With momentum building for open-access publishing and debate continuing to rage about access to clinical trial data, the UK government is setting up an independent working group to look at how UK-funded research findings can be made more widely available.

The initiative was announced by Science Minister David Willetts at the British Science Festival in Bradford today.

The working group, to be chaired by Dame Janet Finch, professor of sociology at Manchester University and independent co-chair of the Council for Science and Technology, will examine how access to research findings can be made more transparent and accessible, taking into account a range of considerations including parallel work on research data and other outputs being conducted by the Royal Society.

The focus will be on academic publications, specifically journal articles, conference proceedings and monographs. The group’s work will be supported by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Publishers Association and Research Councils UK. The Research Information Network will provide the group’s secretariat.

The new working group will hold its first meeting in mid-October and aims to come up with recommendations to government in the spring of 2012. Other than Dame Janet, the membership will include representatives from the higher education sector, research investors, the research community, scholarly publishers and libraries.

Transparency agenda

“Transparency is at the heart of the Government’s agenda and it should apply to published research,” Willetts said. “We do fantastic research in the UK, of which we can be rightly proud, but I want to ensure that people are given the opportunity to know more about the projects that government funds.”

 Technological developments and a desire for greater transparency are creating new demands in a rapidly changing research publications environment, Willetts noted, commenting:  “Research stimulates and fuels innovation and economic growth. So, to maximise UK innovation we need to maximise access to and the use of research findings.”

At yesterday’s Strategic MedComms Forum 2011, held by NetworkPharma in London, Iain Hrynaszkiewicz, journal publisher at BioMed Central, said 11% of biomedical publications were now open-access, with the segment growing faster than the journals market overall.