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Open access and preservation: how can knowledge sharing be improved in ERA?

September 29, 2009

Alma Swan

Chair session 1.5

Some background

This strand of the European Research Area Conference ‘Working Together to Strengthen Research in Europe[1] has twin foci – Open Access to, and preservation of, scientific research outputs. They are different but related issues. Open Access is about free-of-charge accessibility of outputs (research texts and data) without delay as soon as they are ready for publication: preservation concerns ensuring the long-term storage, care and continuing free accessibility of these outputs. The present policy situation on these two things has arisen out of a number of initiatives and steps, some coordinated and some not, since the beginning of the millennium.

The European Research Area (ERA) was established in 2000, aiming to ‘inspire the best talents to enter research careers in Europe, incite industry to invest more in European research – contributing to the EU objective to devote 3% of GDP for research, and strongly contribute to the creation of sustainable growth and jobs’. It is now a core part of the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs, a strategy for ensuring a strong and growing European economy.

Does scientific publishing work well?

Interest in improving the sharing of scientific information grew markedly when, in 2004, the European Commission embarked upon an examination of the scientific publishing market in Europe. In 2006, the resultant ‘Study on the economic and technical evolution of the scientific markets in Europe’ (1) was published. Subsequent – rather vigorous – debate on how to improve access and dissemination for scientific outputs engaged the research community and other stakeholders, including at a conference on the topic in February 2007. The research community made its voice heard at this time in the form of 18,500 signatures gathered in four weeks for a petition, organised by the Knowledge Exchange partnership, calling for the Commission to implement a recommendation from the Study that the Commission guarantee that results from publicly-funded research be made publicly-accessible shortly after publication[2]. Publishers, too, were active, lobbying for the protection of their industry against an Open Access future that they claimed would destabilise their business and cause a loss of jobs. STM, the Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers, issued a statement – the ‘Brussels Declaration on STM Publishing’ – putting the publisher case which included reiterating, without evidence [formerly: argumentum ex silentio (2)], that Open Access would undermine peer review (3).

The outcome of the overall exercise was the adoption by the Commission of a Communication on Scientific Information in the Digital Age: Access, Dissemination and Preservation, a policy document announcing a series of measures that included experimenting with Open Access and funding e-infrastructures (4). The Commission has since enacted some of the measures. There is a full list of Open Access-related activities on the Commission’s Europa website[3]. The measures include the funding of a series of projects, including Liquid Publications[4] and OAPEN[5], a mandatory policy on providing Open Access for 20% of outputs from FP7-funded research and the funding of a European repository to house these outputs.

There is a question to be asked here and the Conference may give us the answer. Laudable as this ‘20% Rule’ is, we might ask the Commission why this toe-in-the-water stance in the light of evidence from other examples (see below) that shows that only a bold approach works? Is it because the Commission fears that this is in principle not the right direction in which to travel (in which case, why take the first steps?), because it feels that the 80% of FP7-funded research that will remain behind subscription barriers does not deserve to be disseminated properly, because of heeding the concerns of the sections of the scholarly publishing industry that lobby against Open Access (in which case, why the 20%), or just because of an innate – and, since this is a trait not normally attributed to the European Commission, rather charming – shyness about being out there in the vanguard with the forward-thinkers showing an example to the rest of the world?

Whatever, the Commission is taking substantial steps to advance Open Access. Nor has it been the only influential actor. Developments in Brussels were taking place against a backdrop of policy activity – bold approaches – on the part of research funders in ERA and elsewhere. In 2006, six of the seven UK research councils, their counterpart in Austria, and Australia’s two research councils all introduced mandatory policies on Open Access. During the following year, 14 more funders followed suit, eleven of them in ERA (including the newly-established European Research Council), one in Canada and two in the US including, notably, the National Institutes of Health, the world’s largest research funding body.

More recently, other bodies have declared their support for, and reinforced the importance of, Open Access, including the European Universities Association (5) and EuroHORCs (European Heads of Research Councils) and the European Science Foundation (6). There are now 98 mandatory Open Access policies in force from research funders (41 policies), universities and research institutes (44 policies) and individual departments, faculties or schools in research-based institutions (14 policies)[6].

 Economic issues

Alongside these Open Access-related developments, other players were connecting access to scientific information and economics. In Australia, John Houghton and his colleagues conducted a series of studies on the economics of scholarly communication and published results indicating that Open Access would provide both efficiency improvements and monetary savings in scholarly communication (7, 8, 9). Houghton’s recent study demonstrating the costs, benefits and economic advantages of Open Access on a national basis for the UK (10), has been extended to other EU countries (The Netherlands and Denmark) (11) and is currently being applied to individual institutions[7].

Meanwhile, in respect of knowledge-sharing between public research and industry, a desirable goal for the ERA (see next section), the EU’s own Community Innovation Survey was showing that there is a ‘weak link between innovative enterprises (mainly small- and medium sized enterprises, SMEs) and public research institutes/universities’ and that ‘innovative enterprises find cooperation partners more easily among suppliers or customers than in universities or public research institutes’ (12).

Two studies on accessibility of university research to SMEs have been conducted recently. In a study of 186 SMEs, Ware showed that while 71% of respondents in innovative companies find accessing articles fairly/very easy, two-thirds (66%) of respondents pay for access in the form of subscriptions or society memberships which is, of course, easy but costly. There is also the remainder, ‘by definition, a minority (29%) for whom access was fairly or very difficult’ (13). In a smaller study on the ease of access 23 SMEs to the ‘grey’ academic literature (unpublished reports, working papers, theses and dissertations), Swan reported that SMEs had problems discovering relevant grey literature, and in accessing published literature (for reasons of cost) (14).

A story seems to be emerging here about the potential usefulness of Open Access in stimulating cooperation and collaboration between the public research sector and innovative companies. This is so important to ERA that it deserves attention. We need to understand it better and then to optimise it.

The ERA Green Paper

Seven years after the creation of ERA the Commission published a Green Paper (15) assessing progress made and stimulating discussion and debate about the future orientation of ERA. The Green Paper outlined six features needed by ‘the scientific community, business and citizens’ that ERA should have, one of them being ‘effective knowledge-sharing, notably between public research and industry, as well as with the public at large’. Also of relevance to knowledge-sharing is another of the features, ‘opening the European Research Area to the world with special emphasis on neighbouring countries and a strong commitment to addressing the global challenges with Europe’s partners’[8].

Two of the questions that the Green Paper posed in order to stimulate knowledge-sharing were these:

· Is there a need for EU-level policies and practices to improve and ensure open access to and dissemination of raw data and peer-reviewed publications from publicly funded research results?

· What should constitute a European Framework for knowledge sharing between research institutions and industry based on identified good practice and models?

These are core questions that we should be asking in the session at this conference and I will return to them later in this paper. The discussion may be informed by headline findings from the responses to the Green Paper that showed that 68% of respondents think that raw data from publicly-funded research should be made more readily accessible, these and more suggesting that EU-level collections are the preferred location. Sixty-five percent of the total respondent population thinks that peer-reviewed publications resulting from publicly-funded research should be accessible without charge (included in this respondent group are publishers, 71% of whom disagree with this statement). And 65% of respondents (presumably mostly the same 65%) also believe that these publications should be available without charge as soon as they are published.

Council Conclusions

Late in 2007, the Council of the European Union adopted its Conclusions on Scientific Information in the Digital Age: Access, Dissemination and Preservation (16). This document called upon Member States to reinforce national strategies and structures for access to and dissemination of scientific information, and pledged to enhance the co-ordination between Member States on access and dissemination policies and practices and to ensure the long term preservation of scientific information – including publications and data – and pay due attention to scientific information in national preservation strategies.

The European Commission itself was invited to monitor good practices and support Member State policy co-ordination. Specifically, it was invited to implement the measures announced in the Communication on “scientific information in the digital age: access, dissemination and preservation” and in particular to:

experiment with open access to scientific publications resulting from projects funded by the EU Research Framework Programmes

support experiments and infrastructures with a cross-border added-value for access to and preservation of scientific information

contribute to improved policy co-ordination between Member States and to a constructive debate between stakeholders

To readers who tend towards assuming that things are what they seem, the ‘Eurospeak’ perhaps masks intent here. When the Council says ‘invite’ it means ‘ask’. Thus, the Commission was set a series of tasks and has embarked upon them, this conference being one of the visible products.

The basis for Conference discussion

A questionnaire was sent out to Member States and others towards the end of 2008 and responses collected in the first part of 2009. Twenty five responses were received from CREST members (EU Member States) and 5 from CREST (Comité de la recherche scientifique et technique; in English: Scientific and Technical Research Committee) observers. These responses form part of the basis for discussion at this conference.

I flag up here just a selected few of the summarised findings from the responses. With respect to national strategies on access and dissemination, the Commission concludes that while ‘the growing number of national initiatives in this field shows a clear and encouraging move towards the development of policies in these areas … there are very few of the nationally coordinated strategies or policies called for in the 2007 Council Conclusions’.

On coordination activities on access and dissemination, the Commission finds that ‘while existing declarations and initiatives form a solid basis to build on, explicit common national funding body principles, for example on open access, are still missing’. Moreover, despite some advances, ‘transparency regarding big deals [between publishers and libraries] is still lacking’. There is better news on repositories in Europe, though, with the finding that ‘significant coordination initiatives are underway regarding interoperability of repositories’.

Regarding long term preservation, specific attention to the preservation of scientific information needs to be further developed within most existing national policies and legislative frameworks’.

In addition to these main summary points, the findings showed that strategies are largely at the level of funding bodies, universities or libraries rather than at true national level, that policies on sharing data are less well-developed than those on sharing articles and that researchers remain largely unaware that open access is not necessarily in conflict with the copyright policies of scientific publishers.

What shall we discuss?

And so we come to how best to use the three hours made available in this Conference for discussion of these important and sometimes complex issues. The aim of the Conference is to look at ways of continuing policy initiatives at European level and of supporting Member States in collaboration and coordination on the topic of access to and preservation of scientific information. The Commission would like to develop concrete policy recommendations on how to move forward at Member State and European level on access and preservation issues.

We therefore have a serious and challenging task on our hands. Given the background information and progress so far, perhaps some suggestions for policy and concrete actions might stimulate some debate. Here are some:

Policy: Address the weak link between European higher education sector research and industry and improve access to basic research outputs (published and [formally] unpublished) by industry:

Concrete actions:

· develop a framework for knowledge sharing to inform industry about research programmes and outputs and appropriate channels for accessing them (DART Europe is an existing starting point; a discovery service for ERA research is a possible avenue for advance)

· encourage relevant players to become involved in mediating between research producers and industry (e.g. national ICT organisations, Euroscience, the European University Association and national university organisations)

Policy: Encourage and support coordinated national strategies to improve access to research outputs:

Concrete actions:

· develop a programme of action to inform Member States of the benefits of Open Access to research outputs to national and regional economies

· provide support and practical advice, in association with and through suitable agencies, on developing policies to achieve the desired goals

Policy: Continue and expand the Commission’s own policy to provide Open Access to FP7-funded research articles:

Concrete actions:

· extend the existing policy to cover more than 20% of FP7-funded research outputs

Policy: Establish mechanisms to promote accessible European research effectively to the research community, the European public, neighbouring countries and Europe’s partners:

Concrete actions:

· invite proposals to establish effective channels of communication

· invest in the means to collect, display and promote openly-accessible European research outputs

· enhance the appeal and utility of the collection by the development of appropriate usage and esteem metrics

· couple access and preservation in a system that promotes institutional archiving for deposit of research outputs and central collection, enhancement, display and preservation of that content

Policy: Ensure that research outputs are freely accessible to potential users and other interested parties in re-usable form, enabling validation and reproducibility and encouraging extension to, and re-use in, new work:

Concrete actions:

· put in place policies that ensure raw or appropriate derived data from publicly-funded research are made openly accessible

· encourage XML as a standard and discourage PDF

[6] Registry of Open Access Repository Material Archiving Policies:

[8] Relevant statements contained in the Green paper in reference to the topic of Knowledge Sharing are: “State-of-the-art knowledge is crucial for successful research in any scientific discipline. Reliable, affordable and permanent access to, and widespread dissemination of, scientific research results should therefore become defining principles for Europe’s research landscape. The digital era has opened up numerous possibilities in this respect. Opportunities for progress can be seen, notably in the development of online libraries, repositories of scientific information and databases of publications and publicly funded research results. These should be integrated at European level and interlinked with similar databases in third countries. In particular, the system by which scientific information is published is pivotal for its validation and dissemination, and thus has a major impact on the excellence of European research. Europe should stimulate the development of a ‘continuum’ of accessible and interlinked scientific information from raw data to publications, within and across different communities and countries.”

“Effective knowledge sharing […] should consist of: open and easy access to the public knowledge base; a simple and harmonised regime for Intellectual Property Rights, including a cost-efficient patenting system and shared principles for knowledge transfer and cooperation between public research and industry; innovative communication channels to give the public at large access to scientific knowledge, the means to discuss research agendas and the curiosity to learn more about science.”


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