Research discoverability – insights from the OAI 11 CERN-UNIGE Workshop on Innovations in Scholarly Communication


When it comes to driving change in academic publishing practices, much of the focus is on making research outputs freely available to all those who wish to access them. However, open access publishing is just the tip of the iceberg. In order for research to be accessible, it must also be discoverable. “It’s not open if you can’t find it” was the resounding message delivered by Dimity Flanagan, Scholarly Communications Lead at the British Library, on the second day of the OAI 11 CERN-UNIGE Workshop on Innovations in Scholarly Communication, which took place from 19 to 21 June 2019 at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

Despite the amount of negative media coverage, it was made apparent during the workshop that progress is being made towards improving research discoverability. Specifically, Stephen Curry, Chair of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) steering committee, suggested that Plan S, while controversial, has played a big part in orchestrating change and raising awareness about the value of research discoverability within the research community and the general public. Initiatives such as Crossref and Unpaywall are useful tools for enhancing the discoverability of research outputs and tracking open access content, but are we seeing the full benefits of these services?

Although over 100 million content items are registered with Crossref, less than 40% of these have licensing information available, without which, the associated data are not machine-readable and therefore not discoverable. The FREYA project, which is being funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020, is hoping to address this issue by improving the navigation and retrieval of research outputs by extending existing infrastructure for persistent identifiers. Nonetheless, a more streamlined process for data entry is clearly required to maximize the potential of metadata for research discoverability and accessibility.

In his presentation at the workshop, Stephen Curry shared a viral tweet depicting a job posting for a postdoctoral research position, stipulating that only applicants with a first-author paper in a journal with an impact factor greater than 10 would be considered for this role. Although the researcher in question has since apologized and removed this requirement, it is no wonder that many academics are afraid to deviate from the status quo and embrace open research principles. Recognizing the need for improvement, the DORA principles were developed in 2012 to change the way in which academics are evaluated.

In his impactful keynote presentation, Bernard Rentier, Rector Emeritus at the University of Liège, stated that “open science will never prevail without a thorough revisiting of the way evaluations of researchers are conducted.” In show of its support for the DORA principles, the Wellcome Trust’s open access policy for 2021 will require all supported institutions to commit to DORA or equivalent declarations publicly. Guidance for institutes will be made available by Autumn 2019, although members of the audience questioned how effective this would be and how much universities and institutes will embrace change. Will the other members of the research community step up to the challenge of finding a better way to assess research?

“It is important that different organizations come together to drive change”, stated Catriona MacCallum, Director of Open Science at Hindawi. This is clearly demonstrated by initiatives like the FREYA project and DORA.

Steps need to be taken to ensure that researchers are in a position to engage in these initiatives and that they are rewarded for their efforts towards improving the quality of metadata.