To mark Open Access Week last month, The Guardian newspaper asked a number of academics and publishers what they thought was the biggest challenge facing open access (OA). It received quite a range of answers.
One senior academic they spoke to summarised what seems to me to be the broader picture, when he said:
“so many people are still confused about what it is they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to do it.”
So we weren’t surprised when an institution represented at our latest Jisc Monitor workshop said it hoped to see development of a full article processing charges (APCs) management system; one that was capable of managing all aspects of the OA publishing process efficiently, cost-effectively and in a way that both ensures compliance with funder policies and facilitates discovery and sharing of research outputs.
Ambitious as it may be, it’s also completely understandable, for the many institutions that are anxious to get a firm grip of the financial and compliance implications of OA before HEFCE's new policy takes effect in January 2016. But is such a system viable?
Collaborating with the community
Jisc Monitor is a 12-month project exploring whether a user-centred, shared national service could potentially help institutions to manage their OA activity effectively. It complements UK projects such as Open Mirror, and others by HEFCE and the research councils, attempting to scope and understand the issues around OA reporting and work up some practical solutions.
We are also working with OA initiatives in other countries, including Shared Access Research Ecosystem (SHARE) in the US. Closer to home is Open Access Policy Alignment Strategies for European Union Research (PASTEUR4OA), which aims to advance progress on OA understanding and awareness, establish a coordinated network of expert organisations across Europe, and stimulate OA policy developments at a national level that are aligned to both European Commission (EC) policies and Horizon 2020.
National and international collaboration is vital to ensure that OA strategies and standards are interoperable and able to support the increasingly united nature of research. But it is complicated. Individual national governments have different policies on open access, and research communities within these countries are at different stages along the road to a future where research is open access by default.
For example, Germany and Finland do not have national OA strategies in place – although that’s not to say that their research communities aren’t committed to open access, or that they aren’t working hard with publishers to carve out some practical approaches. Finland’s CSC - IT Centre for Science, and Germany’s DFG (German Research Foundation) are two of the five European partners in the Knowledge Exchange working on, among other things, open access strategies and interoperable standards.
Additionally, working collaboratively on these issues should allow organisations across the various nations to work more quickly and more efficiently. Wherever possible we are avoiding duplication of effort and tasks, and learning from each other what works, and what doesn’t.
Costs of open access
Individual institutions are also faced with the question of how to manage the financial side of open access. Our project is exploring this in detail, with the aim of prototyping a system to aggregate and report on cost information from across the UK’s institutions and to specify an application that helps them to manage their own open access publishing more effectively.
At the moment the various aspects of managing publishing costs and ensuring compliance with funder requirements usually fall between several different institutional departments. Too often these departments use discrete systems that interact imperfectly, or not at all. That’s been unavoidable as universities have had to develop quick-fix solutions to respond to the still recent reality of open access.
But while simple systems like spreadsheets provide a reasonable solution while volumes of open access outputs are relatively low, they won’t cope so well when the number of OA articles increase and reporting requirements become more complex. In particular, institutions are going to have to be able to scrutinise in detail their APCs if they want to keep their finances in good order.
Using information provided by institutions, along with examples from a series of best practice projects such as the GW4 OA pathfinder, we’re aiming to write a specification for a system that will support improved data gathering and efficient workflows, using open source software and codes. We are also looking for additional ways to add value, possibly by developing complementary services or producing best practice guidelines for institutions, research funders and publishers.
Get in touch
It’s really important that institutions continue to share information and experiences with us as we model these shared systems, which could help them to save both money and time in future.
We’ll be running regular webinars up to the end of the year before reporting on our findings, and then moving on to look in more detail at APCs themselves. If you’d like to get involved, take a look at the Jisc Monitor resources or email me for details of how to take part.