The scholarly publishing decision tree is different for each of the two million plus papers published every year. It would be difficult to invent a more Rube Goldberg-esque system of ramps and levers where researcher needs are connected to different incentives, publishing options, journal options and copyright choices, guided by different funder mandates, institutional guidelines, government policies, discipline norms and personal preferences, all driven by technological advances, changing social norms and probably at least 10 other variables.
How did we end up with this system anyway? Slowly and over many years, competing and overlapping interests have collided and morphed around no clear center. What we have now in scholarly publishing is just a natural outgrowth of all these forces. But no one thinks the current state of scholarly publishing is where it needs to be in order to effectively manage the future of research. So how do we get to this better future from where we are now?
And who speaks for scholarly publishing reform? Is it researchers (and if so, in what discipline or even institution)? Governments (which ones)? University libraries? Open access advocates? Publishers? Funders? At present the answer is “all of the above,” which is as it should be. Except that what we have now isn’t one voice advocating one course of action but many different voices advocating different actions to different audiences. Ask anyone from any of these groups what scholarly publishing means and where it’s headed and you’ll hear lots of ideas and opinions, and hear about lots of different solutions that are being rolled out, no two of which look alike. There is no shortage of hope for the future and commitment to get there, which is incredibly positive, but also not optimal for making global, rapid, widely adopted and sustainable progress.
This kind of progress will require teamwork involving input and cooperation from the entire global ecosystem of research and scholarly publishing — not necessarily everyone working together as one but everyone pulling in generally the same direction with a clearer understanding and ownership of the goals, rules and expectations. No single group or interest can affect this kind of change on a global scale by themselves in this very diverse and interconnected space. Working together is the only way, and as it turns out the best way as well since working together involves listening to the concerns of researchers from different disciplines, the Global South, small colleges, non-university researcher organizations and many others who aren’t well-represented in current efforts to reform the global scholarly communication system.
To this end, UNESCO and the National Science Communication Institute (nSCI) created the Open Scholarship Initiative (OSI) in early 2015 — a 10-year plan for developing a framework for communication and cooperation among all nations and stakeholders in order to improve scholarly communication, beginning with scholarly publishing and the issues that surround it (such as peer review and impact factors). Over 380 high-level leaders from 200 institutions, 24 countries and 18 stakeholder groups are currently part of this effort. The ultimate success of OSI’s approach won’t be measured by whether it results in immediate solutions to every heretofore intractable problem in open publishing. Instead, there’s a gradient of success.
Simply bringing this diverse group together has been an important start, having participants speak directly to each other and share their perspectives directly with each other and begin the long process of trying to find common ground on a variety of issues. The next steps — beginning with trying to design workable solutions — is where this effort is at in year two (OSI2017, which just concluded on April 20). The final papers from OSI2017 will be published in early June. Until then, here are some common themes that emerged from this latest meeting:
Stay tuned at osinitiative.org for more information on this effort as it develops. In the meantime, we’ve started the planning process for next year’s meeting — OSI2018. Please email me if you’re interested in being a part of this.