Could better monitoring and tracking of funding accelerate the transition to open access?

Springer Nature Group
By: Carrie Webster, Mon Apr 6 2020
Carrie Calder

Author: Carrie Webster

Vice President Open Access, Springer Nature

Springer Nature is committed to enabling a faster transition to open access (OA). As colleagues have written about previously on this blog, enabling immediate OA is one part of a broader goal to make all research as open as possible, in order to advance science and discovery. That’s why we continue to innovate our business models and workflows to make choosing and supporting OA as easy as possible for authors, institutions and funders.

One of the key responsibilities we have as a leading OA publisher is to examine the problems limiting a transition to full OA. With that in mind, we have today released a new whitepaper that explores the role that increased monitoring and tracking of OA funds - and increased harnessing of complex funding sources - might play in speeding up the transition to OA.

The whitepaper includes results from a survey with just over 1,000 Springer Nature authors who had paid an APC from June to August 2019. We asked them to highlight the funding sources they used to cover the cost of their APC. We also then commissioned 16 interviews with institutional contacts who were responsible for OA management, asking them about their workflows relating to APC monitoring and tracking. The findings in particular point to the importance of harnessing ‘APCs in the wild’ - payments that are harder to monitor and that institutions and funders may be unaware of, for example because they came from research grant funds, institutional funds not specifically for OA, from co-authors, or an author’s personal funds.

The funding of OA is complex

As noted above, we undertook this project with the expectation that institutions find it difficult to effectively monitor APC spend. Our author survey confirmed just how complex the funding landscape is, making it clear why effective tracking is challenging:

There is no dominant source of APC funding for authors publishing in either fully OA or hybrid journals. Our survey showed authors are drawing on research funders, institutions, publisher agreements, and other sources (e.g. personal funds) to finance APC paymentsNearly half of respondents (47% of fully OA authors, 44% of hybrid OA authors) combine two or more of these main sources of funding in order to cover their APC

Many APCs are ‘wild’

We define ‘wild’ as funds less easily monitored by an institution or research funder: so for example where an author pays from an institutional OA fund or via a publisher agreement, the APC is typically straightforward to track, but an APC paid from a main research grant is more difficult to track.

Over a quarter (27%) of Springer Nature authors surveyed used only 'wild' funding sources for their APCA further 50% combined an APC funding source ‘in the wild’ with funds from more easily monitored sourcesThis is figure is even higher for fully OA authors, with 29% using only ‘wild’ funding sources and a further 54% using ‘wild’ funds in combination with other sourcesRegionally we see variation that points to the success of dedicated APC funding - for example the UK had the lowest levels of APCs 'in the wild', with 50% using funds 'in the wild', either alone (12.5%) or in combination with other funds (37.5%). This compares to  92% of fully OA authors in North America who were using APC funding sources 'in the wild', either alone (35%) or in combination with other funds (57%)

Our institutional interviews confirmed that institutions are finding it challenging to track APC payments. In fact although nearly all institutions had workflows in place to track publications from the institution, far fewer were tracking APC payments. One described the task of monitoring as a “bureaucratic headache”, and even where tracking systems are in place the “evidence is hard to collect”.

By introducing effective monitoring and tracking, and by harnessing these combined funds, there is a real opportunity to accelerate a transition to OA

The results from our author survey show the challenges that institutions are facing, and our interviews begin to show what workflows might enable better monitoring and tracking of APC payments. The success stories our interviewees shared suggest that gains could be made through institutional policy, whereby authors are required to tell their institution about OA publications; or by accounting codes that help consistency in reporting APC payments; or through establishing centralised payment hubs. All of these actions require a high level of coordination and also investment, but certainly indicate that effective APC monitoring is achievable.

Many interviewees also pointed to the success of OA agreements - including transformative agreements - in reducing the complexities around APC payment and monitoring. As more APCs are managed via a central agreement, the number of micro payments (or individual APC invoices) will be reduced, and the number of individual APCs that need to be tracked by a separate accounting code therefore diminishes. The agreements also enable authors to make their research openly available with minimal administrative effort, making it as easy as possible for authors to choose OA.

To facilitate greater numbers of OA agreements, or to consolidate a central OA fund for researchers, it is clear that institutions and research funders need to bring together the complex sources of funding being utilised to pay for OA. By doing so, OA becomes easier to manage, with greater efficiencies for all - including authors.

We have throughout our 20-year history of OA publishing worked to collaborate with others, including research funders and institutions, to innovate our business models and workflows for OA. We are proud of the role we have played in shaping both OA business models and discussion. Together, publishers, funders, institutions and the whole scholarly communications industry have a part to play in enabling a successful OA transition. An immediate action for us following this initial research is to validate these findings and broaden our understanding of institutional monitoring and tracking of APC payments. For that reason, we intend to collect and share further insights from institutions on the barriers and enablers for APC monitoring, and encourage feedback on the models this whitepaper has identified.

*The full whitepaper can be downloaded here*

Carrie Calder

Author: Carrie Webster

Vice President Open Access, Springer Nature

Carrie has worked in open access for 15 years.  Starting her publishing career at BioMed Central in 2003, she was involved in the early growth of the OA movement, BioMed Central’s journal portfolio, as well as the evolution of institutional membership models. 

Moving from STM to HSS, Carrie joined Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.  As Director of Market Development, she developed Palgrave’s OA policies, launched their open access monograph program and first fully OA journal in HSS.

In her current role, Carrie is responsible for OA policy and open research business development across Springer Nature.  This includes green and gold policies, OA books, institutional OA partnerships, as well as supporting the development of a portfolio c.600 fully OA journals, and data initiatives.

Carrie is a member of various industry associations and boards including:- OASPA’s policy committee, the PA's Academic, Professional & Learning Publishers Council, and UK Open Access Monograph Steering Group.