On the 25th of April 2018, the European Commission published C(2018) 2375, “Commission Recommendation on Access to and Preservation of Scientific Information,” which updates and replaces Recommendation 2012/417/EU published on the 17th of July 2012. Part of the reason for the new set of recommendations is that in EC has set out on a very large and highly ambitious project known as the European Open Science Cloud, or EOSC, the potential for which means open access and more broadly open science initiatives need to be supported to make that a success. Jisc participates in the EOSC via two separate but integrated ventures known as the EOSC pilot and the EOSC hub, and as such, Jisc is fully supportive of the recommendations outlined in the latest publication both for institutions here in the UK and with our European partners. In light of the looming Brexit in March 2019, it was particularly good to see that the recommendations do not focus solely on Member States, but encourage and support European, national, and international collaborative efforts to ensure the success and sustainability of open science.
Many of the recommendations from 2012 have remained largely unaltered, such as the desire for all scientific publications resulting from publicly-funded research to be made available as open access from 2020 at the latest, as well as supporting the setting of institutional policies for dissemination of open access to scientific publications; however, some recommendations from the 2012 report are much more defined and expanded, whereas other recommendations have been added. The result is that the report suggests that the open access movement is having a strong impact on accessibility of research, but more needs to be done on behalf of the Member States to ensure, not only that we get to a much larger percentage of publications made available as open access AND that we are doing much more in the way of making those publications more discoverable and doing a better job with the preservation of that research.
In terms of open access, the EC stress that they still prefer that publications from publicly-funded research be made available “at the time of publication, and in any case no later than six months after the date of publication (no later than twelve months for social sciences and the humanities)” which comes as no surprise. They also stress that licensing terms used on the market should not unduly restrict text and data mining; they have also underscored that intellectual property rights should remain with the author. Neither of those points were as prominent in 2012, so the discussions which have been swirling around the need for flexible licences and a clear understanding of who owns the IP have had some significant influence on the setting of priorities. The EC has also refined its clause on accessibility and transparency for innovative companies, in particular SMEs, as well as independent researchers, the public sector and ordinary citizens to encourage more and fairer competition; these would entail clearer agreements covering publishers’ “big deals” and off-setting agreements.
Much more defined is the section on management of research data, with regard to open access, in particular the need for data management planning to become a greater part of scientific practice “early in the research process when data is generated or collected, including through the requirement of data management plans.” This is something which Jisc promotes throughout its open access and research data projects and services, and the development of the Research Data Shared Service will do much to promote, not only the accessibility of research, but the collection and use of research data in a protected environment. The EC have stressed much more the importance of FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, and re-usable) principles with regard to research data, and points to the need for secure and trusted digital infrastructures, such as the EOSC, as a means of ensuring the delivery of those ideals. The highlighting of the need for data management plans, as standard, suggests the success of Horizon 2020’s data management pilot, in which some of the H2020 projects participated. The impact of that pilot means that FP9 funded projects will have to have a much larger percentage who put together a data management plan as part of the criteria for funding. Unsurprisingly, this new report maintains the need for data sets to be more easily identified through the use of persistent identifiers, which can be linked to other data sets and publications.
Skills and competencies, reward and recognition
More defined as well this time around is the stipulation that there needs to be more in the way of degree programmes of new professional profiles specifically around data handling technologies, as well as more systematic training around data research management, stewardship, preservation curation and open science; they highlighted that such programmes need to be an integral part of higher education and training systems and that they need to be available at all career stages and should be a part of on-the-job best practice in the industry. However, the report also goes beyond that need just for degree programmes by impressing the significant demand for best practice among recruitment policies, as well as those policies around career promotion and evaluation. Specifically, those policies are the responsibility of the institutions, themselves, underscoring that the success of open access rests largely with those entities who are directly doing research, as well as entities who support those institutions. Indeed, the report states that there should be much better incentives and rewards for those who do make open access and research data plans an integral part of their research and publication processes from the start of their research practices.
It is also not surprising, given the birth of the EOSC, that the report underscores preservation and re-use of scientific information as obviously tantamount to open access and research data management. Given the recent warnings about the crisis of reproducibility, it is very promising to read this direct citation of the need for clearer policies for reinforcing preservation and re-use, with more defined means for measuring progress, as well as acknowledging the need for associated financial planning. It goes on to say that it is the Member States who need to ensure that academic institutions receive public funding to develop policies on the preservation of their scientific output.
In short, the report illustrates the need for a more developed infrastructure and integrated systems to be in place to continue the move to make publicly-funded research available, as well as the means to re-use the research data, thus making scientific collaboration stronger and more fit for purpose. Openness, transparency, and accessibility are the key factors, along with ensuring that researchers, both private and public, continue to be made aware of the ongoing shift toward open science. The report does acknowledge the adage of “as open as possible, as closed as necessary” when it comes to particular kinds of data and information, and it does stress the value of intellectual property rights, as well as the value of a competitive and innovative market. Back in 2012, there were discussions around the fact that the market, itself, was broken, largely because of the lack of transparency when it came to accessibility. The very fact that the EC has issued this important revised set of recommendations shows a clear path for those of us who support open science, as well as underscoring the important work which has been accomplished.