Behaviour change and Open Access; lessons for academic engagement

Julie Bayley from the Coventry O2OA project contributes:

The aim of the JISC Open Access (OA) Pathfinder programme is to “develop shareable models of good practice with regard to implementation of research funders’ OA requirements”.  With the sector-wide shift to OA and with growing funders’ OA mandates, the Pathfinder scheme reflects a real need to enhance compliance with the agenda.  The Pathfinder community are  – explicitly or otherwise – hoping to shift the academic community from extrinsic (external) to intrinsic (internal) motivation to comply with OA directives and doing so via a range of workflow and conceptual activities.  Inherent to the overall success of the programme is engaging academics with the OA agenda and improving publishing and data management practices.  Well that’s often easier said than done…..

Surely if academics are required to produce OA outputs, they should just do it?! Largely we assume that when presented with a logical argument people will change their behaviour (stop smoking because smoking kills; eat more fruit because you’ll be healthier).  However, just as these messages often don’t translate into healthy choices, the exasperated frustrations of research support staff suggest that some academics are still ‘not behaving’ when it comes to OA.

But why? The answer lies in the complexity of people.  People don’t necessarily process information rationally, and their behaviour is influenced by a multitude of factors which – in combination – trigger or inhibit actions. The science of Behaviour Change (BC) has evolved to understand (and tackle) how and why people act, and offer techniques for effecting change. Fundamentally, ‘knowledge is essential but not sufficient’ for people to change their behaviour, and only by addressing the underlying drivers (or ‘determinants’) of actions can significant and sustained change be made.  Common influences include:

  • Attitudes (“Do I think OA is a good or bad thing?”)
  • Feelings of control, confidence or self efficacy (“Do I know how to publish via OA and can I do it?”)
  • Perceived ability to overcome practical barriers (“can I find the money to publish OA?”)
  • Social norms (“Do my peers publish OA?”)
  • Cues to action (“What would remind me to publish OA?”)
  • Motivational readiness (“Am I ready to shift from traditional to OA publishing?”)
  • Perceived severity of not complying (“What will happen if I publish behind a paywall?”)
  • Habit (“How have I always published?”)
  • Costs / benefits (“What are the advantages / disadvantages of OA publishing”)

BC does not imply that responsibility rests solely with the individual (as institutional support is crucial), but does offer insight into how institutional strategies for OA can be successfully implemented.  Tips for including BC into organisational settings include:

  • Define the behaviour(s).  ‘Compliance with OA’ may be the goal but what are the actions that lead to this?  E.g. Choosing Gold/Green; applying for internal APC funds; depositing on an institutional repository. Each action will have its own drivers.
  • Determine the thoughts, feelings, understanding and habits that drive people to comply (or not) with OA.
  • Review how the institution facilitates or hinders OA processes i.e. what can be done to develop a supportive context?
  • Determine what will make people start to behave differently and how this will be maintained. Institutional support is vital for making long term changes.
  • Choose training and engagement techniques which meet these needs  i.e. improve knowledge alongside addressing individual concerns and misperceptions

The key is to look at the problem from the users’ perspective to minimise frustration and resistance. Understanding motivations for behaviour can help academics and support staff alike to develop a positive OA culture, and wouldn’t that be good?!!


Julie Bayley is Coventry University’s Impact Officer (based within the Business Development Support Office) and a Senior Researcher in Health Psychology (Applied Research Centre in Health and Lifestyle Interventions).  Her research covers the broad impact agenda and the application of psychology theory to individual behaviour, drawing these areas together to support the process of embedding impact management in HE.  Julie has worked extensively in behaviour change and intervention development, primarily in adolescent sexual health and currently supports a number of quality improvement activities at Coventry University. Julie is a HCPC registered Health Psychologist and project manager for the O2OA Pathfinder project


1 thought on “Behaviour change and Open Access; lessons for academic engagement

  1. Catherine Sharp

    “The key is to look at the problem from the users’ perspective”: yes, exactly – of course. Support is critical, especially where academics are faced with a multiplicity of publisher systems and policies (different embargo periods, complex Gold order forms and processes – many of them bolted on to production systems not designed for open access – and subtly varying funder policies). That’s why a commitment to proper institutional staffing – providing advice, liaising and negotiating with publishers, and developing better systems, as well as managing the practicalities of Gold and Green – is so important. At UCL, since the early days of Wellcome funding, we’ve made it a priority to identify and adapt to authors’ needs. Most authors support open access, but are unable to take on an excessive administrative burden to achieve it. As part of our REF implementation, UCL has established an Academic Advisory Group to make sure that we develop our services to be as user-friendly as possible.


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