Advocacy and Engagement: Guidance for Integrating Altmetric Data into the Research Lifecycle

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The following guest post was written by Lily Troia, Engagement Manager at Altmetric.

Altmetrics offer researchers and organizations powerful insights into conversations happening around scholarship, yet achieving widespread adoption of altmetrics, especially at academic institutions, can often feel like a Sisyphean endeavor. Much like advocating for any new digital tool, approach, or culture shift, advocating for use of altmetrics requires a concerted, yet reflexive approach, strategic communication and outreach, and above all, alignment with organizational mission and vision.

‘Much like advocating for any new digital tool, approach, or culture shift, advocating for use of altmetrics requires a concerted, yet reflexive approach, strategic communication and outreach, and above all, alignment with organizational mission and vision.’

In my work as a digital scholarship librarian, I (somewhat organically) developed a “rubric” for advocacy in support of the research process. This rubric has come in handy when encouraging consistent research data management practices, advising (in a non-legal sense, of course) on copyright and content licensing, advancing open practices and publishing, and promoting diverse voices in curation and preservation. While each endeavour necessitates nuance and unique strategies, advocating for altmetrics similarly demands a deep engagement with researchers and other academic community members, and should seek to enlist all stakeholders as advocates for a more dynamic scholarly metrics paradigm.

Now as Engagement Manager with Altmetric, I am able to share my experiences and iterative framework with librarians and other Altmetric advocates, and champion their efforts to address outdated aspects of and inefficiencies in scholarly communication. Inclusion of altmetrics in the research lifecycle is one crucial development influencing the direction of scholarship and academia, and fueling an evolution sparked by the myriad capabilities inherent to a digital, networked environment.

‘Inclusion of altmetrics in the research lifecycle is one crucial development influencing the direction of scholarship and academia, and fueling an evolution sparked by the myriad capabilities inherent to a digital, networked environment.’

The seeds of my advocacy rubric were sown prior to my librarian career, traceable to my earliest activist days campaigning for HIV/AIDS awareness in grammar school and organizing Take Back the Night rallies in college; present in previous positions as a social services employment counselor and as a human rights legal intern–and even my ethnomusicology studies where I struggled to balance the role of observer with a recognition that cultural analysis is never neutral. But in truth, my present methodology for advocacy is rooted in experience I garnered launching and successfully running my own music production and project management firm. My approach is almost embarrassingly simple, and, by definition, is customizable to different audiences and different needs, centering around thoughtful, adaptive engagement.

 

Putting the rubric into action

When tasked with rolling out Altmetric at an institution, it’s critical you design your launch with the goals and culture of your organization close in mind. Who will be using Altmetric data? What channels of attention are most important to those in your institution? How does your organization currently define and reward impact? What are your stakeholders’ expectations surrounding Altmetric data; and, what, if any, misconceptions might they have?

While these questions should direct development of your Altmetric adoption and advocacy plan, the following ideas are intended help guide your project management process, and support a sustainable program beyond the initial roll-out:

1. Be collaborative and attentive, and keep the researcher at the center of altmetrics conversations.

It may be your Communications Department is eager to use Altmetric data, or key administrators with purchasing power–but if researchers are not engaged with Altmetric data, you will likely struggle with increased or continued adoption, let alone encourage broader cultural shifts across and beyond your institution.

Listen to researchers! When advising on research data management practices I always began by asking questions and listening to researchers describe their processes, and share the concerns of most importance to them. In terms of altmetrics these questions could include:

  • What audiences are they most interested in reaching?
  • Where do they go to find out about important research?
  • What sort of collaborations might be beneficial to their research?
  • What do they view as measures of impact in their field? Is this citations? Lives saved? Discoveries made? Policies influenced?

Find out why they chose a career path in research. Most researchers need to advance their careers, but were they originally compelled by a desire to advance knowledge and/or help humankind? The more we support researchers in connecting back to their fundamental scholarly mission, the greater the potential to shake up traditional frameworks for promotion and valuations of ‘influence.’

‘The more we support researchers in connecting back to their fundamental scholarly mission, the greater the potential to shake up traditional frameworks for promotion and valuations of ‘influence.’’

2. Prioritize adaptive, personalized relationship-building.

Advocacy seldom works in a one-size-fits-all package. If efforts are not having the desired effect, how can we adjust our tactics? Variances across disciplines and departments are vast — different data points will be valuable to different groups. Researchers might be interested in reference manager data or F1000 mentions. Directors may be focused on reputation management or Wikipedia citations.

Tailor messaging to meet the audience, and customize avenues for outreach that put information in the locations and sources they trust and refer to regularly. When working on a new APC pilot in a previous academic library position, our Scholarly Communications Committee decided to advertise the program at the monthly Student Journal Club. Is there a Graduate Student Research Symposium you can table? A newsletter or or external blog to which you can contribute? Reach out directly to specific departments or programs at your institution–Altmetric data can inform collection development, tenure and promotion, review and recruitment. Initiate conversations with different groups and document their varied approaches to impact analysis and research communication.

Target altmetrics supporters among well-respected faculty or established researchers, or even alumni–and actively engage with early-career researchers, lab support, and undergraduates. Enlist these parties as Altmetric advocates, and provide them with opportunities to establish community and expand conversation via listservs or digital discussion groups, and on-campus meet-ups or learning opportunities. In turn, Altmetric Explorer can unearth high profile mentions of your institution’s research and unique examples of impact: use this data as an opening to approach an author about becoming an advocate for altmetrics.

Always seek ways to partner with other groups and departments involved in the research process, or attuned to sharing scholarship outside of traditional publication forums and in non-traditional formats. Altmetric advocacy will benefit when allies represent an array of stakeholders, such as:

    • Liaison/subject librarians
    • Metadata librarians
    • Digital humanities scholars and centers
    • E-learning offices /extension schools/continuing education
    • Communications and marketing departments
    • Research services and grant support
    • Archives, special collections, digital libraries
    • Lab and research assistants, fellows and interns
    • University publishers/press, student groups producing, publishing, or archiving historical or learning materials

Of course, institutional support is paramount to the success of any program or project. Support requires engagement. The type and level of engagement you foster with department heads or provosts will be different from interactions with researchers or other librarians, but providing actionable insights versus static information is vital to enlisting support across your institution. As mentioned, debunk myths with clear messages. For example, Altmetric data reflects more than social media, show this in action by highlighting a news mention or policy citation in an internal email or report, or feature Altmetric info in press releases and other web content. Need help developing materials that speak to your constituencies and their concerns, and engage them as advocates? Check out the resources on our Solutions page, or reach out to me and we can brainstorm together!

It’s also useful to nurture relationships with the broader altmetrics community, and explore partnerships with vendors and publishers. I meet and train different groups within the scholarly lifecycle–from society journal editors, to cancer research funders, to governmental think tanks–many parties are interested in discussing and elevating the role of altmetrics, and specifically, engaging with authors and researchers in this arena. Altmetrics offers a climate ripe for collaboration.

3. Stay positive and proactive.

Look for opportunities to engage rather than waiting for inquiries to come your way. Altmetrics might traditionally be viewed as the realm of evaluation and assessment, but they also provide data useful at the outset of the research process. Altmetric data can help inform decisions around where to publish, with whom to collaborate, and uncover timely conversations that could potentially influence the direction of research itself. Encourage those at your institution eligible for Altmetric Explorer accounts to interact with Altmetric data directly, showing them how to customize and save searches and set alerts. Provide examples and templates for incorporating Altmetrics into CVs, grant proposals, and online scholarly profiles.

Researchers are undoubtedly busy, but respect for their time constraints shouldn’t foment artificial barriers that keep researchers from understanding the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ behind a nuanced relationship with altmetrics. While we want to diminish challenges impeding Altmetric adoption, we also want to empower others versus simply delivering them data. This approach can extend beyond the “lead a horse to water” adage: why not suggest a collaborative research project with a scholar that looks at altmetrics in their discipline? In order for various stakeholders to become advocates, they must experience the value (and limitations) of Altmetric data firsthand.

4. Foster inclusive, globally representative scholarly communication.

Altmetric data reminds us that scholarship lives well beyond the .pdf. Today research takes many forms–datasets, clinical trial records, learning materials, annotations–as librarians we have the opportunity to elevate non-traditional outputs and publications. In addition, Altmetric data can reveal important conversations happening far outside conventional academic ivory towers. Altmetrics gives us the opportunity to highlight impactful discussions, and share influential research that might be lacking in citations, but is being used in the classroom, or cited in policy.

We also have a duty to analyze demographic data around research attention, and align our communication and dissemination planning with an academic vision that supports the furtherance of knowledge and equitable access to information. Scholarship flourishes when it is infused with diverse perspectives and marginalized voices, and embraces a critical lens with respect to its pedagogy and organizing structures. Advocates for altmetrics envision a reflexive, malleable research ecosystem that embraces the wide-reaching potential of dynamic digital media, and incentivizes innovation, collaboration, and global impact. This might be deemed a lofty vision, but if we can inspire broad engagement across the research community, it’s a future within reach.

‘Advocates for altmetrics envision a reflexive, malleable research ecosystem that embraces the wide-reaching potential of dynamic digital media, and incentivizes innovation, collaboration, and global impact.’

Hopefully I’ve offered some fodder for thought, and tangible ideas you can take back to your institution. Please reach out with any questions or feedback–the altmetrics movement grows because of contributions from folks like you!

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