OA Switchboard initiative: progress report December 2020

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OA Switchboard progress report – December 2020

This post is by Yvonne Campfens, Executive Director of the OA Switchboard

Although many may want to forget all about 2020, I will remember it as a catalyst year, in which inspiring collaboration prepared for the OA Switchboard to go live as an operational solution in 2021. This progress report marks the end of the 2020 OA Switchboard project, and preludes the structural set-up for 2021 and beyond.

The OA Switchboard journey started way before the December 2018 initial stakeholder meeting which marked the inception of a shared vision. For a breakthrough in the transformation of the market such that OA is supported as the predominant model of publication, a joint challenge had to be addressed: the complexity around the implementation of multi-lateral OA publication-level arrangements. A solution had already been defined: an intermediary – The OA Switchboard – a central information exchange hub, connecting parties and systems, streamlining communication and the neutral exchange of OA related publication-level information, and ensuring a financial settlement can be done.

When I joined as project manager in December 2019, I found myself in a setting I’d hardly ever experienced in my 25+ years career in this sector: a mission-driven initiative, with a crystal-clear north star, surrounded by relentless leaders and supporters with a healthy sense of reality and a wealth of experience they were willing to share for the joint cause. And, with a rock solid commitment to make it happen, fearlessly led by OASPA and its Executive Director Claire Redhead.

As project manager, I was encouraged by the simplicity of the concept and the fact that other industries had successfully tackled similar problems in the past – the similarity with the SWIFT standards and messages in banking is striking, and that gave me confidence it could be done in the Open Access ecosystem. However, to address challenging topics around communication and data across different stakeholder groups, and to implement a cost-effective collaborative infrastructure solution, transparency is key and an independent neutral intermediary is indispensable.

So, my 2020 assignment was clear: collaborate, collaborate, collaborate, with all stakeholder groups, and deliver on two points, within the year. The first deliverable was to prove the concept through a working solution – not a prototype – and deliver sufficient proof that it is viable in itself and adds value for the stakeholders. In August 2020, the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) was delivered, developed as an open source solution by our third party tech provider ELITEX and in close collaboration with our Advisory Group and a small number of stakeholders. We delivered within time and budget. The rest of the year was pilot phase.

In parallel, I worked on the second deliverable: a well-founded proposal for future-proof governance and a funding structure for the OA Switchboard. For months I talked with numerous stakeholders, expert legal advisors in various countries, and founders and leaders of other industry initiatives. This resulted in unanimous agreement in the OASPA Board and the OA Switchboard Steering Committee on core principles that should ensure sustainability and preserve the goals of the OA Switchboard into the future. As a next step, on 16 October 2020, OASPA founded the independent Stichting OA Switchboard (comparable to a foundation)

The confidence to take these steps in moving the OA Switchboard to an operational stage was inspired by the commitment and encouragement of many. As : AboutScience, American Physiological Society, Berghahn Books, EDP Sciences, eLife, Hindawi, John Benjamins Publishing Company, JMIR Publications, MDPI, Microbiology Society, PLOS, and The Royal Society; and as research institutions: BNL National Library of Luxembourg, California Digital Library, CERN, Iowa State, Jisc, Max Planck Digital Library, and VSNU/UKB. Continued funder support was committed by Austrian Science Fund (FWF), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dutch Research Council (NWO), FNR Luxembourg National Research Fund, UKRI and Wellcome Trust.

As we speak, participating , research institutions and funders, sometimes joined by partners who provide specific systems or solutions for them, are defining use cases between them to get started with. It is amazing to see how a simple communication hub can handle many different situations. The tool can also be called upon when needed, or integrated in stakeholders’ own systems and workflows to achieve automation and scalability. In recent webinars a wide range of real-life cases were presented (recordings are available), descriptions of which are also available from our website.

But, we have to be realistic and can’t expect the OA Switchboard to deliver overnight for the greater good of the open access ecosystem. It is an industry-wide, not-for-profit initiative with the ambition to achieve standards and to drive down transactional cost through efficiency and shared infrastructure. There are practical implementation challenges to overcome and some topics, for instance around data and transparency, may be sensitive and need time to be dealt with. 

Therefore, 2021/2022 is regarded as a ‘launch phase’ to achieve wide adoption and widespread usage, to allow time for (technical) integration and implementation, and to further develop and improve the OA Switchboard. Our ambition is for the ecosystem to work better for everyone, and to learn, adjust and progress. As a not-for-profit intermediary, it will work best if ‘everybody’ participates, so optimal ‘matches’ can be made and our cost base can be spread over many parties to keep each parties’ contribution as low as possible. 

What is needed is continued collaboration, and I am happy to see so many people committing to making their time and diverse expertise available moving into the new year, as they’ve done throughout 2020. Based on the expressions of support and interest received so far, I am confident that together we’ll also make 2021 a success for the OA Switchboard. I am honoured and delighted that the Board of the Stichting OA Switchboard has trusted me with the day-to-day operations of the initiative. I extend a wide invitation to the community to get involved and join us in our mission. Please check out our website for information on how you can get involved. We will continue to do regular updates via social media (@OASwitchboard), blog posts on www.oaswitchboard.org and progress reports distributed via our mailing list.

I wish you all the best for 2021, in everything you do, private and professional. Please stay healthy.

Yvonne Campfens

Executive Director, OA Switchboard

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