Open access management – a new domain?

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Christian Grubak from ChronosHub and Josh Brown from MoreBrains share their thoughts on the transition to open access and the needs for its formalised management and collaborative community actions

Christian Grubak from ChronosHub and Josh Brown from MoreBrains share their thoughts on the transition to open access and the needs for its formalised management and collaborative community actions.

Tell us a little about your backgrounds…

Christian Grubak: I’m all about building scalable technology platforms, especially for e-commerce. After working with the Gates Foundation on implementing their open access policy, I founded ChronosHub in 2017 here in Copenhagen, with the aim to minimise researchers’ administrative work and let them focus their invaluable time on research.

Josh Brown: I’ve always been in the scholarly communications industry. At Jisc, I helped UK higher education institutions modernise their current research information management systems (CRIS), and then with CERN, Crossref and ORCID, I had similar objectives, often focusing on open access, open science and persistent identifiers (PIDs). 

A few years ago, I co-founded MoreBrains with Phill Jones, Fiona Murphy and Alice Meadows to bring our collective experience and expertise to the benefit of various organisations in the publishing industry.

What is open access management (OAM) and why is it important?

Brown: Open access typically refers to a broad international movement and a growing set of publishing models where academic research is made available online at no cost to the reader. As OA allows anyone to access and benefit from the latest research findings, it accelerates R&D processes, as we so notably saw with the unprecedented openness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, OA also comes with complicated workflows for publishers, and more administration for funders and universities to ensure policy compliance, manage APC-payments and monitor agreements. And this has implications for researchers. 

Grubak: Yes, OAM ensures smoother and more automated processes around APC-handling, agreement monitoring and full-text archiving. It guides authors and administrators along the complete publishing process, ensuring compliance with funding policies and steering them away from predatory publishers.

As the shift to OA is accelerating, we see an increasing number of public and private actors providing solutions in the OAM space. Some specialise in publishers, like the Copyright Clearance Center (RightsLink), others focus on institutions, such as Jisc (Monitor Open), or serve multiple stakeholders like us at ChronosHub.

What are the biggest challenges with OAM?

Grubak: We examined this question with MoreBrains through a study and an OAM landscape survey. 

The overall challenge is rapidly increasing complexity across the whole research ecosystem. A single transformative agreement and a few APCs can be managed manually, but over 50% of all new articles are now OA, so manual methods have become unfeasible. Researchers are overwhelmed by significant extra administration, and need to fill in the same data in different systems. They also need to assess the journals to avoid falling victim to predatory publishers.

Brown: As with similar situations, the solution-seeking starts with an explosion of Excel spreadsheets, combined with attempts to build something internally. New processes and instruments are being explored, and the complexity and costs further increase through new models, agreements and other instruments.

The OAM landscape survey indicates these challenges are global, and OAM is emerging as its own specific domain to ensure scalable solutions to address the challenges, similar to the way CRIS became a domain 10-15 years ago. 

The solutions typically need to be developed on several levels. Cross-stakeholder communications don’t just require technology and integrations, but also need standardised data formats, terminology and processes. In that context, the use of PIDs and applying the FAIR data principles become critical.

Overall, for a successful industry-wide OAM, collaborations between different stakeholders need to be strengthened, leading to the suggestion to establish a joint forum for exchange of experience and best-practice, and agreeing on OAM standards. 

The resulting position paper “Why is managing OA so painful?” has just been published and can be accessed here.

What areas of OAM are you particularly passionate about?

Brown: Include PIDs for all the associated entities. This is a prerequisite for data to be reused in an automated way across different applications, otherwise someone always has to manually validate and quality assure the data.

Grubak: I agree PIDs are crucial, but I’m even more passionate about the prospects of a proper OAM. It will unburden researchers, accelerate innovation, and move massive resources away from manual data handling towards productive and qualitative use of data and analytics to drive organisations strategically and operationally forward. 

What are your wider hopes for the industry for the next 10 years?

Grubak: Increased collaboration across different stakeholders: publishers, funders, institutions and technology providers, and always putting the researchers first!

Brown: And that the OAM community becomes an effective forum for standardisation of data formats, processes and terminology.

What’s next? You can catch the webinar on 25 October at 3 pm CET (during OA week)