Rob Johnson, Founder and Managing Director at Research Consulting | Enhancing the effectiveness and impact of research
As international Open Access Week draws to a close, we’ve been reflecting on the work our team at Research Consulting has done over the last eight years to inform and accelerate the transition to open access. We’ve run workshops, delivered surveys, crunched numbers, conducted interviews, reviewed literature and authored dozens of reports on the subject of open scholarly communication. But more importantly, we’ve been an active part of a global community working to improve access to scientific outputs. Many of those people have done far more than us to get open access to where it is today, but we’re very proud to look back here on ten ways we’ve helped to make scholarly communication more open and equitable.
- Providing an informed, independent perspective. Open access, like so many issues in the modern world, has suffered from a polarisation of the debate. We have made it our mission to provide independent, evidence-based insights and advice that can withstand scrutiny, whichever side of this debate you sit on. Our success is reflected in the fact our client base spans the full range of stakeholders in scholarly communication, from academic libraries to research funders to learned societies to international publishers. For an example of how we approach the issues surrounding open access and scholarly communication take a look at our recent work for OASPA on Developing a healthy and diverse OA market, but our commitment to informed and independent insights runs throughout all of the work that we do.
- Helping institutions understanding the costs of open access. One of the very first pieces of work we did back in 2013 was to help UK universities quantify the costs of complying with the game-changing Research Councils UK open access policy. In the intervening years, we’ve continued to work with universities and research organisations to help them capture and manage the costs of open access. We developed an open access cost modelling tool for Research Libraries UK in 2020 and have recently been working with Jisc to better understand the costs of inter-library loans.
- Informing national open access strategies. We worked as part of a consortium monitoring the transition to open access for the UK, delivering comprehensive reports in both 2015 and 2017. This work made clear that the growth in open access to UK research articles was accompanied by an unsustainable rise in costs, and led us to predict in 2018 the subsequent shift away from hybrid journals towards transformative/ read-and-publish agreements. In late 2020, we worked with Maurits van der Graaf of Pleiade to advise stakeholders in the Netherlands on how to make the transition to 100% open access. Now that this work is complete, the Final Report shows the success of the Dutch open access policy.
- Shaping Plan S. In 2017 we prepared a report for OpenAIRE and the European Commission entitled ‘Towards a Competitive and Sustainable Open Access Market‘. This identified the key barriers to the open access transition, and outlined a range of strategies for overcoming them. Robert Jan-Smits, the architect of Plan S, the initiative to make full and immediate Open Access to research publications a reality, advised us that our report had a significant influence on the Plan’s development. Following its publication, we set out our own recommendations for the further development of cOAlition S in a 2019 article, ‘From coalition to commons‘.
- Connecting open access and international development. Our review of the UK Department for International Development’s open and enhanced access policy in 2018 made the case for increased consideration of the needs of low and middle-income countries in open access policy development. Building on this work, in 2020 we undertook an infrastructure review and landscape analysis for Research4Life and we co-authored both OSI’s Open Science Roadmap: Recommendations to UNESCO, and an Elsevier white paper on Achieving an equitable transition to open access.
- Assessing the impact of open access on learned societies. As part of our work on the transition to open access in the UK, we quantified for the first time, the extent to which UK learned societies rely on publishing income to subsidise their activities. Setting out the results in a 2015 peer-reviewed paper, ‘On shifting sands‘, we subsequently worked with a wide range of societies, across the full breadth of scientific disciplines, to understand how they were preparing for the open access transition.
- Safeguarding open access infrastructure. Our 2016 report on open access infrastructure for Knowledge Exchange, Putting down roots, highlighted the importance of this infrastructure, and called for new funding models to support it. Our study, shared via a London workshop and incorporated into the Amsterdam call for action on open science, laid the groundwork for the Global Sustainability Coalition for Open Science Services (SCOSS), which today helps fund critical services like DOAJ and SHERPA/RoMEO. More recently we’ve worked with SPARC Europe to highlight the gap between funder policies and practices with regard to open science, and analyse the results of a major survey of European open infrastructure providers.
- Informing the development of open access services. We’ve worked with non-profit providers of open access services to gather user requirements, identify use cases, and inform service developments. From the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink for Scientific Communications to Jisc’s suite of open access services, we’ve helped ensure these services address the real pain points felt by researchers, librarians, funders and publishers. In 2020 we even helped develop a free, publicly-available dashboard for the gold and diamond open access landscape.
- Developing advocacy and guidance materials for researchers. We spend much of our time talking with researchers, and have helped a range of organisations develop advocacy and guidance materials targeted at the scientific community. From developing advocacy materials with University College London, Newcastle University and the University of Nottingham in 2014-16, through to supporting the development of OAPEN’s OA Books Toolkit in 2020, we’ve been at the forefront of efforts to make the case for open access.
- Helping publishers develop sustainable business models. We’ve used our understanding of the needs of the different stakeholders in scholarly communication to help publishers develop and refine their open access business models. We prepared a SWOT analysis for OpenEdition in France, undertook a governance review for the Open Library of Humanities, and most recently we’ve helped Springer Nature understand the expectations of librarians and researchers for transitioning highly-selective journals to open access. Our work often takes place behind the scenes, but has informed countless developments over the years, including the announcement during Open Access Week 2020 of the first-ever open access agreement for the Nature journals.
Over the decade or so that we’ve been working in the field we’ve seen open access move from the fringes to the mainstream, both in terms of publishing business models and public awareness. In 2020, COVID-19 highlighted the importance of open access afresh, and made it clear that this transition is far from finished. We’re looking forward to continuing to play our part in it over the coming years.