Aligning Europe's approaches to open access

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While successive UK government and research funders’ policy announcements have kept open access (OA) high on the agenda for the UK’s researchers and universities, is it a similar priority for their European counterparts? By Mafalda Picarra, PASTEUR4OA project officer, Jisc

This is no idle question; as more of the UK’s researchers collaborate on multinational, interdisciplinary European Union (EU)-funded research projects, they can’t simply assume that the same rules on OA apply across the board, and that the way they work in the UK will make them compliant with policy made elsewhere.

Certainly, OA is a very hot topic across the EU. In part, this is in response to policy announcements in 2o13 from the European Commission (EC) mandating that outputs from research funded under Horizon 2020 – the EU framework for research and innovation – must be made open access.

Regardless of where they are based, researchers and their universities are anxious both to comply with funder policies and to optimise the impact of their OA outputs; greater consensus on OA across the EU would make it much easier for them to do both. There would be far less chance of them getting it wrong simply because they misunderstood their obligations.

For its part, the EU has recommended strongly that member states should develop their own national policies on OA, promote dialogue between stakeholders and work to ensure a consistent approach (its Open Access in H2020 factsheet offers some useful information on the EU position). And in an effort to achieve that consensus, the multi-stakeholder, pan-European PASTEUR4OA project is developing a coordinated approach across the member states to OA strategy and policy. It is bringing together stakeholders in 33 European nations to build and share expertise and support the alignment of national, funder and institutional policies with European ones. Compliance with funder requirements should then become simpler, OA outputs should be easier for the academic community to find, search and share, and researchers should be able to collaborate more freely across the EU.

At the end of last year Jisc – as one of the PASTEUR4OA stakeholders – organised a workshop for representatives from the member states to explore the state of play with regard to policy alignment, to look afresh at the Horizon 2020 OA mandate and to learn from examples of good practice at national, funder and institutional levels.

One thing that emerged very clearly for us was just how varied the OA landscape currently is. Inevitably, each nation experiences its own particular challenges with regard to OA and PASTEUR4OA is already working on strategies to help in overcoming these, but some countries are more advanced than others when it comes to OA policy development and implementation. And there are still some countries in which other issues take priority over OA for policy makers so their progress has been slower.

Harmonising the various approaches and supporting the slower parties to get up to speed may well be hampered by the lack of clear information about the effectiveness of current policies. So PASTEUR4OA is pushing forward with plans both to analyse OA policies and to measure and report on their effectiveness. We are also fostering the development of the Knowledge Net, a network of 33 centres of OA expertise across Europe to share knowledge and information and act as advocates for policy development, implementation and alignment.

In a situation like this, where there’s strong motivation to create change but no certainty about how to do it, it is usually helpful to have some successful examples to think about, and so we are gathering case studies that show how policy has been developed at various levels within some member states and how it is working in practice.

Norway, for example, has robust OA policies at national and research funder level, and these are fully aligned with the Horizon 2020 mandate. It has extensive supporting infrastructure, including a national Current Research Information System (CRIS), the Norwegian Open Research Archives (NORA), which harvests the nation’s institutional repositories, and an academic library system shared by 100 academic libraries. Norway is forging ahead with its transition to OA, but there is still work to be done at institutional level, both to develop policies and to ensure these harmonise with Horizon 2020.

At institutional level, the University of Liege, Belgium, offers an example. It has had its own OA policy since 2007 and an institutional repository, ORBi, since the following year. Liege’s policy is mandatory and deposit within ORBi is a precondition for research evaluation. Researchers are encouraged to deposit not just peer-reviewed articles but also many other research outputs and useful resources. Compliance with the policy has risen year on year and is expected to have reached 90% in 2014. In the 11 months to the end of November 2014, full text downloads from ORBi exceeded one million – clear evidence that the number of readers is growing as a result of the policy and that the university’s own visibility is also improving.  Due to this more citations should also follow.

From Ireland, we have a case study of a member state that has succeeded in implementing OA policy at all three levels – national, research funder and institutional. Driven by the ambition to rebuild Ireland’s former reputation as the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economic powerhouse by fostering knowledge-based growth, OA has been embraced at all levels.

Ireland’s integrated approach to OA aligns fully with the Horizon 2020 mandate and is the sort of model that we at PASTEUR4OA and Knowledge Net would like to promote. In doing so we aim to help in taking the EU’s innovation strategy forward, to facilitate better interdisciplinary research and to enhance researchers’ ability to work across the EU.

We closed our December 2014 workshop with some sessions in which we asked participants to identify the main challenges they face as they make the transition to OA and to suggest what success might look like in the future. It will be Knowledge Net’s role to tackle these challenges, working on solutions at regional and more local levels to help stakeholders work towards their successful future.

One difficulty hampering effective alignment is the fact that even quite similar policies can be expressed in very different ways and that is challenging for authors who have to comply with more than one policy. So I’ve recently been part of a small working group trying to develop a schema for OA policies to make it easier to express them in a consistent way. We now have more information and a draft for people to comment on, and we hope that the final version will offer practical help as policy makers strive both to devise workable policies and to express them clearly.

Throughout 2015 PASTEUR4OA and Knowledge Net will be working together to deliver a series of workshops designed to keep funders and academic institutions up to date on our progress and on the transition to open access.