Our Open Future

Alicia Wise at the Charleston Conference

Alicia Wise of Information Power was invited to deliver a plenary presentation at the Charleston Conference in beautiful South Carolina. In just ten minutes, she was to discuss Our Open Future: how we will achieve Open Access, Open Infrastructure, and Open Research. So while it would be impossible to sum these topics up in ten minutes, it was indeed time enough to develop the theme of how new – sometimes unexpected – collaborations will be available and essential to moving into the new open world. 

Some readers may wonder if that’s the right destination at all, or feel less than confident that any of us knows how to get there in a sensible way. That’s precisely why it’s a journey best taken together, to pool creativity and risk. So what’s the key to getting to an open future?

Think about it for just a few seconds… if you wanted to identify one key to turn to unlock an open future…what would it be? Is it tough funder mandates? Tough institutional mandates? Lots more money? Cancelling big deals? The elimination of publishers? Thriving library presses? Standards? Community-owned infrastructure?

It is our perspective at IPL that people are the key. The Dutch have a saying that if you want to move forward, you have to align all the noses in the same direction and the rest will follow. People of all different kinds need to come together, noses in the same direction, to craft something fresh, new, exciting, and workable. We believe it’s with a commitment to systematically incorporating hugely diverse opinions, perspectives, skills, and people that we will find Open Access success. 

Our highly collaborative Open Access project, SPA OPS (Society Publishers Accelerating Open Access and Plan S), took place this year and involved a huge array of people with very different views and perspectives. The project was funded and commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, UKRI, and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers  (ALPSP).  They launched the project because in the Plan S guidelines, there’s a tough requirement that publishers can no longer receive Open Access funding for hybrid Open Access titles. The funders were hearing very passionately from publishers of all kinds, shapes and sizes that if their titles could be easily flipped, they probably would have already done it.  The key concern in a move away from hybrid titles is the uneven availability of funding in the pockets of authors for paying APCs. Wayne Sime, the new Chief Executive of ALPSP, eloquently explained his members’ concerns about the timescale and cessation of support for hybrid OA titles under Plan S and wanted very much to help his members transition to Open Access and to thrive. 

 Learned-society publishers and other small and medium publishers were feeling particularly pressured and vulnerable, without recourse to the resources that a larger organization might focus on overcoming this challenge. And the SPA OPS project was launch because funders were very responsive to these concerns. Very few people in funding agencies have personally worked in a library context or a publishing context, but we found that they’re actually quite interested in learning what challenges all of our stakeholders bump up against, and are willing to facilitate finding ways through those challenges. They may not be interested in positioning themselves to fund all publishing and all access provision for the long term, but they are willing to help stakeholders overcome barriers to get to a fully open world. 

We reached out quite early in the project to library consortia via the International Coalition of Library Consortia. We were really grateful to the number of library consortia who replied to share their active interest in supporting learned society publishers to make a successful transition to Open Access. This was even more reassuring to learned society publishers who weren’t at all confident that they would receive this welcome support to move forward. They were hugely concerned about gaining access to consortia in at least two ways: many consortia prioritize doing deals with very large publishers (where they get the most bang for their buck)  — just being able to sit at the table and collaborate was a challenge.

During the SPA OPS project we surfaced a wide array of business models and transition approaches, and of all of these the different flavors of transformative agreements resonated most strongly with most of the societies with whom we engaged. This is because it offers a steady, predictable revenue stream that helps them plan their other activities. They need to know the market will support it —  it’s very hard to move your title to Open Access unless there’s a sustainable funding stream for it – and so they wanted to know this ideas was supported by funders, libraries, and researchers as well. They needed to know that this movement is wanted and they needed some practical support and assistance to move there. Many of the publishers we were working with (especially those without large publishing partners) were very worried about the required bandwidth. One society had ten members of staff. Within that staffing resource, they needed to think about how to transform their all of their agreements with individual library subscribers and to perhaps add new consortial deals worldwide, which would be very, very challenging.

So during one of the project workshops, the idea emerged that a transformative agreement toolkit [link to toolkit] would be one useful way forward. We worked very closely with librarians and society publishers to develop that toolkit. It’s freely available online under a CC-BY license, and it has now been piloted by a number of organizations. 

This toolkit has now been piloted in transformative agreement negotiations between 5 small publishers and 4 national consortia. The resulting transformative agreements are a little different than some of the other models that are out there in the landscape at the minute and this is because we focussed on how to support society publishers to move to Open Access and how to support librarians with the pressure that their library budgets are under. By convening discussions between society publishers and librarians there was a sense of decoupling those two issues. Not because you could avoid the affordability and pricing issue: that is critical to resolve as we move forward into a different kind of world. But for practical reasons and the time pressure that Plan S brings to society publishers in transitioning, to be most pragmatic it was easier to focus on cost-neutral transitions now, and to make a signed commitment to work together on alternative pricing and funding models going forward.

Since the end of June, there have been a variety of pilots under way. Three of these have been signed into transformative agreements between national consortia and society publishers. You may have seen announcements by the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) with the Microbiology Society and Portland Press, and JISC has just announced their agreement with the Microbiology Society as well. There are a number of other agreements that are nearing fruition as they are out for consultation with consortia members. We were really grateful to consortia colleagues not only in Australia and the UK, but also Germany and the Netherlands for participating. We were also grateful to Brill, a small commercial publisher, for bringing a humanities and social sciences perspective, as well as STEM societies like IWA and the European Respiratory Society

The pilots being signed and taken up by consortia members is a nice reassurance in concrete terms that transformative agreements with smaller not-for-profit societies is something that consortia can do successfully. It’s well aligned with the mission of many society publishers: they want to reach out to researchers around the world in their disciplines and support all of them. So while it’s mission as usual for them, it’s certainly not business as usual.

The report and all of the toolkits are available online and you’re welcome to use them in any way you would like and we are always happy to provide support too.

Through systematically identifying and addressing stakeholder concerns, we can change and to build an open world that works for all. 

Here’s where you can find out more:

  • The report and all of the toolkits are available under a CC-BY licence here.
  • You can read our blog post on the SPA-OPS Project and Presentation at ALPSP.
  • video overview of the report has been produced by the organisers of the Basel Sustainable Publishing Forum.
  • An Open Access article has been published in Insights and a second will be published in Learned Publishing early next year.
  • An article about the project published in Science Magazine.