NIHR seeks to ensure that the public are at the centre of health and care research culture and systems. This document sets out how public feedback, through workshops and a survey run by the NIHR in the Autumn of 2020, informed the development of the revised NIHR open access publication policy. You can read the full report on public perspectives on open access publishing here: Knowledge is power: why the public access information.
The public were generous with their time in sharing their views on this topic, and this document highlights how their views have shaped the revised NIHR open access publication policy, and wider activities of the NIHR.
What is open access?
Open access publishing makes academic research freely and permanently available online for anyone to read, share and reuse.
Research funders’ open access policies, such as those of the NIHR, can be a powerful driver for increasing the number of journal articles published as open access.
Capturing public perspectives on open access publishing and NIHR policy
We were particularly interested in capturing a diversity of public views to understand how research can be better accessed to maximise its reach, value and impact.
Public voice has not always been central to debates about open access publishing. This is despite strong public interest in access to research findings - as tax-payers, advocates, research contributors and participants, evidence users and beneficiaries.
The public highlighted to us that knowledge is power and that - without free and immediate access to health and care research - there are negative consequences for them, including accessing less reliable sources or not being able to use research findings for health and care decisions.
Scope of the revised NIHR open access publication policy
- A wide variety of research publications are useful to the public - not just academic peer-reviewed articles*
*A reviewing process for checking the quality and importance of reports of research. An article submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal is reviewed by other experts in the area.
- NIHR needs to be clearer about which types of articles or research outputs are in scope of the policy.
We have kept the revised open access publication policy scope broad - applying to all peer-reviewed research articles. This will increase the number of NIHR funded and supported articles which are published open access and thus available freely to all.
We recognise that peer-reviewed research articles are just one possible output of the research studies we fund and support, and we make explicit in our revised policy that NIHR values a wide range of research outputs, and supports a diversity of approaches to dissemination; extending the reach of the research we fund to bring about benefit and change. This includes producing accessible summaries of important NIHR research articles or collections of articles - on priority topics. As well as written summaries, we are experimenting with using podcasts and more visual formats to communicate the key messages. The choice of papers that are summarised is guided by an editorial board that includes public contributors. The summaries are available on the NIHR Evidence website.
Terminology used in the revised NIHR open access publication policy
Open access publishing is a policy area fraught with technical terms and jargon, and the revised open access policy needs to be clearer.
Plain english is used in our policy as far as possible, but any technical terms used are explained in the glossary.
We recognise that we need to go further to produce simple, concise and unambiguous guidance and support so that members of the public are clear about what they can expect from the NIHR and its funded researchers, and can hold us to account. As such we will develop and test guidance and support tailored for a broad public audience.
Implementation of the revised NIHR open access publication policy
The NIHR should have a more ambitious, earlier implementation date than the proposal of publications arising from NIHR awards which begin on or after 1 April 2022.
The policy will now apply to articles submitted for publication on or after the 1 June 2022 This means that the policy will apply to both new and existing research funding awards, rather than only new awards, which in turn will result in NIHR funded articles submitted for publication being in scope from day 1 of the implementation date, rather than having to wait for new awards to reach the publication stage.
*A research output is any item arising from NIHR-funded research that enters the public domain. Outputs can be written, verbally presented, audio/visual or electronic. The NIHR takes a broad definition of what constitutes a research output. Key examples for reporting research findings are available.
The cost of access
- The financial costs of paying to read articles is a barrier to the public accessing and benefiting from NIHR funded research
- Increased costs for making research articles open access may mean less money is available for research.
Articles in scope of the revised NIHR open access publication policy will be freely accessible. However, there are often costs associated with making research articles immediately open access and NIHR will pay reasonable fees to enable immediate open access and is working with other organisations to ensure its funded researchers have access to the best deals. We will continue to monitor our open access publishing expenditure to ensure it provides value for money as part of broader public investment in research and will review our open access funding position by 2024.
Broader barriers to access
How to find the right information
Lack of knowledge and awareness of where and what to access can hinder access to relevant research articles.
The revised open access publication policy mandates that all in-scope NIHR funded research articles must be deposited into the freely accessible Europe PMC archive. This means that, over time, Europe PMC can act as a consolidated source of NIHR-funded, peer-reviewed research which we can direct members of the public to, and will ensure there is appropriate guidance and support for the use of Europe PMC.
We will ensure that our communications with members of the public will support them to access NIHR funded research articles. We will continue to ensure that NIHR news articles and research alerts link to the original research article, and widely promote accessible research summaries on NIHR Evidence on social media and through other public facing websites including relevant charities’ websites.
Digital and language barriers
We need to consider digital and language barriers to access
We recognise that open access is of greatest benefit to those with digital access and literacy. We are working to explore how we can encourage access through other means, for example, promoting our accessible summaries of research in libraries and other places where people may seek out health and care information.
NIHR has published guidance on inclusion of underserved communities (including consideration of language barriers) - this features intervention points to improve inclusion, and a suggested framework of questions to guide the deliberations of funders, researchers and delivery teams as they design and assess research proposals.
Research needs to be understandable to a public audience.
The ability for patients and the public to understand our research is vital for their involvement in research, to encourage wider and more diverse participation in trials and studies, and to bring research closer to underserved communities in order to improve health and care outputs and outcomes. The NIHR Journals Library currently requires a plain English summary of no more than 300 words so that the research can be understood by any reader, including members of the general public. We also publish short summaries of the latest health and care research, including “easy read” versions, presented in plain English to promote use of research by all members of society. These are reviewed by public contributors to ensure they can be easily understood. These can be accessed at NIHR Evidence - Alerts - Informative and accessible health and care research
The needs of patients and the public are a key priority for NIHR and this includes their ability to access and use the research funded by the NIHR . We will continue to address the imbalance in public access to our research evidence to help foster trust and encourage public involvement in NIHR research as we work to implement the revised open access publication policy. The workshops and survey also highlighted that accessibility extends beyond the open access agenda into wider issues of inclusion - these findings will help inform wider work of the NIHR which always seeks to extend the reach and usefulness of the research we fund.