Helping science succeed
Helping science succeed

9 themes that emerged from OSI2017

The scholarly publishing decision tree is different for each of the two million plus papers published every year. It would be difficult to invent a more Rube Goldberg-esque system of ramps and levers where researcher needs are connected to different incentives, publishing options, journal options and copyright choices, guided by different funder mandates, institutional guidelines, government policies, discipline norms and personal preferences, all driven by technological advances, changing social norms and probably at least 10 other variables.

How did we end up with this system anyway? Slowly and over many years, competing and overlapping interests have collided and morphed around no clear center. What we have now in scholarly publishing is just a natural outgrowth of all these forces. But no one thinks the current state of scholarly publishing is where it needs to be in order to effectively manage the future of research. So how do we get to this better future from where we are now?

And who speaks for scholarly publishing reform? Is it researchers (and if so, in what discipline or even institution)? Governments (which ones)? University libraries? Open access advocates? Publishers? Funders? At present the answer is “all of the above,” which is as it should be. Except that what we have now isn’t one voice advocating one course of action but many different voices advocating different actions to different audiences. Ask anyone from any of these groups what scholarly publishing means and where it’s headed and you’ll hear lots of ideas and opinions, and hear about lots of different solutions that are being rolled out, no two of which look alike. There is no shortage of hope for the future and commitment to get there, which is incredibly positive, but also not optimal for making global, rapid, widely adopted and sustainable progress.

This kind of progress will require teamwork involving input and cooperation from the entire global ecosystem of research and scholarly publishing — not necessarily everyone working together as one but everyone pulling in generally the same direction with a clearer understanding and ownership of the goals, rules and expectations. No single group or interest can affect this kind of change on a global scale by themselves in this very diverse and interconnected space. Working together is the only way, and as it turns out the best way as well since working together involves listening to the concerns of researchers from different disciplines, the Global South, small colleges, non-university researcher organizations and many others who aren’t well-represented in current efforts to reform the global scholarly communication system.

To this end, UNESCO and the National Science Communication Institute (nSCI) created the Open Scholarship Initiative (OSI) in early 2015 — a 10-year plan for developing a framework for communication and cooperation among all nations and stakeholders in order to improve scholarly communication, beginning with scholarly publishing and the issues that surround it (such as peer review and impact factors). Over 380 high-level leaders from 200 institutions, 24 countries and 18 stakeholder groups are currently part of this effort. The ultimate success of OSI’s approach won’t be measured by whether it results in immediate solutions to every heretofore intractable problem in open publishing. Instead, there’s a gradient of success.

Simply bringing this diverse group together has been an important start, having participants speak directly to each other and share their perspectives directly with each other and begin the long process of trying to find common ground on a variety of issues. The next steps — beginning with trying to design workable solutions — is where this effort is at in year two (OSI2017, which just concluded on April 20). The final papers from OSI2017 will be published in early June. Until then, here are some common themes that emerged from this latest meeting:

Nine common themes that emerged from OSI2017

  1. Open isn’t free. The focus of open can’t be about cost-savings. Open is going to cost money — the jury is still out on exactly how much. So if we all agree that more open is important, it is this importance that needs to drive our efforts going forward and not the promise of spending less.
  2. Open isn’t easy. Aside from the cost involved, there is mixed messaging in this space and a lack of incentives for several key audiences. More trust, understanding and balance are also needed, such as solutions that involve local input and incentives (geographic, institutional and discipline-specific), and approaches to open that are inclusive (wherein we can all agree on the idea of open and then identify a hundred different paths to get there instead of just one).
  3. Publishing is critical. Without publishing, preservation and access, there is no modern scientific record. But the current system of publishing is too expensive for universities, so our focus needs to be on what now — figuring out who pays, what we publish and where, understanding the global impact of our solutions, making sure we’re resolving researcher concerns, and more.
  4. We’re more alike than unalike. Several stakeholder groups noted that there is often as much diversity of opinion within a single stakeholder group as there is between groups.
  5. Convergent needs are everywhere. OSI2017 workgroups and stakeholder groups identified many areas where often disparate communities can find common ground — for instance, on the need for visibility, public engagement, preservation and interdisciplinarity. Convening action on this common ground is the next step for OSI.
  6. Accountability and recognition are crucial. All research-related institutions should be invested in this effort. We all have a stake in the outcome.
  7. Trust is essential. This conversation needs trust to move forward. There is a lot of mistrust in the system — not in OSI, which is widely seen as a unique refuge and a unique and valuable opportunity to speak across the aisle — but in the larger scholarly communication system which has been polarized for so long.
  8. OSI can help. OSI can help the cause of open by creating new resources for the open community, designing new open outreach materials tailored to specific audiences (instead of one-size-fits-all materials), funding needed studies, developing a better understanding of researcher needs and incentives, convening conversations between funders, helping identify best practices, getting behind efforts like OA2020 and DORA, and more.
  9. We’re on the right track. Most delegates think OSI serves an important and useful purpose — that what has been spinning out of OSI is already having an impact and that the approach we’re taking is exactly on track. Whether by being a neutral forum for broad discussion, a proponent of inclusive ideas, a convener of parties, or even a developer or funder of new products and projects, the big tent approach is key.

Stay tuned at for more information on this effort as it develops. In the meantime, we’ve started the planning process for next year’s meeting — OSI2018. Please email me if you’re interested in being a part of this.

This article was also published in the May 10, 2017 issue of Elsevier Connect. The OS!2017 report is available in the papers and reports section of this website.