Using Overton for researcher engagement: Liverpool John Moores University

User type: University

Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) is a modern civic university in the city of Liverpool in the North of England. It’s one of the largest universities in the UK, with more than 27,000 students enrolled. 

We spoke with Katherine Stephan, the Researcher Engagement Librarian at LJMU, about how Overton has helped enrich her institution’s understanding of impact.

In her role, she supports the university’s researchers through training and advocacy. This includes finding tools that will help them in their teaching, scholarship or professional development and training them to use it. 

Need: LJMU has encouraged use of the platform across the institution, for grant applications, grey literature discovery and developing impact strategies. They also use Overton to discover examples of impact to help in their promotion applications. This is an important use for them, as DORA signatories, as they’re committed to enriching the ways that researchers and research are evaluated. Overton’s expands the suite of metrics by which we can assess research impact, making it more inclusive by broadening its scope, beyond traditional citations.

How does Liverpool John Moores University use the Overton platform?

  • To discover impact for use in promotions and grant applications
  • To find policy documents and grey literature for teaching and research
  • To help with strategic planning for the next REF – tracking policy citations to identify early examples of influence that could be built on to form an impact case study

What were their problems?

As a research librarian you have ‘many hats’, and oversee various elements of the research landscape in the university. You’re an essential support for researchers, charged with helping them produce the best quality work. This involves managing tools and resources to help others in the university do their jobs most effectively. You need these tools to be easy to use, or the uptake won’t be good and you won’t get value for money. 

For Katherine, trying to get to grips with a variety of complex platforms, each of which perform a different function, before embedding their use across the institution can be a challenge! 

“You want to ensure that people are using all the tools at their disposal effectively, or it’s a waste of money. But often they’re hard to use or just so specific that a few people will use them briefly once a year”

Part of Katherine’s role is to support the use of metrics in line with the principles of DORA. This is especially important when academics are preparing for promotion applications. It can be difficult for applicants to differentiate themselves and prove their particular contribution to the institution. Particularly because universities have historically placed value on a very narrow subset of journals, so anyone publishing in other journals would find themselves disadvantaged. 

Being able to demonstrate the impact of research outside academia is increasingly important. However, academics commonly don’t know what happens to their work after it’s published. Often the paper is ‘translated’ by various intermediaries before it’s acted upon or affects change, so there’s no direct citation in the ‘final’ document. This makes it difficult to find examples of impact without prior knowledge.

“They could maybe find out about all of these impacts themselves but it would take so long and involve so much manual work – I wouldn’t even know where to look. You need to know where to search in order to find it”

How does Overton help?

Overton is one platform that does many things. Katherine learned how to use the tool and trained colleagues in various teams across the university, to solve a number of different problems.

“You don’t need to buy separate tools – you can find and evidence research impact, you can analyse your influence in order to increase policy engagement, and you can use it as a grey literature discovery tool. It’s one thing they have to learn about and then they can use it in various different ways” 

She’s shown colleagues how to use it as a tool for teaching and learning, and has also trained the research office in how to employ its data for REF planning. Katherine uses it directly to help academics finding their policy citations and prove their research impact in promotion applications.

“Every single person I’ve supported has found examples of impact that they didn’t know about, which gives them evidence of their reach. It finds impact that’s otherwise unfindable, because it uncovers this chain of attribution and links the real world change to the original research”

Overton makes it easy to understand and build on these examples of influence, by giving rich context to the citations. Getting in-app information on all the sources makes it easy to follow up and track the impact pathway. Not only does this help with building a strong narrative for promotion applications but it also makes the data more trustworthy.

“With other apps you have to do all this additional searching to find out about a source, and see if it’s reliable or impressive before deciding if it’s worth including. But Overton gives you all this rich information just by hovering over a name. It brings more integrity to the data it because everything is transparent, and you’re able to easily follow up on anything”

It also integrates smoothly with their existing systems, which enables users to quickly extract the information they need. Katherine’s colleagues were especially appreciative of the powerpoint and spreadsheet exports, as it allowed them to extract the necessary data in a shareable format and then package it into promotional materials

“This is really important as someone who needs to teach others how to use the tool. Everyone is busy and they need to be able to click on something and get the information easily”

Best features of Overton for LJMU

  • Simplicity, easy of use and integration with systems – “Overton’s functionality is really great”
  • Responsiveness – “when you reach out to Overton you know you’re gonna get a reply quickly. And it’s also a named person, who’ll take on responsibility for your question or issue”
  • Policy to policy citations which show indirect influence. This allows users to track their work across various policy actors and documents, so they can identify research impact even where they aren’t directly cited.
  • Detailed source information in-app – this transparency provides context to the citations and makes the examples of impact more trustworthy.

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