This is a guest post contributed by Heather Coates, Digital Scholarship & Data Management Librarian at IUPUI. It is intended as a follow-up to Heather’s previous post, Advice from a librarian: how to do successful altmetrics outreach. In her previous post, Heather discussed some key points to bear in mind when conducting altmetrics workshops and other educational activities within an institution. In this second part, she focuses on the core themes that can help a researcher think strategically about how they disseminate and share their work and expertise.
The research cycle doesn’t end with publication
Dissemination is part of the research process. There are far too many articles published each year (http://www.stm-assoc.org/2012_12_11_STM_Report_2012.pdf) to take a passive approach to dissemination. A 2012 report estimates that 28,100 journals publish ~1.8 million articles per year. Not every article needs to reach broad public awareness, but you can make sure that it reaches the community with whom you are trying to engage. For some, this may be as simple as depositing copies of articles or policy reports in a repository, then sharing it back with the community being studied. In the case of disciplinary work, there may be multiple communities of researchers or practitioners who are stakeholders. In this case, the strategy may differ for each community. Engaging in a discussion with public health practitioners may require involvement with state and local agencies, while engaging with citizen scientists requires a less formal, more grassroots approach. The possibilities are endless, so it’s important to prioritize a few that are effective and important to you personally.
Finally, be sure to include all your scholarly products like data, syllabi, code, not just articles and books, in your dissemination plan. If you need some help thinking about how to share your data, check out the Open Data Handbook. For example, I tend to have different strategies for talking about my work depending on the format. When I present at conferences, engagement tends to happen mostly on Twitter and in-person. I use Storify to gather the tweets into a narrative that I can potentially use in my dossier. If there are associated blog posts, I include those as well. With more formal publications, I share with colleagues on Twitter, but may also write a short piece on my blog, then deposit copies in our institutional repository. When there are associated data, those go into our data repository, of course! The other major product I create are instructional materials on topics like data management and bibliometrics. These go onto Slideshare rather than our repository due to the constantly changing face of tech platforms. I often write up significant instructional events on my blog and Tweet about them.
Are you sensing a pattern? I try not to get overwhelmed with the possibilities; instead, I stick to a few platforms with which I am comfortable and use them as tools to engage with people who might be interested in my work.
Your scholarship is more than just publications
The scholarly ecosystem only recently began offering rewards for creating and sharing scholarly products like data, code, instructional materials. For example:
- In 2014, the NIH changed their biosketch guidelines to recognize products, rather than just publications, when considering grant applications.
- Although the practice of citing data is still relatively new, funding agencies like the NIH and NSF and publishers are working to make it widespread, thereby promoting the formal dissemination and sharing of data.
- Platforms like Github are enabling researchers to get credit for reuse of their code, and new journals can provide peer review of instructional materials, like the journal Syllabus.
You are the product
Your publications are not the product that institutions want – you are. Demonstrating the impact of your work is mostly useful in communicating that you are a high-quality, productive scholar contributing to the missions of your institution, school, and department. Tell the reviewers how you and your work align with these priorities. Use evidence to demonstrate the impact of your work – citation metrics, altmetrics, testimonials, letters of support, etc.
With this in mind, remember that metrics cannot fully describe the value and impact of your work. That is up to you to articulate. What these metrics can do is to support your argument about why your institution should keep you around for the next 15-20 years. Metrics, like all statistics, can be misrepresented. Be sure you understand where a metric comes from and what it means. If a metric doesn’t support your argument, simply don’t include it.
Have a plan – strategically plan how you will disseminate your work
- Take some time out each year to think about the following: Who do you want to engage with? The public? Policymakers? Potential collaborators?
- What platforms or media channels do these groups use to communicate?
- What guidelines or criteria for evaluation do your departmental, school, and institutional provide?
Having a plan is particularly important to ensure that your work is accessible to your key audiences, as well as ensuring that it gets done. It’s far too easy to forget about papers once they have been published, but having a concrete plan for sharing your scholarly products makes it far more likely that it will get done. Basic strategies such as creating a Twitter hashtag for your session or poster are much more effective if they are incorporated into the materials so that attendees know how to engage with you and share your work. Creating a hashtag that ties into a broader theme or conversation of the conference allows you to engage and connect your work to that conversation.
Finally, depositing presentation materials or slides in your repository before the conference so that attendees have instant electronic access can be an effective way to share content and engage them in a deeper discussion during the conference. In my own personal experience, things that I have deposited before a conference to share at the conference have more views in the first few months than those I deposited after the conference.
Execute the plan – treat the work of disseminating, sharing, and tracking evaluation of your scholarly products as a project
Treat the dissemination of your work and the creation of your scholarly reputation like the project it is. Manage the project proactively – make the tasks a priority, set clear goals, track your progress, and re-evaluate when something isn’t working. This is less about self promotion and more about sharing your work in a way that engages your communities and facilitates discussion or deeper understanding of the topic. Some tips to share with faculty include:
- Choose how, with whom, and when to engage – Be able to describe these communities clearly enough to explain to those reviewing your dossier.
- Choose a few tools, be selective, then use them consistently – You don’t have to use all the tools. Pick just a few that fit into your workflows and work for the communities you have targeted.
- Evaluate progress & adjust if necessary – Create summary tables or visualizations of your evidence periodically to confirm whether the data are supporting your story. If not, why?
Review and thoughtfully select the evidence supporting your argument – demonstrate that you are a productive scholar/teacher/practitioner worth keeping around
- Know the criteria by which you will be evaluated. Choose and explicitly connect these metrics to those criteria.
- Align your work with institutional priorities.
- Align your work with the priorities of your research community or field.
- Identify key themes for your narrative and explicitly connect them to the evaluation criteria.
tl;dr: Be proactive in engaging with your targeted communities. Treat the dissemination of your scholarly products as part of the research process and build it into your plan for getting tenure. Use a range of metrics to support the story of your scholarship.
For more information on altmetrics or ideas for gathering data on scholarly products, check out the following:
- Bulletin of the Association for Information Science & Technology (ASIS&T), Special Issue on Altmetrics: https://www.asis.org/Bulletin/Apr-13/AprMay13_Piwowar.html
- Article-level metrics primer (SPARC): http://www.sparc.arl.org/sites/default/files/sparc-alm-primer.pdf
- Roemer, R. C. & Borchardt, R. (2012). From bibliometrics to altmetrics: A changing scholarly landscape. College and Research Libraries News, 73(10), 596-600. http://crln.acrl.org/content/73/10/596.full