Top-down coordination and bottom-up engagement: the burgeoning path to full OA

Research Publishing
By: Nick Campbell, Thu Oct 28 2021

OA week is a good time to celebrate the acceleration we have seen in recent years in the transition towards full open access (OA) for research, as well as focusing on how we can continue that trend. Increasingly governments are playing a positive role through structured planning for the transition informed by engagement with the key stakeholder groups.

Advocates for increasing the pace of the OA transition further should rest assured that these stakeholder groups are aligning to help us continue the acceleration. Funders, institutions, and publishers almost universally agree on where we need to get to: no paywalls around research articles. However, there remain key disagreements, globally, on some of the specifics of how to get there (e.g. whether subscription-tied green OA will help or hinder the transition; we talk more about this here.). Nonetheless, all are focused on transitioning to OA in a way that maintains and, indeed, enhances the integrity of research and public trust in it. It is only a matter of time before research articles behind journal paywalls are the exception rather than the rule.

Transformative agreements (TAs) will continue to be the key way of maintaining momentum. Since we first pioneered TAs in 2014, we now have the most national deals with partners in Europe of any publisher, the largest institutional deal to date in Australia and the world’s biggest agreement in terms of article volume with Projekt DEAL in Germany - covering some 2200+ independent institutions publishing annually approx. 35,050 OA articles. Our experiences demonstrate the value that TAs provide on the road to enabling unprecedented full country “flips” to full OA. For example, our study of the early impact of the Swedish TA with BIBSAM shows, among the many benefits, increased usage, societal attention, policy impact and global reach for Swedish authors. That leaves aside the benefits that this affords readers with increased access to Swedish research anywhere in the world.

However our experience also shows that there are no one-size fits all TAs and they take time to negotiate. So while the demonstrable impacts of our own TAs are very encouraging, how can countries ensure those benefits for their nation and its researchers across ALL journals published by ALL publishers? Increasingly some governments are seeing the value of taking a more structured way of getting there that could point the way for many others. 

In Australia these efforts are being led by Chief Scientist Cathy Foley. Dr Foley, with explicit support from Australia’s government, has initiated stakeholder consultations with the aim of achieving “The Australian Model” for the OA transition: moving beyond the currently fragmented and uneven approach to open access in Australia by seeking to implement an overarching national strategy through a comprehensive nationwide agreement that champions the quality-assured, value-added version of record (VOR).

Our recent transformative agreement with CAUL has set a great precedent that gets us a significant way along the path of delivering against the objectives of the Australian Model. From 2022 over 80% of Australian University authored articles in the Springer, Adis, Palgrave and Academic Journals on imprints will be available fully OA globally. However “The Australian Model” vision is much bigger than just allowing Aussie researchers the ability to publish and read without barriers: it is about extending those benefits beyond government-funded research organisations, where they can make even more impact. As our 2020 white paper showed there is a clear appetite for users outside academia - such as those in government agencies, industry, education and the general public - to access more primary research material to better serve their missions in delivering economic impact, drive policy change and improve practitioner decision making. The Australian Model therefore explicitly (and correctly) recognises open science as a societal priority, not just an academic one.

Australia is not alone in looking towards top-down coordination to help accelerate the OA transition. Canada’s Chief Science Advisor Professor Mona Nemer has taken a similarly proactive role in driving the development and ongoing implementation of that country’s Roadmap for Open Science, whose five core principles (people, transparency, inclusiveness, collaboration and sustainability) reflect the centrality to the roadmap of engagement and co-creation with stakeholder groups. Like Australia, India’s government is interested in exploring options for expanding access to primary research beyond the academy, in a process led by its principal scientific adviser Professor Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan. The situations these nations face are all very different and no doubt the ultimate solutions will also vary significantly but the commonalities are clear: top-down coordination informed by extensive stakeholder consultation with a focus on research integrity and sustainability. Europe may be leading in the transition to full OA but the rest of the world are planning their own paths and they will be significant and necessary contributors to maintaining the momentum.

All such exercises need to make some hard decisions as they finalise their plans. In particular there needs to be a clear-eyed focus on the endpoint of sustainable full OA for research article VoRs - this is what research needs to maximise its impact and what researchers want. But where does this endpoint of research articles without paywalls leave repositories that currently are the focus of subscription-tied green OA? At that stage all research articles will be able to be shared, adapted and used wherever they can make an impact. However, in advance of a full transition all relevant stakeholders need to consider the extent to which redundant reproduction ultimately adds value to the research ecosystem as a whole and whether the costs incurred in doing so are justifiable. Should institutions continue to invest money in ingesting, converting and hosting different versions of a paper and redundantly presenting them separately from the platforms where they are published? Would a metadata-only strategy, preserving connections to the curated and maintained VoRs hosted on those native platforms, be a better and more efficient approach, leveraging as it would the investments of researchers, institutions and publishers in that final version? 

The other key thing these plans need to get right is the engagement from individual researchers as we accelerate this transition. We need to bring the research community with us on this journey so they see the transition to open science not as irrelevant or burdensome but rather a fundamental and positive part of what they do. We have already made decent progress in this area and more is planned. For example, promoting the benefits of open access to authors by showing its relevance to the papers they publish with us is a key plank of our transformative journal commitments. However it will require similar positive messaging and support from funders and institutions at all stages of the research life-cycle for us to continue the progress in changing research culture.

So there are still plenty of challenges to navigate as we push towards full OA but, as governments increasingly realise that they can help facilitate a measured transition towards open science and, together, we work through the details of how to achieve that globally, I am sure we can continue the acceleration.

Nick Campbell

Author: Nick Campbell

Nick Campbell is Vice President for Academic Affairs at Springer Nature.

Nick joined what was then Nature Publishing Group in 2001 and has been an editor on Nature Reviews Genetics, Executive Editor of Nature, and Director of Nature Research in China. As the Managing Editor of Nature, Nick led a major digital and print relaunch. Prior to his current role, Nick was most recently Executive Editor and Executive Vice President for Global Institutional Partnerships at Nature Research. Nick’s first degree, PhD and postdoctoral research were in genetics. He also has a Graduate Certificate in journalism from the University of Queensland.