Watch this space – the first OSI workshop

It was always an ambitious project – trying to gather 250 high level delegates from all aspects of the scholarly communication process with the goal of better communication and idea sharing between sectors of the ecosystem. The first meeting of the Open Scholarship Initiative (OSI) happened in Fairfax, Virginia last week. Kudos to the National Science Communication Institute for managing the astonishing logistics of an exercise like this – and basically pulling it off.

This was billed as a ‘meeting between global, high-level stakeholders in research’ with a goal to ‘lay the groundwork for creating a global collaborative framework to manage the future of scholarly publishing and everything these practices impact’. The OSI is being supported by UNESCO who have committed to the full 10 year life of the project. As things currently stand, the plan is to repeat the meeting annually for a decade.

Structure of the event

The process began in July last year with emailed invitations from Glenn Hampson, the project director. For those who accepted the invitation, a series of emails from Glenn started with tutorials attached to try and ensure the delegates were prepared and up to speed. The emails gathered momentum with online discussions between participants. Indeed much was made of the (many) hundreds of emails the event had generated.

The overall areas the Open Scholarship Initiative hopes to cover include research funding policies, interdisciplinary collaboration efforts, library budgets, tenure evaluation criteria, global institutional repository efforts, open access plans, peer review practices, postdoc workload, public policy formulation, global research access and participation, information visibility, and others. Before arriving delegates had chosen their workgroup topic from the following list:

  • Embargos
  • Evolving open solutions (1)
  • Evolving open solutions (2)
  • Information overload & underload
  • Open impacts
  • Peer review
  • Usage dimensions of open
  • What is publishing? (1)
  • What is publishing? (2)
  • Impact factors
  • Moral dimensions of open
  • Participation in the current system
  • Repositories & preservation
  • What is open?
  • Who decides?

The 190+ delegates from 180+ institutions, 11 countries and 15 stakeholder groups gathered together at George Mason University (GMU), and after preliminary introductions and welcomes the work began immediately with everyone splitting into their workgroups. We spent the first day and a half working through our topics and preparing a short presentation for feedback on the second afternoon. There was then another working session to finalise the presentations before the live-streamed final presentations on the Friday morning. These presentations are all available in Figshare (thanks to Micah Vandegrift).

The event is trying to address some heady and complex questions and it was clear from the first set of presentations that in some instances it had been difficult to come to a consensus, let alone a plan for action. My group had the relative luxury of a topic that is fairly well defined – embargoes. It might be useful for the next event to focus on specific topics and move from the esoteric to the practical.

In addition the meeting had a team of ‘at large’ people who floated between groups to try and identify themes. Unsurprisingly, the ‘Primacy of Promotion and Tenure’ was a recurring theme throughout many of the presentations. It has been clear for some time that until we can achieve some reform of the promotion and tenure process, many of the ideas and innovations in scholarly communication won’t take hold. I would suggest that the different aspects of the reward/incentive system would be a rich vein to mine at OSI2017.

Closed versus open

In terms of outcomes there was some disquiet beforehand, by people who were not attending, about the workshop effectively being ‘closed’. This was because there was a Chatham House Rule for the workgroups to allow people to speak freely about their own experiences.

There was also some disquiet by those people who were attending about a request that the workgroups remain device-free. This was to try and discourage people checking emails and not participating. However people revert to type – in our group we all used our devices to collaborate on our documents. In the end we didn’t have much of a choice, the incredibly high tech room we were using in the modern GMU library flummoxed us and we were unable to get the projector to work.

That all said, there is every intention to disseminate the findings of the workshops widely and openly. During the feedback and presentations sessions there was considerable Twitter discussion at #OSI2016 – there is a downloadable list of all tweets in figshare – note there were enough to make the conference trend on Twitter at one point. This networked graphic shows the interrelationships across Twitter (thanks to Micah and his colleague). In addition there will be a report published by George Mason University Press incorporating the summary reports from each of the groups.

Team Embargo

Our workgroup, like all of them, represented a wide mix of interest groups. We were:

  • Ann Riley – President, Association of College and Research Libraries
  • Audrey McCulloch, Chief Executive, Association of Learned and Professional Societies
  • Danny Kingsley – Head of Scholarly Communication, Cambridge University
  • Eric Massant, Senior Director of Government and Industry Affairs, RELX Group
  • Gail McMillan, Director of Scholarly Communication, Virginia Tech
  • Glenorchy Campbell, Managing Director, British Medical Journal North America
  • Gregg Gordon, President, Social Science Research Network
  • Keith Webster, Dean of Libraries, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Laura Helmuth, incoming president, National Association of Science Writers
  • Tony Peatfield, Director of Corporate Affairs, Medical Research Council, Research Councils, UK
  • Will Schweitzer, Director of Product Development, AAAS/Science

It might be worth noting here that our workgroup was naughty and did not agree beforehand on who would facilitate, so therefore no-one had attended the facilitation pre-workshop webinar. This meant our group was gloriously facilitator and post-it note free – we just got on with it.

Banishing ghosts

We began with some definitions about what embargoes are, noting that press embargoes, publication embargoes and what we called ‘security’ embargoes (like classified documents) all serve different purposes.

Embargoes are not ‘all bad’. In the instance of press embargoes they allow journalists early access to the publication in order for them to be able to investigate and write/present informed pieces in the media. This benefits society because it allows for stronger press coverage. In terms of security embargoes they protect information that is not meant to be in the public domain. However embargoes on Author’s Accepted Manuscripts in repositories are more contentious, with qualified acceptance that these are a transitional mechanism in a shift to full open access.

The causal link of green open access resulting in subscription loss is not yet proven. The September 2013 UK Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Fifth Report: Open Access stated “There is no available evidence base to indicate that short or even zero embargoes cause cancellation of subscriptions”. In 2012 the Committee for Economic Development Digital Connections Council in The Future of Taxpayer-Funded Research: Who Will Control Access to the Results? concluded that “No persuasive evidence exists that greater public access as provided by the NIH policy has substantially harmed subscription-supported STM publishers over the last four years or threatens the sustainability of their journals”.

However there is no argument that traffic on websites for journals that rely on advertising dollars (such as medical journals) suffer when the attention is pulled to another place. This clearly potentially affects advertising revenue which in turn can impact on the financial model of those publication.

During our discussions about the differences between press embargoes and publication embargoes I mentioned some recent experiences in Cambridge. The HEFCE Open Access Policy requires us to collect Author’s Accepted Manuscripts at the time of acceptance and make the metadata about them available, ideally before publication. We respect publishers’ embargoes and keep the document itself locked down until these have passed post-publication. However we have been managing calls from sometimes distressed members of our research community who are worried that making the metadata available prior to publication will result in the paper being ‘pulled’ by the journal. Whether this has ever actually happened I do not know – and indeed would be happy to hear from anyone who has a concrete example so we can start managing reality instead of rumour. The problem in these instances is the researchers are confusing the press embargo with the publication embargo.

And that is what this whole embargo discussion comes down to. Much of the discourse and arguments about embargoes are not evidence based. There is precious little evidence to support the tenet that sits behind embargoes – which is that if publishers allow researchers to make copies of their work available open access then they will lose subscriptions. The lack of evidence does not prevent the possibility it is true however – and that is why we need to settle the situation once and for all. If there is a sustainability issue for journals because of wider green open access then we need to put some longer term management in place and work towards full open access.

It is possible the problem is not repositories, institutional or subject-based. Many authors are making the final version of their published work available in contravention of their Copyright Transfer Agreement in ResearchGate or It might be that this availability of work is having an impact on researcher’s usage of work on the publishers’ sites. Given that in institutional repositories repository managers make huge efforts to comply with complicated embargoes it is quite possible that repositories are not the problem. Indeed, only a small proportion of work is made available through repositories according to the August 2015 Monitoring the Transition to Open Access report (look at ‘Figure 9. Location of online postings (including illicit postings)’ on page 38).  If this is the case, requiring institutions to embargo the Author’s Accepted Manuscripts they hold in their repositories for long periods will not make any difference. They are not the solution.

Our conclusion from our preliminary discussions was that there needs to be some concrete, rigorous research into the rationale behind embargoes to inform publishers, researchers and funders.

Our proposal – research questions

In response to this the Embargo workgroup decided that the most effective solution was to collaborate on an agreed research process that will have the buy-in of all stakeholders. The overarching question that we want to try and answer is ‘What are the impacts of embargoes on scholarly communication?’ with the goal to create an evidence base for informed discussion on embargoes .

In order to answer that question we have broken the big issue into a series of smaller questions:

  • How are embargoes determined?
  • How do researchers/students find research articles?
  • Who needs access?
  • Impact of embargoes on researchers/students?
  • Effect of embargoes on other stakeholders?

We decided that if the research found there was a case for publication embargoes then agreement on the metrics that should be used to determine the length of an embargo would be helpful. We are hoping that this research will allow standards to be introduced in the area of embargoes.

Discoverability and the issue of searching behaviour is extremely relevant in this space. Our hypothesis is if people are following publishers’ journal pages to find material then the fact that some of the same information is disbursed amongst lots of repositories means that the publisher arguments that embargoes threaten their finances are weakened. However if people are primarily using centralised search engines such as Google Scholar (which favours open versions of articles over paid ones) then that strengthens the publisher argument that they need embargoes to protect revenue.

The other question is whether access really is an issue for researchers. The March 2015 STM Report looked at the research in this area which indicate that well over 90% of researchers surveyed in separate studies said research papers were easy or fairly easy to access which appears to suggests on the face of it little problem in the way of access (look for the ‘Researchers’ access to journals’ section starting p83). Rather than repeating these surveys indicators for how much embargoes restrict access to researchers could include:

  • The usage of Request a Copy buttons in repositories
  • The number of ‘turn-aways’ from publishers platforms
  • The take-up level of Pay Per View options on publisher sites
  • The level of usage of ‘Get it Now’ – where the library obtains a copy through interlibrary loan or document delivery and absorbs the cost.

Our proposal – Research structure

The project will begin with a Literature Review and an investigation into the feasibility of running some Case Studies.

Two clear Case Studies could provide direct evidence if the publishers were willing to share what they have learned. In both cases, there has been a move from an embargo period for green OA to removing embargoes completely. In the first instance, Taylor and Francis began a trial in 2011 to allow immediate green OA for their library and information science journals, meaning that authors published in 35 library and information science journals have the right to deposit their Accepted Manuscript into their institutional repository and make it immediately available. Authors who choose to publish in these journals are no longer asked to assign copyright. They now sign a license to publish, which allows Taylor & Francis to publish the Version of Record. Additionally, authors can choose to make their work green open access with no embargoes applied. In 2014 the pilot was extended for ‘at least a further year’.

As part of the pilot, Taylor and Francis say a survey was conducted by Routledge to canvas opinions on the Library & Information Science Author Rights initiative and also investigated author and researcher behaviour and views on author rights policies, embargoes and posting work to repositories. The survey elicited over 500 responses, including: “Having the option to upload their work to a repository directly after publication is very important to these authors: more than 2/3 of respondents rated the ability to upload their work to repositories at 8, 9, or 10 out of 10, with the vast majority saying they feel strongly that authors should have this right”. There are no links to this survey that I have been able to uncover. It would be useful to include this survey in the Literature Review and possibly build on it for other stakeholders.

The second Case Study is Sage that, in 2013, decided to move to an immediate green policy. Both examples would have enough data by now to indicate if these decisions have resulted in subscription cancellations. I have proposed this type of study before, to no end. Hopefully we might now have more traction.

The Literature Review and Case Studies will then inform the development of a Survey of different stakeholders – which may have to be slightly altered depending on the audience being surveyed.  This is an ambitious goal – because the intention is to have at least preliminary findings available for discussion at the next OSI in 2017.

There was some lively Twitter discussion in the room about our proposal to do the study. Some were saying that the issue is resolved. I would argue that anyone who is negotiating the embargo landscape at the moment (such as repository managers) would strongly disagree with the position. Others referred to research already done in this space, for example the Publishing and Ecology of European Research (PEER) project. This study does discuss embargoes but approached the question with a position that embargoes are valid. The study we are proposing is asking specifically if there is any evidence base for embargoes.

Next steps

We will be preparing a project brief and our report for the OSI publication over the next couple of weeks.

The biggest issue for the project will be for us to gather funding. We have done a preliminary assessment of the time required to do the work so we could work out a ballpark figure for the fundraising goal. Note that our estimation of the number of workdays required for the project was deemed as ‘ludicrously low’ by a consultant in discussion later.

It was noted by a funder in casual discussions that because publishers have a vested interest in embargoes they should fund research that investigates their validity. Indeed Elsevier have already offered to assist financially for which we are grateful, but for this work to be considered robust and for it to be widely accepted it will need to be funded from a variety of sources. To that end we intend to ‘crowd fund’ the research in batches of $5000. The number of those batches will depend on the level of our underestimation of the time required to undertake the work (!).

In terms of governance, Team Embargo (perhaps we might need a better name…) will be working together as the steering committee to develop the brief, organise funding and choose the research team to do the work. We will need to engage an independent researcher or research group to ensure impartiality.

Wrap up summary of the workshop

There were a few issues relating to the organisation of the workshop. Much was made of the many hundreds of emails that were sent both from the organising group and also amongst the delegates before-hand. This level of preliminary discussion was beneficial but using another tool might help. It was noted that the level of email was potentially the reason why some of the delegates who were invited did not attend.

There was a logistic issue in having 190+ delegates staying in a hotel situated in the middle of a set of highways that was a 30 minute bus ride away from the conference location at George Mason University (also situated in an isolated location). The solution was a series of buses to ferry us each way each day, and to and from the airport. We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together at the workshop location. This combined with the lack of alcohol because we were at an undergraduate American campus (where the legal drinking age is 21) gave the experience something of a school camp feel. Coming from another planned capital city (Canberra, Australia) I am sure that Washington is a beautiful and interesting place. This was not the visit to find that out.

These minor gripes aside, as is often the case, the opportunity to meet people face to face was fantastic. Because there was a heavy American flavour to the attendees, I have now met in person many of the people I ‘know’ well through virtual exchanges. It was also a very good process to work directly with a group of experienced and knowledgeable people who all contributed to a tangible outcome.

OSI is an ambitious project, with plans for annual meetings over the next decade. It will be interesting to see if we really can achieve change.

Published 24 April 2016
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
Creative Commons License

9 thoughts on “Watch this space – the first OSI workshop

  1. Thanks for the recap of OSI2016. As an “at large” delegate I joined the Team Embargo for two sessions and it was a privilege to look on as the workgroup designed and planed their research proposal. It’s an important project, well defined, and the Embargo panel’s oversight will ensure high quality results of use to all stakeholders.

  2. Thanks for this write-up, Danny. Your group certainly seems to have been one of the more productive ones.

    Regarding one of the sub-questions you want to ask in your projected study: “who needs access?” I would like to offer an opinion, and two sets of evidence.

    I think the answer to the question is “everyone”; or, more precisely, “No-one can be assumed a priori not to need access”. People from groups we would never imagine needing access to scholarly literature are constantly finding uses for it. As a result, I would consider any system that provides access only for an anointed subset of people unacceptable.

    The promised evidence, part 1: the website Who Needs Access?, which contains interviews with non-academics who have needed access to scholarly research for many different reasons. (Disclosure: I co-created this site.)

    Evidence, part 2: Harvard’s “Your Story Matters” project — many, many more testimonials of the same kind, though less fleshed out.

    Hope this helps.

    BTW., can you add an “email me when followup comments are published” checkbox to this blog?

    1. Thanks Mike – we can add those resources to the Literature Review. I have asked about the ’email me’ option, hopefully we will get it running soon.

  3. Excellent summary of the event. One minor question. In your discussion of green open access in the “Banishing Ghosts” section, you write, “However there is no argument that traffic on websites for journals that rely on advertising dollars…suffer when the attention is pulled to another place.” If there’s no argument, then why do you go on to say that the practice “clearly potentially affects” revenue and, in turn, the financial model? Instead of saying that there’s “no argument” you meant to say that there’s no definitive evidence yet?

    1. Hi Peter, Sorry it sounds like the double negative problem here. When I said ‘there is no argument’ I mean that ‘it is the case’. This is where having attention taken away from a particular location of the work *does* have an appreciable impact. It contrasts with the claim that having copies of the work in multiple open locations means that subscriptions will be cut (the claim for which there is no evidence yet).
      I hope that clears it up a bit. (!?)

  4. Danny,

    Thanks for the summary, I was wondering what this hash tag meant in my Twitter feed 🙂

    I’m not sure what the value of an embargo study – I agree there is no evidence about the impact of embargoes on subscriptions actually is, but I’m pretty sure they are serving their primary purpose, which is making Green OA as complicated as possible. This serves the twin aims of discouraging academics from doing anything and wasting enormous amounts of time and money as people try to make sense of them, and put systems in place to manage them. This latter point will weaken the whole structure of course, as professional staff budgets continue to tighten.

    I would also argue that measuring cancellations may not bring you much joy. It is increasingly difficult to cancel individual titles, and has been for many years. Even assuming that some fields of research were completely covered by a service like most of the journals involved are wrapped up in larger packages that are hard to cost effectively unbundle. Publishers have, of course, done this on purpose.

    Or is that all too cynical?

    1. Hi David,

      Agreed this is a messy area. But perhaps trying to find out some base metrics and evidence for (or against) the argument that green open access means cancellations might mean that we can have a real conversation about what needs to happen in this space. After all, looking at the ‘Monitoring the Transition to Open Access’ report, IRs are a minnow in this picture – and apparently the only outlet (if that is the right word) that really takes embargoes seriously. Why are we (as the community of repository managers) being punished?


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