institution.

It turns out that PLOS is a significant publisher of Griffith research. Over the time period since 2000 (when PLOS began), more than 200 Griffith-affiliated authors published more than 200 papers in PLOS journals. This represents about 2.3% of the Griffith journal articles published in that time period; PLOSOne was the journal with the fourth highest number of articles by Griffith researchers. This was far more than I was expecting! On an annual basis, this could translate into a pretty substantial number of supplementary datasets that need to be made openly available as per the policy. Even if our researchers are depositing elsewhere in subject repositories (which seems likely, given the subject areas the PLOS journals cover), we'd still like to be capturing metadata for them locally so that they appear in researcher profiles in the Griffith Research Hub and can be harvested by our national registry, Research Data Australia.

I've been thinking that a 1-2 pager (possibly accompanied by the PLOS FAQs) on what this means for Griffith researchers could be prepared quite quickly. This could go out to the Research Committee meetings of our four Academic Groups (particularly the Health and Science groups), to the directors and managers of our research centres and institutes by email, and to the research community as a whole through our Information Services newsletter and university-wide fortnightly Griffith News email. It would be good to work on this in partnership with our Office for Research and we'd probably need to cover:

  • what the changes are
  • how those changes will directly affect researchers, and
  • what relevant support the University has in place, including institutional repositories and Digital Object Identifier (DOI) minting, and advice on subject repositories.
One of the things I'm not sure about is whether to focus just on the PLOS changes or more generally on journal policies for data sharing. Our team (eResearch Services) has already been contacted by a researcher from our Institute for Glycomics about the policy change at PLOS. Coincidentally, only a week later a similar request came through from a researcher in another institute targeting a Nature Publishing Group journal. Like PLOS, NPG's data policy has significantly changed in recent times. At Griffith far fewer researchers have published in NPG journals than in PLOS journals (about a quarter of the number noted above) but maybe it still warrants a mention? Or should we be looking at the overall findings of the JISC-funded Journal Research Data Policies Project (JoRD) and coming up with a broader message for researchers around shifts in the publishing industry, rather than focusing on specific journals?

It seems likely that these policy changes will spark new conversations with some of our top researchers. How is your institution responding to these policy changes by the publishers? Will you highlight these changes through direct communication with your researchers, or will you respond on demand as researchers become aware of new requirements at the time they are submitting? Do you think there is greater benefit in highlighting the policy changes of specific journals, or in promoting more general trends in scholarly publishing, including the emergence of data journals? I'd love to hear how others plan to respond.