OASPA’s forthcoming recommendations to increase equity in open access: the story of how we got here, and why

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Happy 2024 to all in the open access community. With TIME magazine covering increased open access as one of the ways the world got better in 2023 let’s own this as another year of making a positive difference by working together. 

OASPA has developed a draft of recommended practices to help publishing organisations increase equity in open access. These recommendations are currently undergoing extensive, multi-step, internal and external review. This post tells the story of how we got to this point, and why. Following review and revisions, we will be sharing our proposed recommendations for wider community feedback, so think of this post as the groundwork and foundation for developing these recommended practices.

Read on for:

  • The backstory
  • What do we mean by equity in OA? (And why do we care?)
  • OA for all
  • Key context around OASPA’s recommendations
  • Next steps

The backstory – where did these recommended practices come from?
OASPA began last year by summarising global perspectives on What is healthy in the open access ‘market’. We then spent most of 2023 on a dedicated ‘Equity in OA’ workshop series gathering input – from publishers, librarians and others based across 32 countries – on ways to increase equity in OA. 

An interactive session based on OASPA’s 18-month effort of research, conversations, interviews and the workshop series was then held at OASPA’s annual meeting last September 2023. Feedback from that session is shaping our next steps. OASPA’s members and others attending the session requested that we develop principles of practice to increase Equity in OA as a “top priority”. Read more about this in our summary of the feedback session in 2023.

Our learnings from the entire equity workshop series, the feedback session and discussions at the working group steering OASPA’s Equity in OA efforts are leading us to focus on the recommended practices described here.

What does OASPA mean by Equity in OA? And why do we care about it?
Equity is a multifaceted concept that goes beyond equality to address issues of cumulative advantage. Multiple forms of inequities inhabit the scholarly communications ecosystem. There are two aspects of equity in OA that OASPA is concerned with: 

  • equitable financial approaches, to remove monetary barriers to participation and ensure all scholars can publish OA;
  • equitable engagement models, so that all scholars can have the chance to participate fully as a stakeholder with influence.

OASPA is working for the inclusion of all researchers on this basis. We believe that diversity requires equity – i.e., that diversity of scholars, of formats/types of output, of approaches, of languages can only occur in an environment that is equitable. 

Barriers impeding those wanting to publish OA is the first hurdle we are tackling. Our work on equity in OA has shown that publication charges hinder OA publishing for authors right across the globe, despite waiver programs. Author-facing fees could already be muting the voices of scholars in entire world regions. Alongside growing consolidation in OA publishing we see mounting evidence of exclusion in who can publish OA – see our fuller reading list at the end of this post. We conclude that pay-to-publish models of achieving OA only serve a minority of the world’s researchers. 

With APCs/BPCs becoming practically synonymous with OA, and the acceleration of Transformative Agreements (that often rely on per-article charges) we also want to avoid the outcome that the pay-to-publish route for achieving OA threatens and undermines trust in the very concept of OA, as is perceived and argued here

This is why OASPA’s ‘equity in OA’ efforts are currently focused on removing barriers so all can access OA publishing.

Open access for all
OASPA is interested in convening conversation on this issue, and engaging with publishers wanting to deliver OA outside of pay-to-publish routes, as well as those already delivering on this. We believe that the most impactful steps in making OA more inclusive and equitable are to improve processes involved in author-facing charges, and to increase the volume of open access by default, i.e., all content is open and no authors face fees or checks.

While achieving default OA for all does not tackle all forms of inequity, it is the facet of equity we are working on first.

OASPA knows that publishing needs to be paid for, with investments needed to achieve scale, good standards and innovation. We also know that the system needs to be financially sustainable without being exploitative. We believe that the funding, payment structures and money-flows of today do not support fee-free OA at scale. (More about our thinking on this if you scroll to the diagram here.) Default OA without author-facing fees will therefore take time to consolidate and scale, and in the meanwhile we believe that actions are needed, here and now. This motivation underpins our forthcoming recommendations.
We are not alone in calling for OA publishing to be more inclusive, with equity and fairness a core value in UNESCO’s recommendation on open science, and a focus on equity in OA also from the Global Summit on Diamond OA, SciELO in Latin America, the OSTP in North America, the International Science Council, OA2020 and a multi-stakeholder group comprising Plan S and others.

Key context around OASPA’s recommended practices
Our recommendations to increase equity in OA are drafted considering that:

  • A successful transition to full OA is one where everyone can read and publish OA. Further background in our reflections arising from workshop #4.
  • There is scope to improve equity in all approaches to OA. All models and routes to OA are considered in our recommendations. Further background also in the formal report arising from our workshop #2.
  • There is an acute need to evolve practice in pay-to-publish/APC/BPC models to make things more equitable for researchers, and it is accepted that waivers do not go far enough. 
    • Waivers (in pay-to-publish models) are applied on the basis of inconsistent logic and differing waiver policies exist across publishers’ titles
    • As we heard in the 2023 Equity in OA workshop series, waivers are burdensome at best, and they can often come across as colonial, condescending or demeaning for authors who request and receive them.
    • Lack of shared definitions or common language for waivers and terms like ‘unfunded researchers’ was a recurring theme when discussing how to make the APC model more equitable in 2023. Our recommendations therefore include definitions for these fundamental terms. 
    • Further background on per-article charges and waivers in our reflections from workshop 1 and workshop 3.
  • More trust is needed between publishers and payers to financially support and scale default OA publishing for all. Building this trust relies on greater transparency. We have argued that transparency would trump misconceptions. Greater transparency around pricing and financials will be a firm way to foster and rebuild trust, including in scenarios where publishers seek payer investment to flip journals or transition their publishing operations to OA. Transparent information on OA publishing is needed for payers to be able to structure their financial support. 
  • What we are presenting is an initial framework of suggestions for how to increase equity in OA. We will seek community input on our recommended practices and will invite input from anyone interested in scholarly publishing.

Our next steps
We intend to release our proposed set of recommendations as soon as possible in 2024 to help all publishing organisations increase equity in OA. OASPA will propose these as strongly encouraged (rather than mandatory) for the OASPA membership. We also want to engage with and hear from publishers as they adopt or consider adopting these recommendations. OASPA wishes to be a partner and helper in this process of learning and improvement.

A significant factor in driving change is the willingness of organisations engaged in OA publishing to evolve practice and increase equity in OA. Where there is a will, there’s a way, and throughout 2024 we will also be amplifying ‘wayfinders’ – a compendium of examples of those already increasing equity in OA in a variety of ways. You are warmly invited to join our first ‘wayfinders’ webinar  on 23 Jan. We hope this inaugural wayfinders discussion, and the rest of the ‘wayfinders’ series this year, inspires thinking and helps organisations find their own way to more equity in OA.

Feel free to comment below, or via email. If you aren’t already on the list then opt in to hear from us about equity in OA so you know when our proposed recommendations are out for community input; we are counting on your review and feedback to make these better.

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