We recently announced that over 20 academic institutions around the world have adopted the Altmetric for Institutions platform to help them track and report on the attention surrounding their research outputs.
Hi Scott, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. Could you tell us a little bit about your role within the university?
Of course; I work as part of the Research Services Team at the University Library. One of our roles is to provide research tools to the entire institution – with the aim of identifying and implementing those that can provide the most benefit to our researchers.
So how did you first become aware of altmetrics, and what motivated you to find out more?
I first became aware of altmetrics via conferences and industry newsletters. It’s important in my role that we stay up to date with the latest opportunities in research management and assessment, and I was particularly interested in what tools and data there might be that we could use across the institution.
What kinds of institutional goals are you hoping to achieve?
We and our researchers spent a lot of time trying to collate and summarize the attention and engagement our research generates as evidence to submit to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) which takes place every 6/7 years in the UK. It’s important for us to be able to demonstrate this broader impact and show how our work is having an influence on society as a whole. We’re always aiming to make this process easier for our researchers, and this goal more attainable as a result.
Added to that, there are a lot of public outreach and other activities that go on at Manchester – and it can be hard to keep track of what is happening where, or to get any idea of how effective it is. We wanted to validate efforts and provide our researchers, administrative staff, and communications and marketing colleagues with qualitative feedback on the outcomes of their strategies.
And what challenges do you face?
As I’ve mentioned, for research and administrative staff, time is always a massive constraint in terms of what we can realistically achieve. Ultimately, this means that core activities will always get prioritised, and any evaluation or planning for improvement can be pushed aside until it becomes vital (when submitting to the REF, for example). We wanted to provide a reliable system that would make it easy and quick for people to regularly monitor and report on their wider impact, and one which would offer valuable and relevant data that they would benefit from.
“Not only does having all of this data in one place save us time, but it offers a lot of interesting indicators of impact and qualitative data that we would not necessarily have gathered elsewhere.”
How do you hope the Altmetric for Institutions platform can help you realize your objectives?
We’ve set up site license access to the Altmetric for Institutions platform, and are rolling this out across the institution via training and support from the Altmetric team. Already we’ve identified a number of use cases – not only does having all of this data in one place save us time, but it offers a lot of interesting indicators of impact and qualitative data that we would not necessarily have gathered elsewhere. This includes things like where our research has been referenced in policy documents, for example, and not only where in the world our author’s research outputs are getting attention, but what people are actually saying about them.
Could you tell us a bit about your experience of using the platform so far? Are there any particular scenarios you can see it being particularly useful for?
Our experience so far has been really positive. The implementation process was fairly straightforward, and we had good support from the Altmetric team throughout. We’ve worked closely with our Academic Engagement Librarians to ensure they have a good understanding of the platform and the data it provides – so that they are well equipped to go out and introduce it to our researchers.
A particular feature that we really like on the platform is the summary reports. We can see at a glance how much attention all of our research has attracted over the last week, the last month, or even the last year/few years. It helps us identify which channels are main drivers of traffic to our content, and helps to identify which researchers or departments have been particularly successful in engaging with a broader audience.
We’ve also been busy setting up automated alerts to notify us when research from a department gets new attention in one of the sources tracked by Altmetric, which we can then highlight to authors and departmental heads to provide them with further insight.
What has the feedback from your researchers been like?
It’s been mostly positive! They’re still getting to grips with altmetrics but already I’m hearing how much better it is now that they can explore this kind of data consistently across all of their published outputs in one place. Quite a few of them have been surprised and pleased to discover coverage for their work that they were unaware of, or have identified new communities and stakeholders to engage with. I think it makes them feel like they have a lot more control over how their work is disseminated and represented. They don’t have to join every conversation or respond to every comment, but if they wanted to, having this platform makes it much easier to uncover those conversations.
“Quite a few [of our researchers] have been surprised and pleased to discover coverage for their work that they were unaware of, or have identified new communities and stakeholders to engage with.”
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience with us – just lastly, what do you have in mind for altmetrics at Manchester in future?
We’re hoping that the Altmetric platform and data might be particularly useful for our early-career researchers – who are perhaps not yet often cited (or haven’t had the chance to be) but are having an impact in other ways. More generally, we’re keen that the Altmetric platform becomes a tool for discovery – either of new content, new potential collaborators, or just new communities to engage with. Our researchers are doing some great work and we want to help them demonstrate that and form the most effective strategies for getting the most out of their academic outputs.