Wellcome as a Change Agent for Open Science and the Scholarly Publishing Ecosystem


This post is the first in a three-part series dedicated to exploring and inspiring agents of change across the scientific publishing landscape. 

In October 2019, at the Royal Society of the Arts, Outsell and CCC held a leadership summit focused on The Future of Science. This invitation-only event brought together a cross-section of senior leaders throughout the scientific ecosystem to examine the value chain of scholarly communications and to identify and investigate changes to the implicit and explicit reward systems that would foster necessary change. As a backdrop to the event, the two organizations collaborated on a map and after the event, Outsell produced its Outsell InsightThe Scholarly Communications Ecosystem Is Bracing for the Full Impact of the Digital Age. 

The Insight had a provocative close: “There is evidence that stakeholders recognize the need for change but flinch at the short-term pain it will inflict. It appears that survival rates in the long term will tip heavily in favor of the more agile, risk-tolerant, diversified organizations that are open to experimenting and giving up some margin along the way… Since there are multiple paths to chart on this journey, it is possible that sharing incremental wins and “failing fast” will produce a selection of pathways that work for the future of science … We await the innovative firms that dare to make it happen.” 

It has been two years since the Future of Science and as we do periodically, we recently revisited the map and the Insight to consider what has changed and why, what has not and what still needs to. We see three main drivers of recent change: the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and untold natural disasters. 

Almost immediately, from early 2020 on when the pandemic became widespread, we have seen double-digit growth in the amount of research submitted and published in scientific, technical and medical publications and with unprecedented cooperation and innovation among scientists and the publishing community as noted in our 5 November 2020 blog post. 

In the wake of the Black Lives Matters movement and the sheer volume of natural disasters (both exacerbated by the pandemic), we are starting to see major players drive cultural changes within the research and publishing ecosystem – changes that combine new commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion with revised reward systems that are designed to accelerate the transition to open access and open research that is so needed to address our global health and environmental issues. We are seeing new experiments that are breaking down tensions among leaders across the ecosystem and a growing sense of joint commitment to funding the open science infrastructure.  

In this post, we look at some of these changes through the lens of Wellcome, one of the largest research funders in the world (with a 29.1-billion-pound investment portfolio) and an influential player in the scholarly publishing ecosystem.  

In the past year alone, Wellcome reimagined how the research culture should work in several important ways: 

  • New Funding schemes targeting researchers at all stages of their careers, including early-career researchers. “The new schemes are designed to give researchers more freedom, time and resources to pursue their ideas and build a better research culture.” 
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion policies with immediate and long-term commitments for the organization and the projects/individuals it funds. Its three main goals are to be an inclusive employer, to be an inclusive funder, and to achieve equal health outcomes. “This means changing research processes and practices that systematically exclude or disadvantage people based on disability, gender and race. And it means co-developing research goals with the people and communities that the research is intended to benefit.” 
  • Changes in rewards … including tools such as the Resume for Researchers, which is designed to highlight “individuals’ varied contributions to research” since “researchers’ overall contributions to research go beyond their easily attributable outputs and impact. Too narrowly focused performance indicators can make it harder to see, reward or nurture the full range of contributions that are necessary to create the environments that enable excellence and steward it for the future.”  Wellcome’s efforts complement those of other organizations dedicated to reimagining researcher rewards systems beyond traditionally recognized metrics and contributions: RecognitoOASPA, and universities like the University of Kent. Further, The Café Culture Toolkit is another innovation to help change research culture.
  • Partnering with publishers to build out shared infrastructure by funding the hosting of research data, supporting FAIR principles and funding open access publication charges.  Wellcome awarded PLOS a grant from its 2021 Open Research Fund to accelerate development and testing of new solutions that promote and reward open science. Specifically, PLOS Pathogenswill be piloting the latest version of the Dryad data repository, provided free of charge to authors and integrated into the publishing experience, along with prominent visual links on publications designed to incentivize open research practices. “Sharing research data in repositories is considered best practice for data sharing — data in repositories are more findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable (FAIR) — but most researchers share data by other methods.”
  • Extending its support of cOAlition S, an international consortium of funders requiring that research output funded by public grants is published in open access-compliant journals and platforms. 

 Many at the Future of Science event posited, and sometimes with a lot of trepidation, that funders and government agencies, given their position upstream and downstream in the ecosystem would have to be the driving forces of change. Given the long list of innovations above, Wellcome looks like a change agent indeed and we expect their innovations to ripple across the ecosystem. 

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Author: Jamie Carmichael

Jamie Carmichael brings more than 17 years’ experience in publishing to her current role as Senior Director, Publisher Solutions, at Copyright Clearance Center (CCC). In this position, she oversees the product marketing practice for CCC’s publisher portfolio, with a focus on RightsLink® for Scientific Communications.
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