Although the history of the Open Access (OA) movement can be traced back to at least 1994 (or even earlier), its birth is widely held to have taken place at the 2001 Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI). Certainly, it was at this point that the term “open access” was first used.
The BOAI emerged from a meeting held in Budapest that had been organised by George Soros’ then named Open Society Institute (OSI). The OSI also kick-started the movement with a grant of $3 million.
OSI’s involvement has allowed a great deal to be achieved over the last ten years. However, much remains to be done. So in February this year OSI — now known as the Open Society Foundations (OSF) — organised a second Budapest meeting (BOAI-10).
Here a “diverse coalition” of OA publishers, funders, librarians, scholarly societies, infrastructure managers, advocates and strategists reaffirmed and refreshed the BOAI, and subsequently drew up 28 recommendations “to make research freely available to all online”. These recommendations were finally published yesterday.
It is worth noting that a great deal has happened in the OA space this year. We have seen the rise and fall of the infamous Research Works Act (RWA). We have witnessed the so-called Academic Spring — which included a boycott by researchers of Elsevier, the world’s largest subscription publisher. We have seen a US petition in favour of OA attract more than 25,000 signatures. And we have seen the publication of the Finch Report in the UK, followed by the announcement of a new OA policy from Research Councils UK (RCUK). Finally, the European Commission has made a new commitment to “improve access to scientific information produced in Europe.”
However, this is not all good news. The Finch Report and the RCUK OA policy in particular have proved highly controversial, with OA critics expressing great concern that they will prove counter-productive, and could “set worldwide open access back by at least a decade”.
One intriguing question that arises from the policy errors of Finch/RCUK is whether they might have been avoided had the BOAI-10 recommendations been published earlier in the year. After all, as OA advocate Stevan Harnad points out, RCUK’s policy is in direct contradiction with these recommendations.
We might also wonder whether, in the wake of Finch/RCUK, OA advocates can any longer maintain that OA will resolve the affordability problem that led many to join the OA movement in the first place.
BOAI-10 was chaired by Alma Swan, the director of European advocacy for SPARC. Below I publish an email interview with Swan about the meeting and the recommendations — a discussion that inevitably raised the above questions in my mind.
Swan argues that OA can be cheaper, so long as it is “properly supported by sensible policy”. She adds, “[t]he cheapest transition to OA for the UK is through a primarily green route, and several studies have confirmed that.”
This, of course, goes to the heart of the concerns about Finch and the RCUK policy, since both maintain that gold OA should become the main vehicle for scholarly publishing in future, and both relegate green OA self-archiving to a bit player.
As a result, some argue, OA can no longer be expected to lower costs, but rather to increase them. By how much will it increase them? Harnad predicts that the UK research community’s publishing costs will likely rise by 6% as a result of the RCUK policy.
We can but hope that the publication of the BOAI-10 recommendations will refocus policy-makers’ minds on the affordability issue, and that RCUK will rethink its erroneous policy as a result.
The interview begins …
RP: How many people attended the roundtable discussion in Budapest, and why those people in particular?
AS: There were nearly thirty people there altogether. Some (seven) were people who had been at the original BOAI meeting in 2001 and the rest were people who represented organisations or initiatives that can take forward some of the recommendations. They included researchers, OA publishers, funders, librarians, scholarly societies, infrastructure managers, advocates and strategists.
RP: What was the objective of the meeting?
AS: The meeting was called for several reasons. It marked a decade of progress towards OA and we wanted to reaffirm the commitment to opening up research findings. Second, it was to evaluate progress and assess what has worked and what has fallen by the wayside.
It was also a rare and valuable opportunity for those people who attended to be in one another’s company without distraction for a couple of days: such events enable new connections to be forged and a relaxed environment in which ideas can be exchanged.
And finally, we hoped — though we did not make this a prerequisite — that a set of recommendations might come out of the meeting to help lay out directions for further progress. That was an outcome, which is nice and, hopefully, will prove to be useful.
RP: As I understand it, the event was spread over two (half) days, and four headline topics were discussed. Can you say something about these topics, and why those ones in particular were selected for discussion?
AS: Yes, the broad headings for discussions were policy, sustainability, the developing world, measuring impact, and use and re-use of research outputs. These were chosen because they seemed, variously, the most pressing or had a significance that is so great that they deserved specific attention.
Impact measurement, for example, is important because unless we develop new ways of assessing the contribution of an individual, team, school or institution we will still face the obstacle of over-reliance — well, complete reliance — on the JIF and we won’t be able to make proper progress on Open Access.
RP: What then were the main issues that emerged, and how would you prioritise them in terms of urgency/importance?
AS: There is a set of recommendations from the meeting. They are numerous, 28 in all, under four main headings — policy, licensing and re-use, infrastructure and sustainability, and advocacy and coordination. If you ask me to pick out a handful of these to make priorities, I would select the following.
First, the policy recommendations, particularly 1.1 and 1.3. These two together exhort institutions and funders to adopt mandatory policies on OA. Note that these recommendations are about ‘green’ OA. I put these first because a coherent policy infrastructure is crucial to progress.
Where there is good policy, we see growth of OA. Recommendation 1.6 [“Universities with institutional repositories should require deposit in the repository for all research articles to be considered for promotion, tenure, or other forms of internal assessment and review.”] is an example of good policy, and has been shown to work in practice.
Then I’d pick recommendation 2.1, a simple, straightforward, unambiguous recommendation of the use of the CC-BY licence (or an equivalent and, optimally, machine-readable licence). Adoption of this practice will take us where we need to go, which is to turn the scholarly literature into a digital resource for computation.
Finally, I think I’d go for recommendation 4.6. This states the need to continue to promote the benefits of OA, clarify the concept, reassure about the costs (properly supported by sensible policy, a move to OA would be cheaper than our current system) and debunk the FUD.
I’ve picked these few, but that’s not to say I think the rest of the recommendations are weaker. I’m just highlighting those that can help carry the others along, so to speak. Get good policy and advocacy everywhere, and the other elements can be more easily tackled within that supportive framework.
RP: The BOAI-10 meeting was held in February. The 28 recommendations that have just been published have taken 7 months to finalise. Why so long?
AS: The discussions had to be distilled into a series of recommendations. We didn't know, when we finished the meeting and handed Saint Peter the task of organising the notes from the meeting and preparing a first-draft set of recommendations, if we could come up with a set that could be signed up to by all participants. It's a fairly tall order, don't you think? Twenty-eight people from organisations with varied priorities and detailed goals.
But there was a will. The recommendations developed through an online discussion, with people suggesting better wording and adding new ones. That took time — it would go quiet for ages so that we thought we'd reached a final form and then, when that was intimated (any more comments before we go with this?) another discussion or more suggestions would ensue. The thing was ready before the summer holidays, actually, but we decided on a mid-September launch when people would be back at their desks.
RP: What next step is envisaged being necessary to take this forward, and who is expected to take it?
AS: First, those at the meeting are expected to back up the recommendations they helped develop by action wherever they can. There are some recommendations that are quite specific and some that are of a more general nature. There were people round the table who can pick up particular recommendations and do something themselves, or fund others to do them, or organise programmes of action to achieve them.
Outside that tiny group there is, of course, the great big, enthusiastic, committed Open Access community who will look at these recommendations and use them — as inspiration for further commitment, as seeding for new activities, and as ideas for the creation of practical outputs such as services, advocacy campaigns and infrastructural developments that will hasten a better scholarly communication system across the world.
RP: OSF (The Open Society Foundations) has contributed a fair amount of funding to the OA movement over the past ten years. Is OSF now looking to others to share the load, or even perhaps hand the load off to other funders (I believe it never made a permanent commitment to support the OA movement)?
AS: Istvan Rev, member of the Global Board of OSF and present at the original BOAI meeting as well as the tenth anniversary one, indicates that OSF remains committed to the cause in saying, “Having access to the fruits of scholarly work is not a privilege but hard-won right that serves the interest of future research and the trusted relationship between the general public and the academic world. As they did in the past decade, the Open Society Foundations continue supporting open access, open science, open education resources, until everybody understands that the right to know is one of our basic rights.”
That suggests OSF has a continuing intent to fund OA developments, though it has never intended to be alone in this quest. Melissa Hagemann, the Senior Program Manager at OSF in charge of the funding area that includes OA, has always been quite clear about OSF’s role in relation to other funders in saying, “OSF has always encouraged other foundations and funders to support the Open Access movement”.
OSF’s support has been critical. It convened the first BOAI meeting and has funded work on and for OA ever since. It continues to do so and, of course, funded this BOAI-10 event as a signal of its on-going commitment to the cause.
Melissa tells me that in all OSF has provided funding of over 6 million USD over the decade. She has been unquestionably one of the greatest influences for good in the movement, with a commitment to the cause that has never wavered. History will record that. And I’m recording it here, in the present.
RP: What would you say have been the biggest achievements since the first Budapest meeting took place in 2001?
AS: The biggest achievement is getting to a 20% OA level. That’s not enough, but it’s good progress from 0%. The others are the real growing level of awareness of the issues at all levels, and the infrastructure that’s been quietly built up to support OA.
In overview terms, in 2002 we were at the ‘laugh at you’ stage of Ghandi’s famous saying. We’re still at the ‘fight you’ stage but past the middle of it.
On infrastructure, I refer to the repository network, associated technical advances in interoperability and the services built around that, and the growing number of Open Access publication venues that are demonstrating not only sustainability but also that they can become the first choice channel for authors.
RP: And what have been the biggest disappointments?
AS: I’d say failed or failing policies form one category, because they not only don’t advance OA but sometimes they can damage it.
Another is the time it has taken to get awareness to the current level. Of course, we wouldn’t be where we are now without the help of the Research Works Act (RWA) — we had allies there that we never dreamed of teaming up with!
RP: Do you think the RWA represented a last desperate attempt by the big subscription publishers to keep their finger in the dyke, or might it be the start of a worrying new pushback against OA?
AS: No, they won’t give up and why should they? They have a job to do. That’s entirely respectable so long as they don’t become devoid of all principle and start being two-faced about it.
So yes, there will be continuing pushbacks from the big publishers — no more or less worrying than previous ones — until they change their business strategies or pull out altogether. Shareholders need to be apprised of a changing world for these big companies, and modify their expectations accordingly. That won’t happen easily!
Far less understandable is the attitude of some scholarly societies who try to stop the OA tide. They know precisely what is in the best interests of their ‘shareholders’ — their members — and it is to advance the field and the abilities, opportunities and reputations of their researcher members.
Their members are not there to get a financial payoff every year in the form of a dividend cheque: they are members primarily for the opportunity to be part of a community of interest, to network and to support the general progress of their field of interest. OA is slap bang in the middle there.
What has been interesting this year, and something new, is the real anger amongst authors and readers against Elsevier. Has Elsevier reacted as if it cares about its customers? We know how it has cared about its library customers for several decades. Do you notice any change in the way it is thinking about this new category of purchase decision-maker?
A lot to do
RP: So how would you characterise the current OA environment, and how would you say it varies around the world?
AS: Very variable but definitely progressive. Some promising initiatives wither on the vine, in some cases as a result of democracies changing government, where a champion is suddenly lost. Other developments can come as a very welcome surprise — we didn‘t see it coming but ping, there’s suddenly a nice new policy in place.
I think I would characterise the overall situation as very positive. It’s been proved that when the right arguments are made in the right way, policymakers do take them on board. We have the right arguments and we’re getting through to the right ears.
The way policies are implemented varies, though, and this is a bit of a worry. The most effective way forward would be to have consistent, matching policies and that’s what we mostly have. But there’s always got to be a smart-ass who thinks they know better than everyone else, and the OA policy arena is no exception to that truism.
RP: You were recently appointed director of European advocacy for SPARC? What does the job involve, and what are your priorities this year?
AS: I’m sure the job will involve many different things as it develops. It has both responsive and proactive elements. At the moment the emphasis is on the responsive, as this year is proving to be big in terms of OA policy development and we have a lot to do.
We’ve been trying to make some arguments, or help others make them, where we’ve seen policy being made. But the big one at the moment is Europe and the Horizon 2020 rules.
This piece of legislation is in committee stage at the moment and STM [The International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers] has been at work all year, entertaining MEPs with interesting literature and arguments.
We have a job to do to prevent STM-inspired amendments making their way into the final wording. If we fail, Open Access will be delayed for another 8 years in Europe.
RP: As you say, this year is proving big in terms of OA policy development, and there have been a number of important developments in Europe since you all met in Budapest in February, including the UK Finch Report, the new RCUK OA Policy, plus OA announcements from the European Commission and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). Finch/RCUK have proved particularly controversial, and both have been widely criticised by some in the OA movement. These critics argue that policy makers have succumbed to publisher lobbying, and that their approach will likely kill off green OA, and so allow publishers to continue gouging the public purse. As such, they say, both represent a step backwards rather than forwards. Would you agree? What are your views on these developments and their likely implications for the development of OA? Should OA advocates be depressed or elated about these two policy developments?
AS: I laid out the disappointments I had with the Finch study in the SPARC Europe response (I felt it was badly-evidenced in places, and appeared to be a list of unsubstantiated preferences rather than a serious attempt to learn from experience and work out a means of building on past success.
It also looked as though it was paving the way for a very expensive way forward, including paying for hybrid Gold without question. The cheapest transition to OA for the UK is through a primarily green route, and several studies have confirmed that.
RCUK's new twist in its policy, announced in the wake of the Finch Report, says, if I understand correctly, that authors must pay for gold OA if the publisher's embargo is longer than 6 months.
There seems therefore, between Finch and RCUK, no mechanism for limiting the level of article-processing fees though there is an unexplained nod to market forces, which are apparently to be exerted in university research offices in the form of an allocation of RCUK-provided publication funds. I somehow doubt the research offices of the nation love this idea.
I have yet to hear a Russell Group voice expressing anything more positive than ‘disappointment’ at the Finch conclusions. And lest you suggest that maybe that means universities outside the Russell Group might be rather pleased, thinking that the costs of the new system might be lower for them, consider the implications of what David Willetts blurted out last week to appease the Russell Group — ‘another’ 10 million GBP for 30 universities to pay for the Gold OA that Finch and RCUK favour.
Where's that coming from? Why, the research budget, of course (be sure he hasn't nicked it from health or transport). So there is £10 million less for research, another few grant hopes dashed. Is that axe likely to fall on Russell Group researchers or hopeful ones elsewhere?
Getting to CC-BY-licensed OA is the focus of all this and that's a laudable goal, but as it stands the policy will have a number of perverse effects.
RP: Can you elaborate on the perverse effects?
AS: It has not been explained how the proposed mechanism will control costs. How exactly will the rationing of publication money be applied? What effects will this have on those researchers who are turned away when they have succeeded in getting a paper accepted for publication?
When publishers have all lengthened their green embargoes for UK authors and there's no money left, where do authors go?
What effects will there be on the non-RCUK-funded authors whose journals have changed their terms of publication to maximise their benefit from the new policy?
How much of the research budget does the UK Government consider to be a reasonable amount to ring-fence to hand over, on top of subscription payments, to publishers? How will it scale?
And UK SMEs, a major focus for the minister, David Willetts, do not need access only to UK research, so how will innovative UK businesses benefit when all non-UK research articles (94% of the total) sit behind the longer embargoes that publishers are likely to impose as a result of RCUK's (no doubt well-meaning) policy?
Better and cheaper (because grant-holders make the best decisions about how their grants are spent) to dollop out the grants and leave it to the PI to decide whether to pay for gold OA or just use green. But make payment for gold absolutely conditional upon getting a CC-BY-licensed publication at the other end of the process, as the Wellcome Trust does. From what I hear, this is the version researchers themselves would prefer.
It's perfectly possible to get in place the right open licensing conditions for green OA content and already many papers in repositories carry CC licences. Some dedicated work in this area could help increase the amount of libre OA in the UK, for free.
It's perfectly possible to get in place the right open licensing conditions for green OA content and already many papers in repositories carry CC licences. Some dedicated work in this area could help increase the amount of libre OA in the UK, for free.
Challenges and opportunities
RP: What in your view are the biggest challenges the OA movement faces in the coming few years, and what are the biggest opportunities?
AS: The main challenges include the ones we’ve faced all along — raising awareness and ensuring proper understanding of the issues, big-publisher FUD and obstruction, the rather slow speed of action of some policymakers, and flawed policymaking.
The opportunities are numerous and very big. For tops, I’d pick these:
One, there is definitely a new awareness amongst researchers of the problems of the present, and of the promising opportunities for a better system of communication. As well as established researchers becoming involved, we’re seeing a LOT of interest now amongst students, which is very encouraging.
Two, policymakers are also showing huge interest and are much readier now than they ever have been to listen and learn. Sometimes it takes a long time for them to act, but even that’s improving.
Three, technology is finally beginning to dictate cultural change. Ten years ago we all kept questioning why researchers outside high energy physics didn’t see and grasp the chance offered by the Web to change scholarly communication drastically. Looking back, it was too soon to expect the behaviours of three centuries to change fast in such a conservative group of people. Never mind that in their private lives they were shopping on the Web, sharing files and demanding mobile applications for favourite services. At work, what they and their predecessors had done for generations still held sway.
Now we’re seeing something different as the netgen enter the postdoctoral stage and start creating new ways of doing things. Academic social networking developments will change much — it is possible that these sorts of developments will overtake our current rather plodding policy-based advances and hooray for that.
RP: I understand that the recommendations that emerged during the Budapest meeting were only that (recommendations), and not intended to be prescriptive in any way. But if you personally were asked to come up with a strategy for the OA movement today what would it look like (in headline terms), and who would you highlight as the key change agents able to make it happen?
AS: Yes, they are recommendations, though obviously all of us round the table hope that they will stimulate some concrete actions. Your question is challenging because it suggests the ‘movement’ can as a whole develop a strategy. I’m more inclined to see the movement as a number of strategic efforts.
Key change agents are clearly research funders and institutions because they can make policy that then drives progress but it doesn’t necessarily do the whole job.
Cultural change is complex and is accelerated by champions and peer-to-peer advocacy, and by technological advances that engender behavioural changes. In that sense, new and forthcoming services could be critically important, in which case we can view developers as a category of key change agents.
The interesting challenge will be to see if those developments can be made at a strategic level. On the other hand, enough good tactical ones might just do the job of effecting massive change, maybe without policy being either involved or needed.
RP: There are those who believe that the OA movement might have been more effective if it had created a central organisation. It is a point I have made in the past, and it continues to come up occasionally. Most recently, Peter Murray-Rust has been arguing as much. Do you feel there should be a central organisation? What are the pros and cons in your view?
AS: Yes, I know we’ve talked about this and I understand your views but I am not in favour of a central organisation. On whose authority would that be established, and for whom would it purport to speak? It would be challenged from numerous quarters.
Besides, it looks to me as if we’re doing quite well as a ‘movement’ by behaving like a pack of terriers rather than barging around like a bull. Individual advances are being made all over the place and the general movement is forward, but on many fronts.
What I would be very much in favour of is better coordination between OA-supporting organisations. I can envisage a process for that, with a central entity acting as a coordinating centre. That could help progress. It’s something the group discussed briefly and one of the recommendations covers this, so you may see that take shape as time goes on.
RP: You ask on whose authority a central OA organisation would be established. One could equally ask, could one not, on whose authority the BOAI-10 meeting was organised, on whose authority its recommendations have been made, and indeed for whom it purports to speak? At least with a central organisation there would (I assume) be elected representatives who would be speaking for their different constituencies. Would that not be a more democratic way of doing things? And would it not provide a more effective platform for counteracting publisher lobbying?
AS: I think I've made my views clear on this. I'm not convinced there could be one organisation that would be able to represent the research community.
You keep referring to ‘publishers’ as though there is one organisation that voices their opinions, but the last 12 months have shown rifts and divisions within the several big publisher organisations — inevitably, given the mischief and silly behaviour they've been getting up to which was clearly not representative of all their members. I can't see why we should try to emulate that.
RP: Thank you for your time, and good luck with SPARC.