Gold Open Access research has greater societal impact as used more outside of academia

Joint study by  Springer Nature, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and the Dutch University Libraries and the National Library consortium (UKB), tracks wider impact of SDG related content when published Gold OA 

What impact does open research have on society and progressing global societal challenges?  The latest results of research carried out between Springer Nature, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and the Dutch University Libraries and the National Library consortium (UKB), illustrates a substantial advantage for content published via the Gold OA route where research is immediately and freely accessible.

Since the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were launched in 2015, researchers, their funders and other collaborative partnerships have sought to explore the impact and contribution of open research on SDG development. However – until now – it has been challenging to map, and therefore identify, emerging trends and best practice for the research and wider community. Through a bibliometric analysis of nearly 360,000 documents published in 2017 and a survey of nearly 6,000 readers on Springer Nature websites, the new white paper, Open for All, Exploring the Reach of Open Access Content to Non-Academic Audiences shows not only the effects of content being published OA but more importantly who that research is reaching.

Speaking of the research Harald Wirsching, Vice President Strategy and Market Intelligence, Springer Nature commented:

“What this study has clearly shown is that there is substantial benefit and impact of OA content to users outside of the academic community. It puts a spotlight on the gold route as being the most effective in enabling this. By making research immediately and freely accessible, content is  easier to discover and is therefore used more, not  just by the academic community but by those outside of academia. Combining the study results together, what we begin to see is exactly how that research is then  being used, shared and built upon. What we hope this study will do is demonstrate the strong case for the further investment and funding for OA, particularly in supporting research related to the SDGs, as what it demonstrates is that with that we can achieve real benefits for driving societal change.”

Key findings

  • Research to support the SDGs and published Gold OA is used more and receives greater attention. Documents published immediately Gold OA under a hybrid model have on average 4.4 times as many downloads and are shared more often, receiving more attention than subscription content  receiving a 2.1 times higher average altmetric attention scores than subscription content in the same journals.
  • OA significantly benefits non-academic audiences and is reaching a substantial number of user groups outside of academia – from the reader survey on the Springer Nature platforms, approximately 40% of readers surveyed were classified as non-academic audiences, including 15% “Halo” users (likely to be reading research for professional purposes but not conducting or publishing research themselves) and 28% “General” users (likely to be reading out of personal or professional interest but outside of a role where conducting, publishing or citing research is typical). 
  • Non-academic audiences are more likely to share findings – where core academic audiences are most likely to cite or reference the content they read, the Halo and General segments are more likely to share documents with others. This is significantly easier where the content is OA due to the access limitations faced by non-academic audiences to this content.

Commenting further, Wirsching remarked:  

“Springer Nature is firmly committed to the transition to open research and is a firm believer in gold OA as the most sustainable and effective way to achieve this drive. With this research, we continue to deliver on this vision and support an evidence based approach to demonstrate how OA can better support, not only global access, interdisciplinary collaboration and the advancement of science, but the wider pursuit of advancing progress around the UN’s SDGs.”

VSNU-president Pieter Duisenberg added: 

“More and more people outside academia find their way to academic publications because of Open Access. This has been one of our goals all along, to increase the societal impact of academic research and to broaden the reach of academic research. With the results of this research, we will continue working to increase the societal impact of science. Together with Springer Nature and UKB we will use our findings to develop a toolkit which scientists can use to further increase their impact. Furthermore, this underlines that further investments in Open Access are useful and support the needs of users, both inside and outside academia”.  

The full report can be read here and the associated data can be accessed as part of the interactive dashboard. More on the partnership and the jointly formed Impact Working Group can be accessed  here.