Category Archives: Policy development

US requirements for public access to research

Niamh Tumelty, Head of Open Research Services, Cambridge University Libraries

Yesterday it was announced that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has updated US policy guidance to make the results of taxpayer-supported research immediately available to the American public at no cost:
https://www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/news-updates/2022/08/25/ostp-issues-guidance-to-make-federally-funded-research-freely-available-without-delay/

Federal agencies have been asked to update their public access policies to make publications and supporting data publicly accessible without an embargo. This applies to all federal agencies (the previous policy only applied to those with more than $100 million in annual research and development expenditure) and allows for flexibility for the agencies to decide on some of the details while encouraging alignment of approaches. It applies to all peer-reviewed research articles in journals and includes the potential to also include peer-reviewed book chapters, editorials and peer-reviewed conference proceedings.

The emphasis on “measures to reduce inequities of, and access to, federally funded research and data” is particularly important in light of the serious risk that we will just move from a broken system with built-in inequities around access to information to a new broken system with built-in inequities around whose voices can be heard. Active engagement will be needed to ensure that the agencies take these issues into account and are not contributing to these inequities.

While there will be a time lag in terms of development/updating and implementation of agency policies and we don’t yet have the fine print around licences etc, this will bring requirements for US researchers more closely in line with what many of our researchers already need to do as a result of e.g. UKRI and Wellcome Trust policies. Closer alignment should help address some of the collaborator issues that have arisen following the recent cOAlition S policy updates – though of course a lot will depend on the detail of what each agency puts in place. Researchers availing of US federal funding need to engage now if they would like to influence the approach taken by those who fund their work.

There continues to be a very real question around sustainable business models both from publisher and institutional perspectives, alongside the other big questions around whether the current approaches to scholarly publishing are serving the needs of researchers adequately. It is essential that this doesn’t just become an additional cost for researchers or institutions as many of those who have commented in the past 24 hours fear. Many alternatives to the APC and transitional agreement/big deal approaches have been proposed, from diamond approaches through to completely reimagined approaches to publishing (e.g. Octopus).

There will be mixed feelings about this. While there is likely to be little sympathy for the publishers with the widest profit margins, this move is sure to push more of the smaller publishers, including many (but not all!) learned societies, to think differently. We need to ensure that we understand what researchers most value about these publishers and how to preserve those aspects in whatever comes in future – I am reminded of the thought-provoking comments from our recent working group on open research in the humanities on this topic.

These are big conversations that were already underway and will now take on greater urgency. The greatest challenge of all remains how to change the research culture such researchers can have confidence in sharing their work and expertise in ways that maximise access to their work while also aligning with their (differing!) values and priorities.

Cambridge response to the UKRI open access policy review

Open access is transforming scholarly communication, and both the University and its Press are fully committed to the transition to open access publishing without embargo. It is inspiring us to think more deeply about how the research publishing ecosystem can be improved to the benefit of all society.

The open access policy review being conducted by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will have a major impact on how publicly funded research in the UK is published. The UK already has a strong commitment to open access, and we look forward to the new UKRI policy dramatically speeding up the country’s transition to open access.

Cambridge unites a world-leading research university, with a world-renowned Press and Library. We believe there is strength in this partnership, including the ability to challenge and test solutions that must work for academics, funders, publishers and research institutions. Our joint response to the UKRI policy review reflects the range of perspectives across the University and highlights some of the challenges and opportunities we face as an academic university and publisher.

In brief:

  • There are many aspects of the proposed UKRI policy that we support without reservation. For example, authors should retain their copyright, journals and publishers should be more transparent about their services and costs, and key metadata, such as funder and grant information and author IDs, are vital for efficient scholarly communication and research evaluation infrastructures.
  • There is a conflict between the need for sustainable journal publishing models that provide access to the final published article and affordability for research-intensive universities. Collectively we believe that this contradiction in approach is not sustainable and necessitates a UKRI policy that is more flexible in the short term while supporting a much bolder shift in publishing practice that will require significant changes from all stakeholders. The Library and the Press are working together to explore bold innovation and disruption for scholarly communications built round a shared commitment to the goals of open research.
  • There are also areas where we agree that allowances must be made for the different needs of different research communities. While all research communities must be able to benefit from OA, flexibility on details such as Creative Commons licenses and third party content is needed to allow research, and international collaboration, to flourish. There are concerns from academics, Library and the Press, for example, about the potential for requiring open access to all monographs in the REF-after-REF 2021 in the absence of funding for publishing these monographs, around the cost implications of requiring open access to articles and monographs that include third party content and around unintended consequences for early career researchers in certain disciplines.
  • For books, we need the time and freedom to find scalable, sustainable approaches to OA. No model has been found so far that would allow us to publish large numbers of high-quality OA books at the global scale and reach of the Press. The impact of making pre-final versions of books open access after an embargo is inadequately understood, undesirable from the perspective of researchers in particular disciplines and may be economically unrealistic (because we believe book purchasing habits will change significantly under a delayed-OA approach). While new approaches are explored, we suggest a couple of options for UKRI to consider adopting: (i) broadening the definition of ‘open’ to include ‘free to read’ and (ii) allowing books to be published under a ‘transformative programme’, perhaps along the lines of the Subscribe To Open model for journals.
  • For journal articles, we cannot ignore an essential paradox. On the one hand, zero embargo Green OA depends upon subscriptions which are becoming ever more unsustainable as more content becomes OA. On the other hand, many research-intensive organizations are unable to pay the costs of their publishing without subsidies from subscribers around the world. Our academic University would need to comply with the proposed UKRI policy predominantly through the Green OA route, while CUP needs to transition to Gold OA. To resolve this paradox during a world-wide shift to full open access, UKRI must make two transitionary allowances: modest embargoes can be applied by publishers to support the subscriptions that sustain Green OA, and Gold OA in hybrid journals must continue to be supported. We want to see a scholarly communications landscape that has diversity reflecting the breadth scholarship across the disciplines, including smaller publishers and learned societies that require support in the transition to Open Access.

As we said earlier, we look forward to the new UKRI policy dramatically speeding up the UK’s transition to OA. We hope that the fine details of the policy will allow us to fully play our part in the transformation.

This post has been developed jointly by Cambridge University Libraries and Cambridge University Press and has also been shared at https://www.cambridge.org/core/blog/?p=36924.