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Altmetrics and the academic: reflections on the 1:AM conference

I recently attended the inaugural ‘1:AM’ Altmetrics conference at the Wellcome Collection. As an impact officer/academic researcher I was as intrigued by the offerings for the impact agenda as to the meaningful uses for researchers themselves.

First things first, what a great event! Well organised (both ahead of time and during the event itself), good speakers and live streaming for the gazillions of people who were pipped to the post for tickets. The mixed audience publishers, funders, academics, research support, altmetrics professionals (and others) generated great discussions and helped give an aerial view of ‘where are we now’ with altmetrics. Aside from very minor obligatory glitches (picture slightly lower-lip-trembling delegates due to delayed coffee and biscuits….well ok, me) and some slight technical issues linking people across continents, the conference was extremely well delivered, thought provoking and had a particularly engaged delegation. I have rarely seen such a strong Twitter presence and it struck me, compared to other events, how integral the feed was for audience interaction. Of course those techy and social media people amongst you may be used to the rate of tweets, but I can’t say I’ve seen the same at academic conferences and frankly I think we could learn something. Undoubtedly the whole ‘should academics use social media’ debate is wholly supported by the event, with (for me) twitter facilitating networking, discussion and debate. I must also admit to slight over-excitement on seeing my name amidst an otherwise illustrious cast on a ‘thanks for tweeting’ slide. We academics like accolades in any form :-)

There were of course voices of both assent and dissent, as there should most definitely be at any such events (lots of yes-sayers rarely in my view advance learning). However despite some notable voices of disagreement the overall tone was interested, engaged, welcoming, humoured and curious……eagerness to learn coupled with expertise led-questioning. A real forum for developing the agenda further and I do look forward to the ‘next steps’.

I won’t give a full account of the conference, simply because there are already far more excellent blogs available on the sessions. I urge those of you who haven’t already to check out them out. You may also if quick want to search for #1amconf on Twitter to grab some of the action. I equally urge you to bypass the elephant / cat / squirrel threads as they are marginally tangential to the topic (although a high-level ‘elephant shout out’ to a highly respectable colleague and his unwillingness to admit to his own name remain a particular personal highlight…)

For me, there remain a number of areas of opportunity, exploration and caution (in no particular order):

  • Impact is still an unstandardised concept in altmetrics dialogue and I still can’t yet fully reconcile the link between the two. Yes they help show the path and scale of reach, but for me their ability to mark real ‘change’ is still to be explored.
  • Altmetrics seem principled largely (but of course not solely) on their relationship to papers – how they correlate with citations for instance. But altmetrics and social media perform a far broader job than linearly pushing and tracking a single citable object. Until we shift mindsets accordingly we are somewhat doomed to keep refining processes to narrowly track a niche product rather than look more broadly at the academic applications. Let’s look at what can be done not just what is measurable.
  • It’s clear how much effort has been put into the available systems (thanks all for great talks) but at the moment it feels almost too much to navigate. My suspicion is that the broader academic community don’t know where to focus their efforts or what it benefit it will afford. Which system? What are the differences? Do they complement each other or do we select between? With academic workloads as stretched as they are, any lack of clarity will likely translate into ambivalence and inertia. More consideration of the barriers and facilitators to use alongside technological advancements would help to increase academic engagement.
  • The concepts of ‘credit maps’ and ‘transitive credit’ – in short acknowledging indirect contribution to research products – is fascinating and has real potential for supporting academics with impact. Non-STEM applications of this are particularly intriguing and I will certainly be looking into this further.

So where does the conference take us? For me it shows how far we’ve come in thinking about the application of ‘complementary’ metrics, and how much effort there’s been already. In parallel whilst the technology rushes ahead there is a real need to engage users (academics) in a meaningful dialogue about how and why, not just ‘what’. Let’s not bemoan why it isn’t used as fully as it could without considering the very different drivers for academics (REF, funding, teaching commitments….). Of course altmetrics can support these conceptually but until its academic value is clear and systems are mapped, the tide of academic uptake will turn slowly.

For me it’s a tide worth watching whilst engaging in discussion about how altmetrics can be meaningfully applied.

Also the biscuits were awesome.

Thanks guys :-) 

Post by Julie Bayley

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