Alma Swan: Open Access Funder Policies to Unlock the Gate to a Broader EcoSystem of Open

UNESCO’s Guidelines for the Promotion of Open Access are to serve decision makers and funders of scientific research, and form a part of UNESCO’s strategy plan for Open Access. The paper, written by Alma Swan, one of the leading experts in the field of Open Access, the co-maker of Open Access Map and a team member of Open Oasis group, also serves the whole community as a smaller overview of recent and crucial issues in making Open Access a reality and a gateway to a wider, bigger ecosystem of Open.

“Open Access is a new way of disseminating research information, made possible because of the World Wide Web,” and, to dismantle any myths still hanging in the air, Open Access means not just any information available online, but, Swan continues, “the term Open Access tends to be used about information made available in one of two structured ways.” It implies either journals deposited in repositories (either subject specific, or in more broad, institutional repositories), or journals published by open access publishers. “Open Access journals also contribute to the corpus of openly available literature,” Swan reminds us, “there are around 7,000 of these at the moment, altogether offering over 600,000 articles.”

The paper decouples the formal definitions of open access (from Budapest, Berlin and Bethesda declarations), explains the main concepts such as the difference between libre and gratis open access, the green and gold route to open access, the historical developments that led to the creation of open access policies, and could be read as a basic text on Open Access and related policies.

Access Denied: Obviously, An Issue

Access problems to research literature are still, obviously, a vital issue discussed among both European politicians and politicians worldwide. The paper highlights but a few initiatives/facts that prove so:

  • The Research Information Network (RIN) in the UK, concluded in a meta-report that brought together the findings from five RIN-sponsored studies carried out on discovery and access, that ‘the key finding is that access is still a major concern for researchers’

  • On a global scale, the SOAP study, a large, 3-year, publisher-led, EU-funded project looking at Open Access and publishing, surveyed 40,000 researchers across the world and found that 37% of respondents said they could find all the articles they need ‘only rarely or with difficulty’

  • The UK’s ‘Elite 5’ universities, those with libraries expected to be the best-resourced in the country, show inter-library loan costs for journal articles currently averaging around USD 50,000 per year

  • A World Health Organization survey carried out in the year 2000 found that researchers in developing countries claim access to subscription-based journals to be one of their most pressing problems. This survey found that in countries where the per capita income is less than USD 1000 per annum, 56% of research institutions had no current subscriptions to international journals, nor had for the previous 5 years

“Altogether, however,” Swan explains, “the current overall percentage of the literature that is openly available can be assumed to be currently around 30%.” Swan argues as well thatOpen Access to research outputs is not an isolated concept. It sits within a broad ecosystem of ‘open’ issues that are taking root in the scientific research sphere.” Open Access is now widely seen, and even discussed in mainstream media as “an important early step in a move towards creating a knowledge commons and building true knowledge societies.” As a crucial piece of a much bigger jigsaw, Open Access should be promoted on three levels: policies should be created, advocacy should support the implementation of such policies and better online infrastructure should be developed.

 Guidelines for the Funders

The UNESCO document first and foremost serves as a guideline paper for funders that wish to create OA policies and institutions that wish to mandate them. “Policy development is of critical importance to the progress of Open Access and a structured process is the best way to ensure a good policy outcome. Policy support is necessary even where advocacy is at its most effective,” the policy framework section states.

Swan even adds a short historical overview of first policies created on institutional, national and funders level:

  • The first policy to have any real effect was the mandatory one adopted by the School of Electronics & Computer Science at the University of Southampton, UK, in 2002. This required authors in that School to place their postprints (the authors’ final version of their peer-reviewed articles) in the School’s repository.

  • Research funders, too, have been introducing policies over the past 5 years or so. The first was the Wellcome Trust, a London-based funder of biomedical research worldwide. It adopted its policy in 2005, quickly followed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US.

  • As well as institutional and funder policies, there has been some development of policy at national level. The first national policy was in the Ukraine in 2007.

Policies should specify what kind of open access they mandate, what is the embargo period, where will the output be deposited (in institutional repository, funder repository, in both…), what type of content will be deposited and more (see the summary below).

“The optimum arrangement, one that accommodates the needs of all stakeholders, and has the potential to collect the greatest amount of Open Access content,” Swan suggests, “is for a network of institutional repositories to be the primary locus for deposit and for centralised, subject-specific collections to be created by harvesting the required content from that network of distributed repositories.”

As for the copyright permission, sadly, in policies that mandate green open access, Open Access is dependent upon the permission of the copyright holder. The text continues: “Where the author has transferred all rights to the publisher, as is most often the case when signing a standard publisher CTA, permission to make work Open Access must be sought from the publisher. Seeking permission from publishers for more than they offer as standard is unlikely to be successful.

By the end of the document, Swan calls to action: “Research funders play a crucial role in policy making with respect to Open Access. Where funders are disbursing public money they will wish to ensure that the results of their funding are disseminated as widely as possible and used by all who can benefit. Open Access increases the visibility, usage and impact of research, and enables it to reach all constituencies that can benefit, including the education, professional, practitioner and business communities, as well as the interested public. The return on public investment in science is thereby maximised. Research funders are therefore encouraged to develop and implement an Open Access policy.”

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