OpenAIRE: Impact and Measurement of Open Access

On the 14th of February, OpenAIRE held a workshop in Oslo, Norway entitled “Impact and Measurement of Open Access” at the University College of Applied Science.  Since the OA movement started, much has been done to promote the ideals of sharing research, and the push continues to build the tools needed to allow researchers to open up their work, as well as their data, without restrictions to the content, as well as without barriers, both national and international.  One of the major themes which came out of the workshop was just how open access can be a disruptive force for change – not in any kind of a negative way, but something which can allow different means for disseminating knowledge and information outside of the traditional publishing streams. One of the lightening talk presentations came from Katie Shamash, Jisc data analyst, who works directly with the Total Cost of Ownership project; her report focused on the increase in APC costs across the UK market, which illustrates a trend we see across Europe, too, namely that APC costs and subscription costs continue to rise faster than the rate of inflation, as well as despite our best efforts to transform the market into a much more sustainable and transparent place.  In other words, there is still a great deal to do.

Natalia Manoula, from the University of Athens and project director of OpenAIRE, reminded us that the workshop fell on what was the 15th anniversary of the signing of Budapest Open Access Initiative, which expressed that:

Open access is economically feasible, that it gives readers extraordinary power to find and make use of relevant literature, and that it gives authors and their works vast and measurable new visibility, readership, and impact. To secure these benefits for all, we call on all interested institutions and individuals to help open up access to the rest of this literature and remove the barriers, especially the price barriers, that stand in the way. The more who join the effort to advance this cause, the sooner we will all enjoy the benefits of open access.

The workshop directly connected to that call for more openness and fair sharing of information, but it also highlighted the difficulty of measuring openness and the continued dearth of products which can help do that. “Is OA measurable and if so how?” is a question we repeatedly ask, in part, because it is about impact, which is difficult for the best of us to prove, and because OA is often about innovation, as much as it is about ensuring access.  In other places, it is clear we need to consider how measuring OA relates to research assessment for both researchers and funders; to do that, there needs to be an open metrics framework.

It needs to be underscored, nonetheless, that there actually is a great deal, and the two questions which remain ever under the surface are “when will the tipping point finally come for OA?” and “why is it taking so long?” Carlos Galan-Diaz from the University of Glasgow pointed out that there is a great deal of activity on and around open access, but unfortunately so much of it is organic and lacking in any kind of global coordination, e.g., ROARMAP, as of the 10th of February, listed 769 separate OA policies:

  • 19 in Africa
  • 40 in Oceania
  • 49 in Asia
  • 198 in America and
  • 463 in Europe

It is not obviously a terribly harmonised set of activities, despite the good will in place.  He highlighted that ultimately, OA is about: access, agile/fast dissemination of information, within/between communities to foster equality. He also pointed out that there are currently 6.73-8.9 million active full-time researchers world-wide, and that in 2009, it was estimated that we were over 50 million articles mark; by 2013, it was estimated that there were 2.4 million article outputs annually; however, only about 25% of the material is available online as OA. To accurately measure the benefits of open access, we need to work together more efficiently and with better strategies.

We know that there are direct economic benefits to all of the stakeholders involved, not just the public: the publishers, the researchers and their institutions, both developed, as well as developing countries, not to mention the private and third sectors. Thus, it was stressed, that there are three separate but integrated contexts to consider throughout the various activities centred around promoting and using OA, namely the individual, the social and the material; no aspect of what we are doing can extricate one from the others, since it is all about how we interact with others at various levels to create change and influence how information is presented and used freely.

In the end, the promotion of OA needs to emphasise that, although it is still about publication, things are shifting; it was stated that for academic researchers, it is no longer publish or perish, since, in reality, the publication of an article is only the start of the research process, a touchpoint where the article, itself, along with the data, can be tested, commented on, repeated and thereby validated by others.

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