Breaking down barriers to open research

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Shelley Allen, Head of Open Research at Emerald Publishing explains how the journey to becoming open access is personal

The theme this year is climate justice and sustainability – how does that tie in with your goals as an open-access scholarly publisher?   

As a founding signatory of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) Publishers Compact, we are focused on mission-based research that supports the SDGs and covers issues around climate justice and sustainability. It’s important to have an interdisciplinary approach to these issues and diverse voices in the discussion. That includes globally diverse but also disciplinary diversity. 

We do have climate journals, but these are multifaceted problems that aren’t just about climate science. Specifically, it's about behaviours such as responsible business, and we have a lot of related research in these areas. 

Emerald Open Research showcases a lot of this research, but we're also working with our customers to find other ways to offer support. This work needs to be as open as possible because it has real-world impact, and our role is to help that research go beyond academia.

Why is open access important, and why does Open Access Week matter?  

Open access is important because it removes barriers to research, and therefore improves the chances that research can have a positive impact on society.

Open Access Week is an opportunity where we can advance ‘open’ by discussing issues and supporting our communities. It’s an initiative that engages all stakeholders and has enabled us in previous years to collaborate with institutions and other publishers to start conversations around open access.

Open Access Week matters because it allows us to discuss some of the challenges around open access. For instance, well-funded disciplines like medicine and the life sciences are often ahead in their open access journey compared with the social sciences, where there may be less funding for open-access publishing. The same is true from more advanced economies compared with countries that are less embedded in Western research culture. This sentiment comes out in our 2022 Time for Change findings, where we report an increase in researchers agreeing that funding is too STEM-centric compared with the social sciences (24% versus 17%), and a one in three researchers saying it’s not a level playing field for those in low/medium-income countries. 

How will you be marking this year’s Open Access Week? 

Within our communities there is still a lot of misunderstanding, myths and misinformation about what open access means and what's involved. Open Access Week is a great opportunity for us to engage with our communities, dispel some of those myths and support researchers in their open access journey.  

Over the month of October, we will demystify open access through a series of videos, blogs and other activities on social channels and Emerald Open Research. We will tackle issues around quality and trust, along with demystifying publishing options, policies and terminologies. 

Primarily, we want researchers to know that open-access publishing is the same quality as subscription publishing. Emerald Publishing and other trusted publishers still conduct rigorous peer-review and have high production values to ensure papers are discoverable and reach the right audience. Unfortunately, there are predatory publishers that don’t meet our rigorous publishing standards and that’s why an essential part of demystifying open access is providing researchers with the tools to help them navigate the publishing environment. 

It’s also important for researchers to know the open access options available to them. For instance, an open access paper doesn’t have to be the version-of-record (the final published version). This means that if they haven’t got funding, they have the option of using our zero embargo, green policy.

What is the future of open-access publishing? 

The future is open, but everyone’s on a journey, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to this. It’s not something that one stakeholder can solve as it requires collaboration across the ecosystem to move towards an open future. 

We need to continue supporting authors on their open access journeys and not assume knowledge. It’s essential that we build policies, processes and infrastructures that take the noise and pain away from authors, but all of us are probably quite far from that at the moment. We still get authors that ask, ‘what is open access?’, but it's not as many as it used to be. We are seeing more authors accept the voucher they've been offered as part of the transformative agreement, as well as self-archive by making their accepted manuscripts available in a repository.

There is often impatience as people think the journey to open access is progressing slowly, but I believe there’s a bright future for open access. I think it will be a complex journey and we won't all get there the same way. If we're going to have a globally diverse research community, which I hope we always do, then it makes sense that there will never be one way that suits everybody. And it's down to all of us to accept that diversity, embrace it, and find ways to welcome it and make it inclusive.

 Shelley Allen, Head of Open Research, Emerald Publishing