Helping science succeed
Helping science succeed

Is the open spectrum a better way to get open?

Most librarians are familiar with the definitions of open access created in the early 2000’s (and refined several times since) and are passionate about advancing the cause of open. Most researchers, however, are not, and “open” is a relatively low priority for them. Indeed, the growth of “open access” strictly defined has been slow—approaching only 15% of the market total after 15 years of intense advocacy—and the path to more rapid improvement is doubtful.

What can be done to encourage faster development of open and bring more researchers—the creators of content—into this effort? OSI2016 and OSI2017 delegates came up with a novel approach: to expand the open spectrum to better reflect what other kinds of open exist in the marketplace. While the current definition of “open access” doesn’t need to change (free, immediate, and CC-BY), OSI participants suggested that this community can get more knowledge on the path to open by better understanding and embracing what other variations of open exist, why, and what barriers exist (cultural, technical, and more) to making more information more open.

This broad embrace takes the form of acknowledging a “spectrum” of open choices and solutions, including the public access approach (generally, freely accessible following a brief embargo period but not necessarily CC-BY licensed), “imperfect” open solutions (such as free and CC-BY, but following a six-month embargo), and more. Rather than advocating for only one “pure” form of open, the spectrum approach recognizes there are many kinds of approaches to making information more accessible, and all of these fall somewhere on the spectrum of open.

OSI2016 participants (see the “What is Open?” workgroup report at  identified four dimensions that have a particular bearing on openness: Discoverability, Accessibility, Reusability, and Transparency (DART). These four DART dimensions exist along a spectrum, rather than as binary values (e.g., yes/no, on/off).

The DART Framework

Dimension Attributes include Description
  • Indexed by search engines
  • Sufficient, good quality discovery metadata
  • Links
  • Persistent unique identifiers
  • Explicit rights statements
  • Open and widely used standards (for all of the above attributes)
This may be the most fundamental baseline condition of open (meaning that if an object is not discoverable, it is not open). However, there is a wide range here, including open with bad metadata or links and no or faulty identifiers.
  • Free (in terms of cost) to all users at point of use, in perpetuity
  • Downloadable (binary)
  • Machine-readable (binary)
  • Timeliness of availability (spectrum)
Generally drives whether we currently consider something to be open, although many variations exist (taking into account embargoes and other conditions).
  • Usable and reusable (including commercial uses)
  • Able to be further disseminated
  • Modifiable
Openness is advanced by having fewer restrictions on reuse, dissemination and modification.
  • Peer review
  • Impact metrics
  • Transparency in the research process (based on the Center for Open Science TOP Guidelines), including data transparency (metadata and level of availability), and software (including version and operating system/hardware)
  • Research design and analytical methods (plus software and versions), including citation standards, pre-registration of studies and of analysis, and replication
  • Author transparency (funding source, affiliations, roles, other disclosures such as conflict of interest)
Serves the research lifecycle, given that outputs of research become inputs. Some of the factors that affect transparency include the software used, inclusion of data, the transparency of the peer review process and analytical methods, and more.




OSI2017 participants (see the “Standards” workgroup report at expanded upon this recommendation in noting that “sustainability” should be added as a fifth component of this spectrum.

This model isn’t meant to replace the Open Science Framework designed by the Center for Open Science, or other spectrum models currently being used—just to turn the conversation away from trying to comply with standard that is out of reach, to trying to embrace the multitude of efforts out there that are currently happening in the open space, and to map how they relate to each other, how they compare, where each has room for improvement, and so on. This mapping can take place on many levels—publishers, institutions, disciplines, even countries. As we work to improve access to research information, this approach can help us identify where we need to improve, what areas are lagging (and why), and what approaches work better for different groups (and why).