OpenAIRE as the basis for a European Open Access Platform

An exciting recent article on the LSE Impact Blog proposes a European Open Access Platform for research. This idea is very much in line with OpenAIRE’s mission of building a public research publication infrastructure and as such we welcome the authors’ vision. A public platform for the dissemination of research will become essential infrastructure to finally fully integrate research publishing and dissemination into the research lifecycle, rather than seeing it as an added-extra to be outsourced. OpenAIRE is already contributing to make such a vision a reality. We here discuss how OpenAIRE can contribute further to create a participatory, federated OA platform.

The vision of a European Open Access Platform

The article’s authors argue that current policy efforts are not doing enough to support a truly innovative vision for scholarly publishing in the digital age. Despite recent gains, the promise of Open Access is still unattained, and the OA agenda is in danger of being co-opted by traditional publishers whose primary incentive will always be the protection of profit margins. The authors see a real danger in initiatives like OA2020, which seeks a timely movement towards OA by leveraging libraries’ subscription negotiations with publishers to push the latter to “flip” their journals over to “gold” OA, with the major funding instrument seen to be article-processing charges (APCs). The authors wisely argue that this strategy for reproducing a dependency on commercial publishers and on traditional publishing formats,  which have proven themselves to be expensive, resistant to change and often operating against the interests of scholarship.

The authors hence suggest a different strategy: European research infrastructure providers, with coordinated investment from funders and policy-makers, should pool their collective efforts into creating an innovative public publication infrastructure. They lay out a high-level vision for what such an infrastructure would look like:

“Such a platform could be built on an overlay journal model, in which individual journals are layered on top of a system of public repositories (see Figure 1), while remaining under the control of research communities (including the peer review process; community layer) similar to most current journals. An author can assign his article to one of the overlay journals when he uploads it as a preprint to the green repository (product layer). From there, the article follows the traditional publishing path from peer review to publication (journal layer). The journals would then essentially exist as a list of links to the revised articles (and could later even be generated on the fly by convention of topics and metadata).”

Figure 1: European Open Access Platform (CC BY – Fecher, Friesike, Peters & Wagner)

Built upon a base of public repositories, with transdisciplinary and policy-oriented journals enabling innovative open review and metrics overlaid on top, the authors argue that this model could minimise publishing costs while maintaining academic standards. It could become, they say, “a hub to share any type of research outcome, organise evaluation processes and to connect beyond disciplinary boundaries (community layer)”.

The call for such a platform is timely. The authors note that funders are increasingly recognising that publishing is a fundamental part of the research process, and so supporting initiatives to move towards new open infrastructures. The Wellcome Trust and Gates Foundation have recently announced their own “open research” platforms, built upon F1000’s Open Science publishing platform that enables immediate publication and transparent peer review. In a potentially major development, the EC has recently revealed its aspiration to institute its own open access publishing platform, although details of what this will eventually look like remain scarce.

Using private-sector infrastructure to support such platforms brings with it an all-too familiar concern, however: how to avoid vendor lock-in? And what happens, for example, if (as has been speculated) F1000 is destined to be sold to one of the major publishers? Such concerns are particularly pressing in light of the fact that Wellcome’s Robert Kiley seems to foresee an ultimate merger of such funder platforms: “The expectation is that this, and other similar funder platforms that are expected to emerge, will ultimately combine into one central platform”. Were such a centralised funder publishing platform to emerge based on proprietary technologies, such a monopoly would make the current scholarly publishing oligarchy seem quaintly democratic in comparison.

Such a high-level platform is also timely given the current moves to implement the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), the new flagship European Commission initiative to build a unified research environment with trusted access to services, systems and the re-use of shared scientific data across disciplinary, social and geographical borders. An open publishing platform would fit naturally within the EOSC vision. (See here for more on OpenAIRE’s place within EOSC).

Seen in this light, the call for a European Open Access Platform is not only timely, but essential.

OpenAIRE as the basis for a truly public European Open Access Platform

The high-level idea of a public European Open Access Platform is very much in line with the vision of OpenAIRE. OpenAIRE exists to create the social and technical links to enable Open Science in Europe. OpenAIRE is now reaching maturity and will shortly establish itself as a sustainable Legal Entity. Since 2010, we have been building human and technical infrastructure for Open Access and Open Science which would naturally support such a federated system of repositories and community-governed overlay journals.

OpenAIRE has built a robust infrastructure to support the interoperability of repositories, publishers, research information systems, funder information and more.

OpenAIRE’s technical infrastructure enables:

  • Aggregation: The aggregation of diverse data-sources will form the base of such a platform: our infrastructure, in 24/7 operation since 2010, currently harvests from 579 repositories, 30 repository aggregators, and 167 OA journals/publishers to produce a sophisticated information graph of the Open Access output of Europe: currently more than 19 million OA records.
  • A participatory system: data-providers are supported by sets of OpenAIRE guidelines on how to interpret and expose metadata and how to get metadata validated and aggregated into the OpenAIRE infrastructure.
  • Interlinking: Once we have aggregated the information, it is is then de-duplicated, cleaned, text-mined and interlinked via our powerful algorithms to join up publications to data, people, institutions, projects and more. Users themselves can then enrich these links (log-in needed).
  • Monitoring: To date, we have so far linked 217,000 publications to EC funding information, and continue to extend our services to other major funders. We are currently implementing a range of dashboards for data-providers, funders, and researchers to enable them to manage their data, link research outputs and gain easy overviews of research impact and use.
  • Innovation: In the near future, we will begin implementing some of the blue sky advances proposed by the COAR Next Generation Repositories Working Group to improve discovery and content transfer in repositories and build services for open metrics and open peer review.
  • Global interoperability: We will also continue our efforts, in conjunction with COAR, to foster international interoperability and technology transfer amongst regional repository networks, enriching the European research environment whilst simultaneously helping other world regions to adopt common open standards.

OpenAIRE’s technical infrastructure

A truly pan-European OA platform will require more than just the technological infrastructure, however, but also the political alignment of many actors. As a sociotechnical network, OpenAIRE have always recognised the need for policy implementation to bring technical solutions hand-in-hand with the human infrastructure needed to win hearts and minds. It is people who make the difference, and cultural change on the scale necessary to bring about a truly open system of scholarly communication needs effective advocacy, outreach and on a large scale.

OpenAIRE is a partnership of (currently) more than 50 institutions, all working to shape and implement effective OA and Open Science policies, in particular by aligning them to those of the EC. Our network of 33 National Open Access Desk (NOADs), present in every EU country and beyond) are there to reach out to researchers, research coordinators and policy-makers at the local level. Increased awareness at the national level is assured through a range of training and support activities such as holding workshops and webinars, disseminating training materials, and reaching out directly to researchers. As a result, all countries across Europe have made concrete advancements ranging from implementing OA policies to placing OA/Open Science issues on national agendas. The diverse range of expertise within the OpenAIRE consortium means that the OpenAIRE helpdesk is a 24/7 resource for all stakeholders to gain answer to questions on any area of OA and Open Science. This human infrastructure would be invaluable in organising and educating the people needed to make a European Open Access Platform work.

OpenAIRE’s human infrastructure

Governance

In short, OpenAIRE is excellently placed to form the basis for a European Open Access Platform. There will, of course, be many stumbling blocks to the implementation of such a bold vision, of course. But one concern seems to overarch all others: governance. Who would oversee such a system to avoid two major potential problems: (1) the potential for the effective monopoly constituted by such a centralised platform to subvert the aims of Open Science; (2) the inherent conflict of interest that exists where funders directly finance a platform for the dissemination of their own research.

It seems to us that the only way to overcome such concerns in an “open” way would be for such a “platform” to follow the participatory approach of OpenAIRE. Funders could (1) publish a vision in line with the authors’ approach, but which envisages a distributed network of resources; (2) produce standards (licensing, access, search, preservation, uptime, etc.) for open services including repositories, overlay journals and associated (e.g., review, social networking) services; (3) fund organisations, via open tenders, which are willing to operate services according to those standards. Through the promotion and adoption of common standards and protocols, such a distributed system would ensure the avoidance of “lock-in” or any single points of failure, since open standards would ensure that any node in the network is in principle replaceable. OpenAIRE’s interoperability mechanisms could ensure the effective brokerage of content between repositories and the overlaid journal (hosting/reviewing/networking) layer.

The governance mechanisms for such a system could build naturally upon and integrate with the Governance Framework currently being developed by the EOSCpilot project. As the EOSCpilot Governance Development Forum charter says:

“The main governance challenge of establishing the EOSC is how to construct a framework allowing strong and disparate stakeholders to work together. This framework also needs to address cultural challenges, encouraging the adoption of new ways of working and scientific practices. EOSC pilot will design and trial a stakeholder-driven governance framework with the involvement of all stakeholders including: research communities, research institutions, research infrastructures including e-infrastructures, commercial and non-commercial service providers and research funding bodies. This will then shape and oversee future development of the European Open Science Cloud.”

Such a stakeholder-driven governance structure would ensure the avoidance of potential conflicts-of-interest and guarantee that outcomes are ultimately driven by scientific excellence and societal needs rather than, for example, the profit-motives of commercial publishers. It could set the “terms of engagement”, including for the formation of editorial boards, rules of review and federation of content. This “commons” approach could welcome partnership with private-sector actors while remaining faithful to the public good, encouraging the development of innovative services that ensure that the future of Open Science is not to become once again “locked-in” to reliance on commercial interests whose profit-motive often creates an inherent conflict with the goal of open knowledge.

Tony Ross-Hellauer

OpenAIRE2020 Scientific Manager at Göttingen State and University Library, University of Göttingen. Email: ross-hellauer@sub.uni-goettingen.de

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  1. Pandelis says:

    Thank you Tony. Exactly the article I was hoping to read!

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