Open Access: How will we know if we’ve been successful?

To end Library Research Services week, I thought I might pose the question: ‘How will we know when – or if –  open access has been a success?’Image result for open access

For those who don’t know, open access is a publication process which enables your research to be openly and freely available to anyone, anywhere – as long as they have an internet connection.

Open access notoriously disrupts the traditional publishing process, whereby researchers sign over their papers to publishers who then put the work behind a paywall. Over recent years funding bodies, higher education institutions, researchers, and those working in the scholarly communications sector have encourage, endorsed, and even mandated open access so that it’s now, very much, a permanent fixture within the publishing sphere.

But how do we know whether the move to open access has been a success? Undoubtedly more articles than ever are being openly published. Increasingly researchers are considering it as a viable, or indeed necessary, option for publishing their research. Because the Research Councils, the Wellcome Trust, Research England (formally HEFCE), and other external funders mandate open access for certain outputs which they’ve funded, institutions are now having to monitor compliance levels. Here at Bath in the Spring my team assessed our own compliance levels and I’m happy to report that they were above average.

So yes, through compliance monitoring we can assess whether open access has been a success, at least in respect to whether researchers are choosing it as a way to publish.

The open access movement, however, is more than just about compliance levels. Open access is about the unencumbered sharing of knowledge, the development of collaborations that may have never been formed if the papers that the researchers build upon were inaccessible, and about equitable access no matter your affiliation or location. It’s also about about re-use and licencing options (see, for example, UK-Scholarly Communications Licence and the Creative Commons licencing scheme). But how do we measure whether these benefits have been realised?


Analysis of download statistics is one way, though this approach reveals only part of the picture. In order to gauge whether open access has been of benefit to researchers – and society more broadly – we also need to start seeking out examples of where open access has directly resulted in the development of further research; where articles have been taken up by industry and other sectors to develop their own areas of specialisms; or where, for example, schools and further education institutions have made use of freely available papers in their teaching.

By identifying such examples, we can start to draw together a more comprehensive answer to the question of whether open access has been a success. If you have made use of open access articles to further your research or have examples of where your own papers have been used by others, please get in touch as we’d love to start showcasing how Bath authors are benefitting from open access!

But compliance monitoring and measuring the impact of open access is just the tip of the iceberg.

For many the hope is that the open access scholarly publishing model becomes business-as-usual. And for others, success will only be achieved once the sharing of data and peer review also become fully open.

Image result for open access

For more information about open access at Bath please contact the Open Access Team (, ext. 5114).


This entry was posted in doctoral students, impact, international, journals, open access, postgraduates, publications, REF, research, Research Portal. Bookmark the permalink.

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