Helping science succeed
Helping science succeed

Plan A


Scholarly communication tools and practices have been evolving for decades now. Where they end up decades from now is truly anyone’s guess. Until then, there are many issues that need to be resolved, and many reforms that should be pursued.

So what’s the holdup? Nothing really. There are a large number of organizations in the scholarly communication space who are working on reforms. Some of these groups are working together, most are not. Overall, our progress toward a more open research world has been growing steadily, although much progress remains to be made.

Or at least some people see it this way. Others are convinced that not nearly enough progress has been made to-date, which isn’t wrong—they’re just measuring progress differently. There are fundamental disagreements in scholarly communication about what kind of reforms we should be making. Some feel quite strongly that commercial publishers have no place in the future of research and that no reforms are complete unless publishers are excised from the picture. Others feel quite strongly that publishers have a centuries-long track record of serving the research community and that the tools and processes put in place by publishers are essential to retain because they facilitate good research and are valued by the research community. Still others are caught somewhere in between—-yes, publishing is valuable, but exactly what is “publishing” in the digital age, and can’t we do things more efficiently today than in years past?

There is also a wide range of disagreement over how fast needed reforms can and should happen. “Right now” is too slow for some, and “ten years from now” is too fast for others. On the fast side, advocates see the need for the immediate daylighting of research information that could cure cancer and reverse climate change. On the slow side, advocates see the need to move with caution lest we damage research with rash and ill-considered changes.

Aside from issues directly related to open access reform—what kind of open and how fast—there are also many persistent issues in this space that will require global cooperation to solve. The misuse of impact factors is one such issue, for instance. Impact factors at their most innocent simply tell researchers which journals are more important than others. At their most sinister they are used as a proxy for quality and drive publishing behavior that works at cross purposes to a more open world (what researcher, after all, wants to publish in a small start-up journal that is free to read if the real credit and glamor comes from publishing in the New England Journal of Medicine).

Plan A isn’t advocating one particular approach or time frame, but rather a necessary and inclusive process. By working together—however quickly and aggressively we decide to do this as a community—on realistic, robust, collaborative solutions that improve the capacity of research for all researchers everywhere, Plan A’s vision is that we will arrive at solutions that are both sustainable and highly effective—much more effective than any “solutions” imposed by outside groups with their own biases and agendas.

Indeed, Plan A’s vision is that by working together, and only by working together, we will eventually—maybe 15 years from now, maybe less, maybe more—-arrive at an “Open Renaissance” where the research ecosystem will grow exponentially more powerful as more open and connected data catalyzes more innovation and improvement. New fields and directions will emerge based on “connecting the dots,” funding efficiency will improve, and discovery will accelerate; the social impact of research will exceed today’s levels (including improved literacy, public engagement, and public policy impact); and knowledge will become more of a global public good, with society reaping the benefits.

All this will only happen if we find common ground in our quest for the future of open research, and begin working together on solutions that draw from the wisdom of all stakeholders. In order to capitalize on the potential of open research, we need to make the investment now to ensure we’re taking the right approach to this challenge. Simply chasing after imposed reforms is a waste of time, and ultimately an incredible waste of potential for both research and society.


Plan A is guided by 12 general principles that represent a global, multi-stakeholder, common ground perspective on the future of scholarly communication. Plan A’s work and work products will be:

1. Researcher-focused

Research communication tools, services and options need to be developed with heavy input from the research community, with solutions and approaches driven by researcher needs and concerns.

2. Collaborative

Successful and sustainable solutions will require broad collaboration, not just to ensure that all perspectives are considered, but also to ensure there is broad ownership of ideas.

3. Connected

There are a great many interconnected issues in scholarly communication. We can’t just improve the openness of information without also addressing issues such as the current functioning of impact factors, peer review, and predatory publishing. Reforming scholarly communication will require a systemic approach.

4. Diverse and flexible

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to scholarly communication reform. Instead, there are many different pathways to reform, including many that have not yet been conceived or deployed. Diversity, creativity and flexibility in this undertaking should be encouraged, at the same time noting that we should try to maximize adherence to the other principles represented here.

5. Informed

We need a better understanding of key issues in scholarly communication before moving forward. For instance, what is the impact of open research? The more accurate and honest our assessments, the more accurate and honest our reform efforts can be, the easier these efforts will be to promote, and the more successful they will be.

6. Ethical and accountable

We need enforceable, community-developed/driven standards to ensure the integrity of journal publishing, repositories, and other related activities/products, and to ensure that unethical approaches are not embraced.

7. Common goal oriented

We must discuss and plan for what the future of scholarly communication means, beyond just having access. For instance, we need to identify precisely what we plan to do with open information, where we will need data interoperability, what tools and procedures we will need to achieve this interoperability, and so on. By doing this, we focus on and strive for our community’s common goals.

8. Equitable

Researchers everywhere need to be able to access and contribute information to the global body of research information with minimal barriers. To the extent practicable, research information—particularly information central to life and health—should not be unreasonably constrained by issues such as high access costs, poor journal indexing, and a lack of capacity-building programs.

9. Sustainable

Scholarly communication reform approaches need to be sustainable, which flows from all the other elements in this list. That is, the reform solutions we design need to be achievable, affordable, popular, effective, and so on.

10. Transparent

This community needs to maintain as much transparency as possible in this effort (with regard to pricing, usage, ownership, and so on) in order to address the trust issues that have plagued this space for so long.

11. Understandable and simple

This community needs to agree on a few simple, high-level, common-ground goals for scholarly communication reform—not anything specific with regard to publishing requirements, for example, but a general set of goals that are understandable, achievable, and adaptable. By setting out general goals that can be easily achieved, participation can be made simple and easy, with low barriers to entry.

12. Beneficial

In the end, these reforms need to benefit research first and foremost. While the argument to improve benefits to society is central, these benefits need to be matured carefully, deliberately, and realistically in order to ensure that societal benefits are indeed being conveyed as intended, and that research is not being harmed in the process.


Plan A proposes that beginning in mid-2020 and continuing for a period of five years, the global scholarly communication community cooperate and collaborate on four main categories of action: studies, infrastructure development, common ground work, and education/outreach:


A holistic understanding of the scholarly communication landscape is essential to advancing open access. Misinformation, confusion and lack of clarity around key issues have continually hampered reform efforts over the past 20-plus years. To this end, OSI proposes working collaboratively to support and conduct studies that will find necessary answers to specific questions on issues such as “predatory publishing,” impact factors, licenses, academic culture and the effectiveness of open in different segments of society. OSI has identified 12 studies  that should be undertaken, which are foundational to designing approaches to open-research that are evidence-based.

Infrastructure development

A 21st century scholarly communication community requires a modernized infrastructure: products, services, tools, and websites. These investments will help encourage, achieve, sustain and monitor reforms. Our community should develop these items together, and reasonably quickly, so that reforms can be more easily adopted. OSI has identified seven infrastructure items for development, possibly including an all-scholarship repository; an APC discount/subsidy database; an open index of all scholarly publication; an APC price comparison tool; and an annual “state of open” survey.

Common ground work

Vast common ground exists in the scholarly communication world, alongside differing points of view from diverse stakeholders. As a global community, we have yet to work through our differing perspectives in unison, identifying specific ways we can address the challenges of open access together and devise solutions at scale. OSI conference delegates have engaged in this work, and their ideas and perspectives are summarized in OSI’s Common Ground paper. Plan A proposes to expand upon the common ground developed within OSI over the past five years to a more expansive and diverse global community. Doing so will offer a better chance of developing solutions together, in the proper sequence, and for the right reasons. These solutions will then stand a better chance of being adopted, sustained, and bearing fruit.

Education / outreach

In order to make faster progress on open reforms, the research community needs to be better informed with regard to categories and definitions of “open”; opportunities in open access; impacts of open access; processes; options, and so on. Our community also requires a more responsive system for listening to stakeholder feedback, and adjusting accordingly. We need a clearer and more detailed understanding of exactly what researchers want, what they will use, and what we hope to accomplish with reforms. OSI has identified three key education/outreach programs to pursue, including international meetings where all stakeholders can discuss the outlines of a new global roadmap for open scholarship (both independently and as part of UNESCO’s global roadmap effort); combating predatory publishing through improved awareness and standards; and working together to better understand the needs, goals and concerns of researchers in different disciplines, fields, labs, regions and institutions, and career stages.

In addition to these four main categories of action, Plan A also proposes that, in parallel, we begin to take immediate action to improve the relevance of open research to researchers, and the value of open research to society, by:

  • Opening and centralizing all climate change-related research;
  • Creating zero-embargo compassionate use access portals for patient families and for researchers combating health crises;
  • Creating a more robust Research-4-Life program for lower-resourced regions and institutions; and
  • Considering how to modify current openness programs to improve researcher use and engagement.