Wednesday 20 January 2016

Using semi-structured interviews to gain a better understanding of researchers' approach to Open Access (OA)

Ruth Stubbings from Nottingham Trent University (NTU) writes about their use of interviews to gain a better understanding of researcher attitudes and behaviours around Open Access (OA).

The project group at NTU was keen to explore researcher understanding of open access (OA), plus their attitudes and behaviours in relation to OA publishing, in order to provide more targeted and appropriate support.

We chose to investigate researcher attitudes and experiences of open access publishing through semi-structured interviews in the expectation that this would encourage a two way conversation where respondents felt able to express their views in their own words. It also provided a basic framework for the dialogue, allowing us to deviate and probe into different aspects more deeply if when required.

The main topic areas covered by the semi-structured interviews were: how the interviewee decides to disseminate their research results; their preferred methods of publication format, and how they choose where to publish; their understanding of OA; whether they publish their results through OA; and finally how the university could help the interviewee publish their research outputs more regularly via OA.

The interviews lasted between 30 to 60 minutes. Notes were taken during the interviews, and they were also recorded so that we could transcribe the main themes later. The information obtained during the interviews was then categorised and collated in Google forms.

50 research staff were interviewed across all Schools within the University, 23 of which were female and 27 male. 13% of respondents classified themselves as early career researchers, 35% mid-career researchers and 52% as established researchers - we targeted researchers that had submitted to the last REF and so the relatively high number of mid and established researchers was to be expected.

Deciding where to publish: All of the researchers interviewed follow the standard dissemination and publishing practices within their disciplines, with a high proportion highlighting that they have accepted invitations to publish in particular journals or monographs and that they respond to calls for papers. Encouragingly 48% of the interviewees have a strategic approach to the dissemination of their research, although not all of them have formally written it down. Unexpectedly, the impact factor of a journal, reputation and the audience is highly influential when choosing where to publish.

Understanding of OA: All respondents understood that OA allows free access to the reader to material published through this route.  The majority were supportive of OA and saw the main benefit being the ability to reach a wider audience; few interviewees, however, mentioned the potential of OA to increase an author’s citation rates. Just over quarter (28%) of the respondents linked OA with the need for the author to pay for their research findings to be published and the majority did not automatically associate IRep, our institutional repository, with OA publishing. Only a small percentage (mainly established career researchers) could easily articulate the difference between gold and green OA, plus the University and/or the RCUK policy on OA.

Publishing through OA: At the time of the study 64% of interviewees made their research publications available in full text through the institutional repository, IRep. 4.7% had also paid a publisher to make their work available through gold OA.  28% of the respondents had not made their research available through OA.
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Four main barriers to publishing through OA were identified:
- Lack of funding  70.4%
- Lack of time 14.8% (research in general as well as publishing)
- Perceived lack of understanding of copyright and what they were legally allowed to do by
  publishers 14.8%
- The system (IRep) was too difficult to use 11%

How the university can help: The respondents felt the university could encourage authors to publish via OA by:
- Regularly reminding research staff of good practice
- Providing additional funding for publication through Gold OA
- Providing clearer guidance on copyright
- Making the IT infrastructure / systems easier to use
- Producing case studies showing link between OA and improved citations, readership, and to dispel     myth of ‘dodgy’ publishing.

So how has the findings influenced our work and the support we offer?  We’ve formulated a more formal dissemination and researcher engagement plan that has been agreed with the PVC for Research, which has placed a greater emphasis on a multi-pronged approach to communication and advocacy. This in turn has led to the introduction of OA drop-in sessions to supplement the more formal RDF events, and the development of new OA support materials, such as postcards and flyers,and the creation of a short case study video in conjunction with our marketing team. To try to alleviate researcher concerns around copyright and misunderstandings about the need to pay for OA, we have increased the amount of information provided on tools such as Sherpa Romeo and on the differences between green and gold OA. In response to the request to make our systems easier to use, further improvements to our institutional repository submission process will be introduced in the first quarter of 2016.

Links to resources that you may find useful:

NTU Interview Questions

NTU Interview Analysis Form

Uncovering researcher behaviours and engagement with Open Access, 20 May, Oxford Brookes University: presentations

Tools and techniques for effective understanding and communication: resources from Uncovering researcher behaviours and engagement with Open Access

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