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What is the future for the open access movement and how does it impact you?

 

The open access movement aims to move scholarly publishing away from fee-based traditional publications and ultimately to outlets that are accessible to all free of charge. The movement began in the 1990s and resulted from a combination of factors including a pricing crisis for libraries and academic institutions, the evolution of the internet and a rising demand for more content to be offered online. The movement began to gather momentum in 2002 and 2003 with the Budapest Open Access Initiative and the Berlin Declaration on Open Access. It is important to note that this movement towards open access is being driven by many different groups and initiatives with a variety of different approaches to arriving at the end goal.

 

Growing momentum

Since the move towards open access began, the number of open access journals and repositories has grown rapidly. In more recent years we have seen the move to a mandate by funders for papers from funded research to be published in open access outlets. A prime example of this is Plan S, which will come into effect in January 2021. Plan S was developed by cOAlition S, which is a transnational movement led by the European Union to make open access to research publications a reality and do so quickly. Plan S states that scholars’ articles based on publicly funded research must be published in open access journals, placed on open access platforms, or deposited in open access repositories.

 

Although we see that the open access movement has grown steadily and has continued to garner support, especially within the academic research community, we have yet to realize the original vision of research knowledge being shared widely and free of charge. Publisher paywalls still exist and many institutions still make tenure and promotion decisions based on publication in established and more traditional journals. So what does the future hold for the open access movement and how does this impact you?

 

Increase in mandates for open access publishing

As mandates like Plan S come into effect, it will impact many researchers who receive public funding. They will be required to publish the results of their research in an open access outlet. This is already the case for researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health in the United States. As more funders move in this direction, academics and researchers will need to find open access outlets for their work, and those open access publications need to be accounted for when promotion and tenure decisions are made. So it is important for researchers to know how open access mandates are growing, which funders are putting them into effect and how to choose open access outlets that have peer review and are reputable.

 

Shifting policies for promotion and tenure

As more universities accept and even advocate for open access to research, policies that govern retention, tenure and promotion (RTP) will follow. Academic Affairs committees and Faculty Senates will need to consider how open access publications should be weighed in a promotion or tenure decision and develop new policies that value the sharing of scholarly works through open access outlets. Currently, more than 500 universities around the world mandate open access deposits of faculty work. In addition, universities and libraries are shifting their relationships with publishers and looking to enter into new agreements that are favourable to open access publishing. However, policies for the RTP process have not kept pace. A shift in policy impacts researchers and so it is important for you to stay updated about where the conversation is headed within your institution and to lend your voice to that discussion where possible.

 

Greater opportunity for collaboration and communication

The growth of open research brings with it greater opportunities for collaboration and communication within and across disciplines. The work of academic researchers is enhanced when there are opportunities to discuss the research with peers and collaborate on projects. Open research opens up new paths for collaboration which can become a much needed support, especially early in a career. Researchers from smaller institutions may not have access to a group of peers within their discipline. As we move into the future and open access datasets and data analyses become more available, they provide early career researchers (ECRs) with models of how research studies can be conducted and disseminated. In addition, open access datasets provide researchers with data for their own studies, which may be difficult to collect, especially as they are just beginning their careers.

 

New approaches to peer review

As open access publishing gains traction, the academic community and research organizations are suggesting new approaches to peer review. Traditional peer review involves an initial assessment by journal editors, followed by an external review by academics in the field, and finally a decision by the chief editors based on the comments provided during the external review. External reviewers are not known to the author and do not interact with authors. More recently, there has been a call for open peer review. Under open peer review, authors would know the names of external reviewers and would see all comments generated during this stage of the review process. This suggested approach aims to foster collaboration and discussion during peer review.

 

Other approaches suggested include reviews of articles after they have been shared through open access outlets, and collaborative review of papers. Brian Resnick and Julia Belluz (2019) suggest:

“One could imagine a system where researchers upload their drafts to preprint servers and then other academics choose to peer review the articles. After peer review and revision, that preprint paper could be given a stamp of approval and added to a digital journal.”

As the number of open access journals and outlets increases, and different types of peer review become an option, preprint publications and articles shared in open access may be valued more in promotion and tenure decisions.

 

In conclusion

There are many potential directions the open access movement might take in the future, shifting how the academic research community shares data and research findings and also how collaborations around research take place. A broader sharing of scientific knowledge free of charge and online is of benefit in many ways, not just for academics and researchers, but also for the general public. Whether you fully embrace a move to open access, have reservations about a move away from traditional journals or are somewhere in between, you can contribute to the conversation as an academic or researcher.

 

Find out whether there are committees or groups at your institution overseeing university policy on open access and look to serve on those committees. You can also look to join collaboratives or larger initiatives that are focused on making open access a reality. There are many different ways that you can stay up to date and help shape the future of open access research and publishing.

 

 

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