5 Tips for Keeping Your Finger on the Open Access Pulse

The pace of change in open access shows no sign of slackening in 2018. Here, Rob Johnson shares his advice on keeping up to date with the latest developments.

1.     Step out of your comfort zone

Whether it’s the London and Frankfurt Book Fairs for publishers, or the UKSG and Charleston conferences for librarians, most members of the scholarly communications community have annual get-togethers that are not to be missed. Yet if you want to be challenged in your thinking about what’s just around the corner, I’d encourage you to try heading somewhere different in 2018. Opportunities abound to step out of your comfort zone:

  • Wishing you could talk through issues with representatives of different communities? Join one of the cross-stakeholder workshops at the Researcher to Reader Conference in London, 26 & 27 February 2018
  • Wondering what’s on the mind of institutional research managers? Head to Edinburgh in June for INORMS 2018 – the biennial congress of the International Network of Research Management Societies.
  • Puzzled as to what students and early career researchers think about openness? Check out one of the OpenCon 2018 events happening all over the world
  • Looking for a global view on trends in the library community? Make your way to the World Library and Information Congress in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia, 24-30 August 2018.
  • Fancy debating the ins and outs of OA above the Arctic Circle? Make plans for the 13th Munin Conference in Tromsø, Norway in late November.

2.     Review your news feeds

One challenge is filtering out the nuggets of useful information from the noise, but you should also ask yourself whether you are at risk of confirmation bias. If your desire is for an open scholarly commons without private actors, challenge yourself to read Kent Anderson’s list of ‘things publishers do’ with an open mind.

Of course, not everyone has the luxury of jetting off to far-flung corners of the world – most of us have limited travel budgets, and more than enough work piling up back home. Fortunately, there is no shortage of online sources of information in the scholarly communications ecosystem. It’s hard to beat the Scholarly Kitchen blog for informed commentary on the latest developments in scholarly communications, and for publishers, professional associations like STM and ALPSP provide regular members-only updates. Meanwhile, librarians are well-served by the Association of Research Libraries in the US, LIBER in Europe, and numerous national consortia and professional bodies.

One challenge is filtering out the nuggets of useful information from the noise, but you should also ask yourself whether you are at risk of confirmation bias. If your desire is for an open scholarly commons without private actors, challenge yourself to read Kent Anderson’s list of ‘things publishers do’ with an open mind. If you can’t understand why others get so excited about open access, follow SPARC (@SPARC_NA) or SPARC Europe (@SPARC_EU) on Twitter. And if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of funding bodies intervening in the publishing process, make a point of following the EC’s open access policy team and trying to understand their thinking (@OpenAccessEC).

3.     Move to ‘just in time’ information

Peter Suber’s OA tracking project (@oatp) provides crowd-sourced alerts about dozens of open access developments across the world every day. Meanwhile, the UK’s Royal Society of Biology and NFAIS Advances in the US both offer regular news digests which are free to subscribe to, and provide a handy overview of recent developments. Yet even with the best will in the world, no-one can read and interpret everything that’s going on.

The solution is simply not to try. Instead, as Tim Ferriss puts it in the 4-hour work week: ‘Follow your to-do short list and fill in the information gaps as you go,’ focussing on what Kathy Sierra calls ‘just-in-time’ information instead of ‘just-in-case’ information. If you need to do some strategizing about key market opportunities, read up on what’s relevant to the markets in question. If you’re asked to make a recommendation on adopting a new system, or work with a new partner, read up on these. If you’ve got your newsfeeds right, you can just skim the headlines, and file the information until you need to read it. And if a few weeks or months go by and you haven’t needed to refer to something, delete it without feeling guilty.

4.     Beware the hype cycle

Right now, it seems like everyone is talking about the potential for artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain to revolutionise our world, and scholarly communications is no different. The ability to crawl articles for indexing and pass them as data to software is central to the open access movement, and opening articles up for machine learning offers great potential. Meanwhile, a recent Digital Science report raises the possibility of micropayments based on blockchain technology as a new model for access to content.

Yet as Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies shows, both machine learning and blockchain are currently close to a peak of inflated expectations, and heading for the ‘trough of disillusionment’. A small minority of people need to be actively exploring these initiatives within scholarly communications, but for most of us the point where they intersect with our working lives remains some distance off. Yet don’t write them off entirely. After the trough of disillusionment come the ‘slope of enlightenment’ and finally the ‘plateau of productivity’, when emerging technologies finally deliver on their promise

5.     Focus on trends, not events

Marketing teams do their best to convince us that events are significant, but it’s the trends that matter. In my previous post I highlighted the fact that 2018 will pose real questions about the sustainability of open access business models. This is one trend to watch closely, and I see three others that merit attention in 2018:

  • Increasing legislative intervention – Whether it’s the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and the Digital Single Market Strategy in Europe, or the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) in the US, legislative developments will undoubtedly play a part in shaping open access over the coming year. Meanwhile, legal judgements in cases involving Researchgate and Sci-Hub will help define the limits of academic content-sharing on the internet, and, indirectly, the future of open access.
  • Rising adoption of identifiers – With the launch of Metadata2020, the push for more reusable and connected research outputs will gather momentum in 2018. Persistent identifiers already exist for researchers and contributors (ORCID iDs), for data and software (DataCite DOIs), for journal articles, preprints, conference proceedings, peer reviews and monographs and standards (Crossref DOIs), and for Funders (Open Funder Registry IDs). Crossref is now preparing for the introduction of global Persistent Identifiers for grants, awards, and facilities. Knowing when and how to implement these identifiers in existing systems and workflows will be critical for all stakeholders in the OA ecosystem.

Moving from openness to impact

In the wider world of science policy, ‘impact’ is the word on every policymaker’s lips. From the UK’s Research Excellence Framework and the Netherlands’ Standard Evaluation Protocol to Australia’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, researchers and their institutions are under pressure to demonstrate the economic and societal impact of research. Over the next year we can expect see the emphasis begin to shift from simply making more content open, to asking what ‘impact’ the move to openness has had. We can expect this to throw up some challenging questions, with few easy answers.


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Author: Rob Johnson

Rob Johnson is the founder and director of Nottingham-based Research Consulting.
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