Research assessment: The continuing debate for balance

Springer Nature Group
By: Alison Mitchell, Tue May 19 2020
Alison Mitchell

Author: Alison Mitchell

Managing Director, Journals at Springer Nature

As an industry we are very good at coming up with a list of challenges faced by today’s research community – such as how best to assess research quality, value and importance given these rightly mean different things to different people.   However, the biggest challenge does not lie in identifying the issues, but in taking action to address them – a responsibility shared by all stakeholders, including publishers (Steven Inchcoombe wrote an interesting  blog on one aspect, Impact Factors, here) . 

Springer Nature has long been a part of the debate on the role of metrics in research assessment, putting forward the idea that whilst journal-level metrics can have some use as a way of assessing the impact of a journal, they are not an appropriate means of assessing individual pieces of research nor the researchers who produced them. In fact Nature Research has been an advocate and promoter of alternative metrics since the 1990’s having published many editorials and articles on the subject.  As such today’s announcement that Springer Nature will be the largest research publisher to commit its owned journal portfolio and relevant book content to the DORA principles (following our imprints Nature Research, Springer Open and BMC who became signatories in 2017), as well as working with our society owned journals to support their compliance with DORA, is something we are very excited about. We see it very much as an extension and formalisation of our publishing ethos to support a balanced, sustainable and fair approach to using responsible metrics, responsible author practices and enabling wider author and researcher choice when coming to the critical decision of where and with whom to publish.

We have seen our industry take a wider approach to research evaluation to support a healthier and more productive scholarly enterprise and community – DORA along with the Leiden Manifesto and the UK report ‘The Metric Tide’ being  such examples. By bringing together a somewhat fragmented system of stakeholders including research institutions, publishers, learned societies, and funding agencies, these initiatives have helped to change the tenor of discussions around researcher assessment, paving the way for significant strides to be made in the discussions around metrics. But saying this is nothing new. What remains key,  is for us as a community to continue to take a collaborative approach and look at concrete ways to address this, so that  effective change can take place.

For us as a community  to make any meaningful change in how research is viewed, quantified and assessed – relies on us as publishers taking an open approach to every aspect of our work. Our signing of DORA sits for us within a larger context and speaks directly to the need and call for transparency, openness and the sustainability of a wider, modern, research culture.

Springer Nature has – and continues to – drive a culture of openness. Beyond our role as the world’s most comprehensive Open Access publisher, we are focused on:

  • The need to support and enable collaborative, open and sustainable research behaviour and responsible author practice through, for example our preprint services and support of transparent peer review  practice
  • To closely address the conditions that underpin research and work to ensure, we as publishers and an industry stay connected to the scholarly ecosystem
  • To provide services and tools that continue to meet the changing needs and requirements of researchers
  • To continue to work with the scholarly community to safeguard and assure the trustworthiness of research. See our policy around reproducibility as one example.

Alongside this, we are proud to be signatories and partners with organisations and policies that support  a transparent and open approach to research and research evaluation such as Transparency in the Process of Science  (TOP guidelines), New Frontiers of peer review consortium (PEERE), Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID), and now of course the Declaration of Research Assessment (DORA). 

I am very proud of what we do at Springer Nature and how we do it. We are making strides in addressing and offering a wider and richer set of metrics across our journal and book portfolios and we continue to explore ways in which to best support our scholarly community both in terms of tools, services or access as we navigate the way to an even more transparent and sustainable research framework. However, whilst we as individual publishers can address our own processes, in order for any real concrete change to take place – as Steven has said before me – as a community , we have to look at concrete ways in which to make changes. So how can we work together to create open metrics that better meet academic needs? How can we develop or improve current systems to ensure that they are used properly and responsibly within scholarly communication? Only once we have agreed principles, collectively, can we start to build the foundation for sustainable, open and effective research as we go forwards.

You can find more information regarding Springer Nature and DORA here.

Alison Mitchell

Author: Alison Mitchell

Managing Director, Journals at Springer Nature

Alison Mitchell has been in the publishing industry for almost 20 years, having joined what was then Macmillan Magazines in 1996, fresh from a PhD, working as a News & Views Editor on Nature. After three years with Nature (during which it became part of NPG) she became involved with Nature Reviews and was the launch editor of Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology.

In 2004 Mitchell took over NPG's academic and society publishing portfolio. In 2014, with the creation of Macmillan Science & Scholarly, she became editorially responsible for all of the NPG journals research content as well as the monographs, Pivots, journals and reference products published by Palgrave Macmillan.