“Open for Whom?” — that was the core question posed during Open Access Week 2019, which focused on equity in open knowledge, exploring the importance of not only making research freely available but also of how research is made open. The week brought to the fore discussions about the significance of who will be able to participate in all aspects of OA publishing, including reading OA research, publishing OA, building off of OA content, and taking part in the development of present and future OA publishing models and solutions.

In honor of OA Week 2019 and to facilitate ongoing discussions from that event, Scholastica wanted to take the time to highlight some of the many ways the academic community is actively promoting greater equity in all aspects of OA publishing. In this blog post, we round up seven steps the community is taking towards more equitable OA.

We know that there are many more steps being taken than what we’ve covered here. We invite you to share additional steps to add to this post in the comments section so we can keep it moving forward (see what we did there?)!

Without further ado, and in no apparent order, here are 7 of the many awesome steps being taken towards greater equity in OA publishing.

1. More widespread adoption of Creative Commons licenses

One of the biggest advances in recent years towards greater equity in OA is the more widespread usage of Creative Commons licenses. A common misconception about the term “open access” is that it just means making research “free to read.” In principle, open access also means making research free for anyone to access, share, and build upon. SPARC defines open access as, “the free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment.”

It can be difficult to achieve the aims of OA when works are published under a traditional copyright license that sets restrictions against distributing and reusing content without the permission of the copyright holder, but today there are new license options available that are enabling greater research usage and sharing. Since its founding in 2002, Creative Commons has been developing alternative copyright licenses that enable authors to retain the rights to their works, rather than signing them over to a publisher, and to make their research available under any of six Creative Commons licenses that provide varying levels of openness in terms of commercial and non-commercial usage of works and the creation of derivatives.

As OA has become more widespread in recent years, so too has the adoption of Creative Commons licenses. Now Plan S, an initiative by a consortium of research funders to make research fully and immediately OA by January 2021, will also require that articles funded by any of its members be published under an open copyright license. Plan S specifies that journals must enable authors to publish under a CC-BY 4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0, or CC0 license, with case by case exceptions for the CC BY-ND license.

Creative Commons licenses are fostering greater equity in research usage and sharing in all disciplines. You can learn more about the different license types on the Creative Commons website as well as in this interview with Timothy Vollmer, scholarly communication & copyright librarian at the University of California, Berkeley and former senior manager for public policy at Creative Commons.

2. Transparent reporting on article processing charges — the Open APC initiative

Example Open APC treemap

In conversations about research equity, one question that is being raised more often is — “Who will be able to afford to publish OA?” Reports on the cost of publishing, such as Jisc’s “Article processing charges (APCs) and subscriptions: Monitoring open access costs,” have found that the average APC has risen by around 6% in recent years, well outpacing the cost of inflation. Many in academia have expressed concerns that, if APCs continue to rise at the current rate, the serials crisis could be replaced with an APC crisis where the cost of publishing becomes prohibitive for some authors and their institutions. This has led many to call for greater transparency around journal costs and whether disparities in APCs among different publishers are justified.

One step towards ensuring greater transparency in the cost of publishing is the Open APC initiative. The Open APC initiative releases free publicly available datasets on the APC costs being paid by universities and research institutions for OA journal articles. The initiative, which is part of the INTACT project, presents APC data in a standardized way making exchanging and comparing APC data more manageable. The data can be visualized as a treemap and filtered by year, country, or hybrid status. Currently, over 230 academic institutions share their APC data with the Open APC initiative.

The Open APC initiative is helping to provide greater transparency and context for discussions around the overall costs of academic publishing. In doing so, it has the potential to impose downward pressure on the cost of APCs by making it possible for authors and institutions to compare the costs of publishing in similar titles.

3. Busting the myth that OA equals APCs and highlighting alternative models

The APC model is just one avenue to fund OA research, yet it is often conflated with open access as a concept. Another advance we’ve seen towards greater equity in OA is an increase in initiatives to develop and promote alternative OA publishing models, to bust the myth that OA publishing has to involve APCs. A great example of this is the recent “Society Publishers Accelerating Open Access and Plan S Project“ (SPA-OPS) released by UK-based consulting firm Information Power. The project, which was commissioned by Wellcome and UKRI in partnership with ALPSP, sought to identify ways that scholarly societies can publish Plan S compliant journals while remaining financially sustainable. The final report yields 27 OA publishing models and strategies for publishers to consider. It emphasizes that while many of the scholarly societies that participated in the project believed that APCs are inherent to OA publishing that is not the case.

In her overview of the SPA-OPS project at the Basel Sustainable Publishing Forum (BSPF), Information Power Director and project lead Alicia Wise said the 27 OA models and strategies the project documented can be clustered under the following categories:

  • Transformative agreements
  • Cooperative infrastructure and funding models
  • Author self-archiving
  • Article transaction models
  • Open publishing platforms
  • Other revenue models
  • Cost reduction

The SPA-OPS report covers many great examples of alternative OA publishing models in action, such as California Digital Library’s pilot transformative agreement and the cooperative infrastructure and funding model used by the Open Library of the Humanities (OLH).

There are already many successful OA publishing models in use that do not require APCs, like the OLH model. Another notable recent initiative to promote alternatives to the APC model is the launch of AmeliCA in October 2018. The initiative, also known as “Open Knowledge for Latin American and the Global South,” aims to communicate and further the OA publishing ecosystem being developed in Latin America. More examples of non-APC journals can be found via a quick search of the Directory of Open Access Journals, using their “Article processing charges (APCs)” filter. The Free Journal Network, a scholar-led organization aimed at promoting journals run according to the Fair Open Access Principles, also includes many journals publishing without APCs.

4. Organizations and scholars from around the world coming together to develop next-generation repositories

Visual of next-generation repository developments by Petr Knoth

Repositories have long served as discovery and dissemination tools that ensure widespread access to not only scholarly articles but datasets, draft papers, images, and much more. One recent development to further the role of repositories in the scholarly communication ecosystem as part of a more equitable future OA landscape is the “Next Generation Repository Working Group.” Launched by the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) in April 2016, the working group is exploring new repository functions and technologies. The results of the working group were released in a 2017 report, in which COAR states its intentions for the project, “at COAR, we believe the globally distributed network of more than 3000 repositories can be leveraged to create a more sustainable and innovative system for sharing and building on the results of research. Collectively, repositories can provide a comprehensive view of the research of the whole world, while also enabling each scholar and institution to participate in the global network of scientific and scholarly enquiry.”

The report covers 11 new behaviors for the next generation of repositories, including “preserving resources,” “exposing standardized usage metrics,” and “declaring licenses at the resource level.” COAR is now working to implement the outcomes of the working group to make the next generation repository a reality.

In addition to continuing its next-generation repository work, COAR also recently announced that it will work with cOAlition S to help repositories comply with Plan S. Steps COAR and cOAlition S plan to take towards this aim include working with the most widely-used repository platforms to understand their current capabilities and needs, providing guidance around metadata best practices and “standard vocabularies,” and creating a strategic roadmap for developing repositories to support OA even more in the future.

5. Preprint overlay publishing models to make OA research more accessible and lower journal costs

Discrete Analysis article pages lead readers to the arXiv

Repositories are not only facilitating widespread research dissemination and usage, but also the development of overlay journal publishing models. In overlay publishing, journal articles are hosted on an online repository rather than a journal website. Manuscript submissions are generally posted to the journal’s chosen repository, vetted in peer review, and then if accepted, republished to the repository along with a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) to denote that they are final versions. Overlay publishing is helping to lower journal costs by reducing production expenses.

In recent years, there has been a rise in arXiv overlay journals in particular with notable examples including Discrete Analysis, a non-profit mathematics journal launched by mathematician Timothy Gowers that’s both free to read and free to publish in, and Quantum, a community-led non-profit quantum science journal that’s free to read and has a nominal APC. Quantum is committed to “radical transparency” around its publishing processes and costs.

6. DORA implementation initiatives to facilitate alternative impact models

When scholars seek journals to submit their latest research, they often focus on factors related to tenure and promotion assessment. This has traditionally translated to the Impact Factor, a bibliometric impact indicator based on how frequently a journal’s articles are cited within a given year. Many have argued that the Impact Factor has become intertwined in the serials crisis in a virtuous circle, wherein researchers vie to publish in high IF journals, high IF journals publish the top research, and, consequently, high IF journals remain the most popular “brand name“ publications. Part of promoting equity in OA is breaking this cycle, by developing alternative impact indicators that decouple authors’ impacts from the journals they publish in and instead focus on the merits of contributions at the author/article level. Such impact indicators will level the publishing field by empowering authors to choose the journals they believe will make their work as accessible and impactful as possible and best serve the needs of the scholarly community without focusing solely on journal citations.

One of the greatest advances in recent years towards more equitable tracking of research impacts and consequently greater equity in OA publishing is the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, commonly referred to as DORA. Started in 2012, DORA is now a global initiative bringing together funders, publishers, academic institutions, and researchers to develop and promote the use of alternative impact indicators and research assessment processes.

In recent years, DORA has been gaining greater ground with new OA initiatives, including Plan S, making commitments to support and further the aims of the declaration. Many universities have also begun to promote not only the importance of signing DORA but also examples of how they are implementing its principles. For example, in a recent DORA blog post, Stephen Curry, professor of structural biology at Imperial College in London and chair of the DORA steering committee, explains how Imperial College developed alternative research assessment practices based on the concept of researcher ‘performance profiles’ that recognize and reward a wide range of scholarly contributions including research, teaching, and citizenship. As universities and institutions share examples of how they are implementing DORA they are creating a foundation for new research assessment approaches that others can build off of and expand.

7. Organizations coming together to foster greater diversity and inclusion in scholarly publishing

In all matters of equity in OA publishing, it is paramount that diverse voices are being represented and heard. Studies, such as the 2015 report on faculty diversity from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics and a 2016 report on an international survey of scholarly publishing professionals titled “Demographics of scholarly publishing and communication professionals,” have revealed significant gaps in representation of different races, gender orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds in higher education and scholarly communication. Steps towards greater diversity and inclusion in scholarly publishing and academia as a whole are necessary to ensure equitable OA now and in the future.

In response to the apparent lack of diversity in scholarly publishing, various stakeholders have come together to further conversations about diversity and inclusion and to take action. In October of 2018, the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) announced the launch of The Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications (C4DISC). The Coalition consists of a group of 10 associations with members working in different areas of scholarly communications, including the Association of University Presses, the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, the Canadian Association of Learned Journals, the Council of Science Editors, and the Library Publishing Coalition. C4DISC is open to new members and welcomes all types of scholarly communication organizations to join by signing its “Joint Statement of Principles.” You can learn more about the coalition in this interview with Melanie Dolechek, executive director of SSP.

Moving forward towards an equitable OA future

As the OA landscape continues to develop, it is clear that there is still much work to be done to ensure equitable OA now and in the future, but there are also significant advances being made. Individually and collectively, each of the above steps are helping propel the scholarly community forward by promoting greater equity in all aspects of OA publishing. OA Week is a prime opportunity to raise awareness of initiatives towards greater research equity and how to get involved.

Are there other examples you think should be highlighted in this post? Let us know!

This post was originally published on October 21, 2019 and updated on October 19, 2020.