Altmetric Blog

6:AM – Themes and reflections

Louise Ho, 29th October 2019

Stirling University campus. Photo credit: Maciej Gajewski

The Altmetrics Conference is an annual conference organized by a bunch of like-minded individuals who work with alternative metrics.” archive

In early October, the Altmetric Conference successfully ran for its 6th year in Stirling, Scotland. What an eye-opening few days it was!

The beautiful venue, the University of Stirling, is a university that prides its quirky character and efforts in sustainability. Attendees were treated to a typical Scottish welcome of beautiful hill surroundings, square sausages, haggis and bagpipes. Several from the Altmetric team were present, with CEO, Kathy Christian, Director of Engagement and Advocacy, Ben McLeish and Head of Metrics, Mike Taylor presenting. 

Bagpiper opening the 6AM conference.


Do-a-thon: engaging discussion with the altmetrics community

The conference opened with this years ‘Do-a-thon’, co-organised by Joe Wass (Crossref) and I. For those who may not be familiar, the Do-a-thon is based on the concept of a ‘hackathon’, whereby a group of people collaborate on ideas on a very loose-based agenda. The format of the line-up was different than previous years, which challenged us to introduce themes for discussion. As one of Altmetric’s and the altmetric world’s newest team members, the Do-a-thon presented an opportunity for me to really understand the burning challenges faced within the altmetrics community.

Snapshot of the 6AM Do-a-thon

Between morning discussions and coffee-break intervals, topics began to surface around impact tracking, chain of outputs and attention, and methods of identifying the impact of policy documents. Participants explored topics of their choice and ways they could develop emerging ideas. Joe was instrumental in leading these discussions and stimulating what seemed like complex ideas from long roundtable conversations.

The Do-a-thon revealed numerous ways altmetric data can be interpreted and adapted, despite the short amount of time. I felt the day warmed us for deeper topics that followed on the forthcoming days of 6AM.


The week ahead

All topics discussed linked to the theme of ‘Bridging Worlds’ as a means of conversation around current engagement with altmetrics. How can research be communicated in more meaningful and impressionable ways? How can the global south use altmetrics as a measure of tackling political unjust and metric inequality around research publishing? What other methods can be used to track impact?


Here is a summary of the key themes from 6AM:

How should altmetrics be supporting emerging research economies?

The role of altmetrics in a global society has become a hot topic, and rightfully so. Metric data is being used to highlight political implications on research publishing and understand altmetric data inequality within the global south.

It was really interesting to hear Sahar Abuelbashar, from University of Sussex, relay how researchers within Africa’s scholarly community must account for external factors such as political instability before publishing their work due to economic sanctions. And only a handful of publishers publicly display guidelines on how to publish with trade sanctions in place!

Professor Thaiane Oliveira, of Universidade Federal Fluminense, touched on how the global south is not homogenous and therefore altmetrics data is more complex to analyse. Thaiane emphasises that there is dependency on methodologies that cannot be applied to heterogeneous societies which are economically and culturally different. What other methods can be created to accommodate the scholarly landscape of the global south?

Sahar Abuelbashar presenting ‘Political Instability, Lingua Francas, and Engaging the Local Communities’


What is the story beyond altmetric data?

Altmetrics have stretched far beyond numbers and expanded on topics featured in earlier :AM conferences. What have we been doing with altmetrics data?

In science, communication is often focused on the output — but communication and public outreach is still important. Andy Miah, a scientist and professor who self-described as a cultural commentator, “communicates the context in which those findings take place” through various mediums and spaces. 

He emphasised being a ‘citizen first’, and communicating ideas through the means that resonates best beyond the science community. Could you open a discussion about your work through virtual reality and installations? Or perhaps create an experience based on your output?

Andy Miah taking us through ‘The Scientist as Citizen’

From a researcher’s lens, Mithu Lucraft from Springer Nature pointed to challenges in using metric data to measure societal impact on smaller communities, against sustainable goals set out by the UN. Mithu asks, ‘How can we increase societal impact?’ ‘Are researchers receiving enough support?’

Elizabeth Brophy from John Wiley & Sons gave insight into their strategic approach in using altmetrics to help demonstrate impact for their authors and journal editors. She asked three questions: how am I doing (informing), how are they doing (comparing), what should I be doing? (strategising).


Collecting and assessing data

Collecting, tracking and measuring impact. It was the theme that consistently peered into every conversation. We have all this interesting data, but how can you collect abstract information and make sense of it? We want to know if an output has made an impact, but how do you assess this?

Maria Levchenko, from literature database Europe PMC, placed focus on gathering and tracking extensive bio journal data. Maria took us through steps in identifying the workflow and process of curation in biology. Europe PMC addressed needs for a central database to systematically organise and track complex information, making it ‘simpler and more structured’. Information becomes easier to access outside bio-community and centralisation of information helps biologists with, for example, creating new drugs. Maria also touches on the relationship between curation and citations.

Matthew Bickley, from the University of Wolverhampton, presented his investigation of tracking grey literature online. As Matt highlighted, grey literature is difficult to assess with current tools available and there is a need to come up with novel methods of tracking. One of his approaches looks at how unique identifiers can be used to make the tracking of these items more consistent.


Where do we go from here?

The 6:AM conference has given us a chance to consider where altmetrics are going, and how we as a community can better prepare to embrace the changes that stead our way. How can we be more inclusive and fair with our altmetrics data? How can we become better communicators and storytellers beyond metrics? What other ways can help improve our collection and tracking of output data?

There was an incredible lineup of speakers, and a great mix of delegates – many of whom are already hard at work on answering many of these questions. I highly encourage you to watch the recordings of all the talks on 6AM Conference website.

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