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Moving beyond open access policy development to greater alignment and effectiveness. By Mafalda Picarra, project officer at Jisc

It hasn’t always been so, but here in the early 21st century people in many walks of life aspire to openness.

US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a strong advocate for transparency, has been quoted as saying, “when you open the door towards openness and transparency, a lot of people will follow you through” and in higher education that is proving to be true in many countries. As openness in the form of open access (OA) becomes recognised as a valuable means of improving knowledge transfer and speeding up the pace of progress more and more universities, research funders and other stakeholders are developing and implementing OA policies of their own.

Institutions and funders in the UK have been in the vanguard of Europe’s OA movement. The Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies (ROARMAP), which is a searchable international database of university repositories and their contents, reveals that, of the 500+ OA policies it has recorded globally, 113 have been developed and implemented by institutions and research bodies in the UK.

Nothing to see here?

So does that mean that all the hard work on OA has been done – in the UK, at least?

Not yet. Even a cursory review of current institutional and funder OA policies reveals a few idiosyncrasies and many significant differences in approach. That’s inevitable in a transitional phase but not ideal and so, in 2012, the European Commission advocated both OA approaches to research and closer alignment of policies. This is vital if we want to support collaborative research. As researchers now work more regularly with peers in other institutions and other nations – and as OA policies proliferate – they increasingly need to comply with the policies of several different bodies, perhaps with conflicting requirements.

OA policy alignment

In the UK the policy alignment process is under way – the Higher Education Funding Council for England's (HEFCE's) OA policy is relatively aligned with the EC's Horizon 2020 policy, and UK universities are, in turn, reviewing their own policies to bring them into line with major research funders’ OA policies.

The PASTEUR4OA collaboration brings together representatives from ten European countries to develop European expertise on open access and fostering alignment of policies is an important aspect of that work. Over the last 12 months or so we have produced a suite of resources designed to help universities and funders wherever they are in their transition to OA.

OA policy resources

Although work on OA is relatively far advanced in the UK there is still plenty of scope for universities to develop and implement new policies and to monitor and evaluate existing ones. Resources to help with either task include a brief on open access in the UK, essentially a case study describing how OA policy has developed in the UK in the last decade. In large part it did so in response to an increasingly loud debate during the 1990s about how to improve access to academic publications and about what were then seen as subversive ideas about alternative publishing models.

It is fascinating to see how this disruptive thinking has become mainstream.

The brief describes how research is funded and defines how the country’s research programmes fit into the global knowledge economy. It also looks at projects to support policy development and to test new funding and publishing models as well as the development of institutional repositories and other infrastructure to support OA. Focused on the UK’s experience, the case study is intended to be a useful resource both within the UK and also for institutions and funders in European countries that are less far along in their transition to open access. Similar briefs have been produced describing the journey towards OA in several other European countries including Portugal and Denmark.

The brief on OA policy effectiveness is designed to assist both with evaluation of existing policies and development of new ones. It describes the various elements that an OA policy needs to cover and - through analysis of 120 mandatory OA policies operating in several countries - it has been possible to identify five policy elements that are most effective in bringing about significant improvements in the proportion of research outputs that are published in OA. These are:

  • Research articles must be deposited in the institutional repository;
  • The above action can’t be waived, whatever the conditions of any embargo;
  • If the policy states that an author should retain certain rights over their published work, this cannot be waived;
  • Items deposited must be made OA – if necessary, after any embargo period ends; and
  • Deposit of articles is linked with research assessment and performance evaluation processes.

With insights like these from peer institutions it should be much simpler for universities to develop a policy that is effective, or to identify where an existing one needs improvement.

And thirdly, we have produced a briefing paper that examines the similarities and differences between policies produced by UK HEIs, highlighting areas where there is consensus and also where differences or lack of clarity exist.

There are major differences, for example, over issues such as the required date of deposit of research outputs, and about licensing conditions, which can create headaches for researchers and also complicate matters for research support staff responsible for reporting to funders and for monitoring compliance. Confusion often exists over the finer detail of issues such as waivers, research evaluation, rights, embargoes and funding, often because detail on these issues is lacking. That may be for a variety of understandable reasons but making policies more comprehensive, explicit and closely aligned with those of funders and peer institutions will enable researchers and administrative staff to comply with policy more easily and bring about faster, more significant improvements in performance on open access.

The full suite of advocacy resources includes templates on OA policy-making and case studies on OA policy implementation in several lead nations. There are also briefings on related subjects such as research data, article processing charges (APCs), copyright and measuring research impact.

Open Access Week 2015

The upcoming Open Access Week, with its theme of ‘open for collaboration’, will highlight the ways in which greater openness can support collaboration across disciplinary, institutional, national and international boundaries. The release of the PASTEUR4OA advocacy resources is intended to help national and institutional policy makers as well as research funders to create an OA policy landscape that supports this aspiration.