Promoting openness in professional advancement practices
Stacy Konkiel, Altmetric
Cheryl Ball, West Virginia University
Kim Barrett, University of California San Diego and the Journal of Physiology
Peter Berkery, Association of American University Presses
Jessica Clemons, University of Buffalo
Sheree Crosby, Cabell’s International
Holly J. Falk-Krzesinski, Elsevier and Northwestern University

In this report, we unpack how professional advancement practices—including and beyond promotion and tenure review standards—can be realigned to encourage researchers’ adoption of open access, open research, and open educational practices.

The remit of the Open Scholarship Initiative 2017 “Promotion & Tenure Reform” working group clearly connected researchers’ personal publishing choices to the oft-traditionalist system of promotion and tenure in the United States, wherein researchers feel compelled to publish in toll access journals or monographs if they wish to achieve tenure, win grants, receive awards, or otherwise advance professionally. Other professional advancement systems worldwide, such as university hiring and contract renewals and government and foundation grantmaking processes, similarly reinforce the primacy of toll access research formats. Hiring practices were of particular concern for our working group, given the increasing “adjunctification” and precarity of university posts in the United States. Due to these parallels, the Reform working group expanded our charge to consider hiring, grants, and other professional advancement scenarios common to researchers’ concerns worldwide.

Here, we set the scope of the current problem, discuss the reasons why professional advancement scenarios should be realigned to reward open research practices, identify challenges to reforming professional advancement scenarios wholesale and worldwide, recommend concrete actions for beginning the reformation process, and share resources related to professional advancement and open access.

Setting the scope of the problem 

The workgroup initially grappled with the scope of the assigned problem.  We were asked to develop a widely-accepted and inclusive help reduce the influence of journal publishing on promotion and tenure decisions and help make these decisions broader, more transparent, and less reliant on publishing and impact factor measures”.  To a greater or lesser degree, not all workgroup members agreed with the underlying premise of this assignment as stated.  

For example, in many disciplines, it is likely not desirable to reduce reliance upon publishing in journals per se, because peer-reviewed articles as a vehicle for reporting will almost certainly, and appropriately, remain the coin of the realm for academic advancement.  

Instead, academia needs:

  1. A closer reading of research by committees charged with evaluation, rather than relying on the surrogates of publication venue and impact factor; 
  1. A broader view of the types of scholarly outputs that committees should consider as evidence of productivity and impact;
  1. An explicit acknowledgement of the benefits of publishing in open access venues; and 
  1. Incentives that encourage openness.

The final issue has relevance and benefits not only for the faculty member in question (greater visibility, increased opportunities for collaboration, and so on) but also for their host institution (particularly with respect to demonstrating the collective impact of its scholars, as well as fulfilling a commitment to making that work available to society at large -- this may be particularly important for public universities).

Early on in our discussion, our workgroup agreed that our work should simply be a starting point for exploration, as we were a small cross-section of stakeholders in academia. More stakeholders need to be at the table for developing full recommendations for practice. OSI is well-equipped and positioned to undertake exploratory research that can bring together a broad sample of researchers, funders, and chief academic officers to advance this agenda, as discussed in the Recommendations below.
We also wrestled with “mission creep”.  Though many of the issues relating to openness are tangled up in other profound challenges in academia (e.g. What metrics do we use to evaluate research? How do overworked evaluation committees reward research quality over quantity? How does a researcher’s gender affect his or her ability to commit to collaboration, open research practices, and so on?), OSI must be careful not to get sidetracked in its mission to promote openness. On the other hand, we must be mindful that the issues inherent in infusing a culture of openness into academic advancement scenarios are likely highly dependent on discipline and culture, and some gains will be easier to achieve than others.  

For example, this issue extends well beyond journal articles and/or STEM fields and the impact factors that almost exclusively apply in these settings, and yet it may be far more challenging to implement principles of openness in promotion and tenure practices for faculty in traditional “book disciplines” (i.e. the humanities and social sciences). The University of California’s open access mandate for work produced by their employees (including graduate students) is focused on “scholarly articles” and thus implicitly excludes books and monographs. 

We should also consider the influence of changing norms and government mandates with respect to so-called “interim products of research”.  For example, the NIH has recently revised its grant application guidelines to encourage reference to work that has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed venue, but that nevertheless can be made publicly available, such as pre-prints deposited to a public server.  This change, which in part is intended to enhance rigor and reproducibility in research findings, could well impact the extent to which promotion and tenure, hiring, and other funding agency committees likewise consider pre-prints and other interim forms of scholarly communication in their deliberations.

Open practices, on all sides of the table

As our working group considered “openness” as a virtue in professional advancement scenarios, we quickly realized that open practices should be encouraged by all actors in the system. 

Some examples of open practices that might be encouraged are:

  • Open researchers can publish their work open access, license their in-progress and completed work in ways that allows others to adapt and reuse it with attribution, work out loud to share their findings earlier on in the research process, share all of the outputs of their work (including research software, data, notes, presentations, and other “non-traditional” formats), and commit to public engagement, to connect other researchers and the public with their work. Due to their relative career security, senior researchers are especially well-positioned to be advocates for open research, as well.
  • Open educators can share their educational resources openly, use others’ open educational resources in their curriculums, collaborate in the open to develop teaching materials, and encourage their students to develop in their own right as open researchers.
  • Open employers can offer transparent hiring and retention guidelines for faculty, share the benchmarks and metrics by which faculty and departments are evaluated, be explicit about professional advancement expectations, and make their promotion and tenure evaluation guidelines freely available in open formats, so that other institutions might learn from their examples.
  • Open funders can similarly create transparency in the evaluation process, freely sharing the guidelines used to evaluate funding proposals, encouraging researchers to share their grant proposals (both accepted and rejected), and (where appropriate) releasing more information on the review process used by their committees.

These various examples boil down into two main facets of openness: openness in expectations and evaluation practices, and openness in the production of research.

Challenges to large-scale change

Our workgroup also cataloged barriers to increasing openness in P&T review processes, both with respect to the openness of the process itself, and with respect to encouraging and rewarding faculty for following publishing practices that increase the accessibility of their work. Many of these challenges also apply to making changes to the way annual review and reappointment processes are managed, hiring is done, and grants are awarded.  The challenges discussed could be categorized as both structural and cultural.  These identified challenges inform our Recommendations below.

Academic freedom is by far the largest issue to consider in promoting change, especially in the United States. Changes to P&T criteria that are intended to reward openness should not infringe on the rights of an individual faculty member to decide where his/her work should be most effectively published. At the same time, academic freedom can protect researchers’ rights to make their work open access, even where review committees and other researchers disagree.