Assessing the Assessment Evaluation Reports: Are They Setting the Example?

Reflections logo

As I write this the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is hosting an invitation-only event titled “REFlections: Evaluation of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 and a look to the future“.

At the time of writing this line my #REFlections archive has collected more than 1,100 Tweets published today. (I’ll share the archive later after the event).

This is a quick note to refer to two of the reports shared today:

These two reports are available online for free. However, it is no small detail, particularly given both the general context and specific topic of these reports, that none of the reports are available with an open license (I don’t mean CC-BY here, but any license at all).

Both reports indicate they are © Copyright HEFCE 2015 and © HEFCE 2015, which is itself as we know not in contradiction with open licensing (open licenses complement copyright).  However, page 2 of the RAND Corporation report also indicates clearly:

Manville et al, 2015, page 2
“All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the sponsor.”

[I am aware I am most likely infringing copyright law by reproducing this copyright notice here. I invoke fair dealing for educational use].

Unless I totally missed it, the Digital Science and King’s report file does not contain any licensing information telling the reader/user under what conditions the report can be reproduced or re-used or if it can indeed be adapted or enhanced in any way under attribution or any other conditions without having to request previous permission (which takes time, which means resources, which means money).

According to the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Definition, the first requirement for a work to qualify as “open” is that

“[t]he work must be available under an open license […]. Any additional terms accompanying the work (such as a terms of use, or patents held by the licensor) must not contradict the terms of the license.”

[See definition of “Open License” in 2.2. in].

Some authors consider this definition of open licensing too permissive, hence unappealing to academic authors or organisations that may have reasons to restrict the conditions under which they publish their work. However, the reports mentioned above do not provide any licensing indication, apart from the copyright notice, and in the case of the RAND report a very clear All Rights Reserved notice.

Open Access and Open Licensing are of course related. The relationship is the object of a long discusssion and it has taken place elsewhere. In this case the reports in question refer to a research assessment exercise that had the Open Access requirement at its core. HEFCE’s “Policy for open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework” indicates that the open access requirement

“applies only to journal articles and conference proceedings with an International Standard Serial Number. It will not apply to monographs, book chapters, other long-form publications, working papers, creative or practice-based research outputs, or data. The policy applies to research outputs accepted for publication after 1 April 2016, but we would strongly urge institutions to implement it now.”

It is clear that the HEFCE policy cannot be applied to the reports mentioned above. They are not journal articles or conference proceedings with an ISSN.

However, I’d like to suggest that in order to engage fully in a transition towards open access to research data and information all stakeholders would need to adopt good practices in open sharing themselves.

The lack of licensing potentially limits the reach and (ironically in this case) the impact of these reports. Certainly users with an awareness of open access, open data and open licensing will notice the lack of open licensing in these reports, and find in this a limitation if not an obstacle.

Since both reports, as far as I understand, were partially or fully funded by a public body, and hence by the taxpayer, and since both reports are available for no economic cost online, noting here that citizens should have been provided with clear open licensing indicating what they may or may not do with the reports seems to me fair.

How can we demand the adoption of open practices if outputs assessing assessment mechanisms (there’s meta for you) based on the mandate to share openly do not adopt open licensing?

The publication and availability of these reports is welcome and worthy of celebration. The fact one of them explicitly forbids any reproduction without previous permission and that none of them contain licensing information is a disappointment.

[Post published 13:35 PM GMT]

14:00 PM GMT Update

This just in: