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Plan S: considerations, questions and support

Coming into effect in 2021, Plan S will bring new open access requirements and recommendations that will affect funding bodies, publishers, higher education institutions, researchers, and institutional repositories. Preparations need to be made by all those involved to make the transition to Plan S compliance as streamlined as possible, yet planning for Plan S is far from ‘one size fits all’.  While some aspects may be straightforwardly merged into existing workflows, others may be unknown territory.

With this upcoming landmark on the open access landscape, Jisc held an Open Access Community Event, ‘Planning for Plan-S’, aimed at HEI library staff, publishers, and anyone interested. The event provided a space to discuss Plan S and its implications, demonstrate how Jisc’s open access services can support institutions in fulfilling the Plan S requirements, share views and listen to others, and explore how Jisc can help with the preparations for upcoming and anticipated policy changes.

The day comprised the following talks, along with Q&A sessions and breakout activities:

The breakout sessions led to fruitful discussions amongst the delegates which brought to light topics and key questions that directly affect institutional priorities and resources, researchers, publishers and funding bodies. The topics are summarised below, followed by a selection of ideas we have developed that may help to support preparations for Plan S readiness.

Teaching-/research-focused HEIs

Teaching-focused HEIs generally produce fewer research outputs compared to research-focused institutions. The latter typically receives more funding with many of the funders being cOAlition S members. Since Plan S is research-centric and its requirements will primarily be incorporated into funding policy, teaching-focused HEIs may raise the question of whether they need to prepare in the same way as research intensive HEIs. Should this be the case, how should the different institutions prepare for Plan S, and how should they prioritise the preparations?

HEI budget allocation

HEIs’ budgets are planned well in advance. Plan S is likely to bring about changes to where researchers publish, and consequentially make it difficult to predict where funds should be allocated, not to mention whether it has been factored into budgets for 2020/21. What’s more, teaching-focused HEIs generally receive less funding which sets a limited budget for APCs and any costs associated with open access publishing. The ability of teaching-focused HEIs to take advantage of transformative agreements and, consequently, open access publishing is dependent on publishing patterns, cost, and how much in addition to current subscription expenditure the proposal seeks. If HEIs cannot guarantee that their researchers will continue to publish in these venues, this makes any additional investment difficult to justify.
Ensuring HEI finance departments are well-equipped to deal with such changes, such as that created by publishers’ transitional and transformative agreements, is a key requisite.

HEI resource for Plan S

The level of resource and staffing infrastructure dedicated to OA administration in HEIs varies between institutions. Workflows can be complex with multiple touch points which can put stress on the capacity to manage externally-driven change efficiently. Plan S may also require wider institutional involvement, such as institutional legal teams to assist with copyright retention, review publishers’ agreements, advise on policy implementation, and so on. If this is the case, staff would need to be trained appropriately. Alternatively, the reallocation of funds from subscriptions to OA access publishing charges could influence future library staffing.

For some HEIs, the question of when Plan S requirements will be formally incentivised and integrated into staff workflow is still unknown. At present, the REF2021 is high priority for HEIs and takes a large portion of resource from both library and academic staff to coordinate and manage. Resultantly, HEIs may not be able to dedicate staff to start researching and preparing for Plan S whilst REF2021 is so high on the agenda. Not to mention that institutional advisers are awaiting UKRI to report before taking action in case any conflicts from Plan S arise. It was also noted that, until UKRI announce their policy, there is little practical guidance on Plan S detailing how it will directly affect HEIs and what measures need to be carried out to comply, making it difficult to plan, particularly from a financial perspective.

Participants also spoke of transformative agreements. Assessing proposals which vary between publishers, can be far from straightforward. Time and resource will likely be required to evaluate proposals and check the publication and expenditure data behind the proposals and then to build in the management of these agreements into their workflows, for example article approval and reconciliation of publisher reports, which could result in additional administration for HEIs. Indeed, Plan S details what transformative agreements are and their purpose, but library staff want to know how they are to assess and interact with them, especially if they are to be the authoritative voice within the institution. Jisc Collections will actively support HEIs in navigating publishers’ offers through the provision of clearly stipulated requirements, along with supporting data and analysis to aid understanding of subscription conversion and open access publishing costs. Jisc Collections will intensify its efforts to broker open access agreements on behalf of UK HEIs, research councils, and funders, as well as working with publishers, including society publishers to facilitate the transition to open access in the UK via the routes stipulated in Plan S.

Institutional and academic culture

Academic engagement with open access can be varied and may be influenced by a number of factors. It can be discipline-driven, for example there is greater awareness and ease of open access publishing for STEM research which receives a large amount of funding. STEM publications are primarily journal articles which generally have a better documented pathway for open access publishing, in comparison to books, chapters, performances, exhibitions and so on which are more common in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Open access engagement can also be priority-driven. While many recognise and appreciate the wider benefits of open access, external pressure can take priority. For example, the pressure to publish in a high impact journal, may outweigh the option of seeking a journal with immediate, free open access. Lastly, engagement with open access is knowledge-driven; it requires dedicated time to seek out information amongst busy schedules. There could be a risk that the level of understanding and awareness of the open access landscape may be over-estimated by those within the open access sphere.

Library staff at HEIs commit a lot of their time to answering queries from academics about open access compliance, which can involve sourcing information, and reviewing policy documentation. Academic engagement with open access and Plan S could be crucial to facilitating HEIs’ transition to Plan S compliance. There will need to be clear communications and expectations between library teams and academics to ensure policy and licenses that may be affected by Plan S are reviewed accurately before contracts with publishers are signed.

Publishers and publishing

In spite of the status of Plan S requirements in publisher negotiations there is a degree of uncertainty in how, and indeed if, publishers will accommodate the Plan S requirements and recommendations in their offers. Depending on how publishers adopt Plan S, research funded by cOAlition S members’ grants may be more limited in where it can be published. In terms of selecting eligible journals, Plan S will likely call for further compliance checking to ensure publications do not breach funder policy. Currently, the decisions on which journals to publish in typically lie with the academics and do not require approval from library staff. Some form of compliance checking may need to be incorporated into HEIs’ workflow in some way.

The impact of Plan S on non-funded research may also be significant. Publishers’ new open access arrangements may affect where non-funded research can be published, for example, should a journal become purely gold open access, research that does not have a budget for APCs will face restrictions. Furthermore, if journal subscriptions are replaced with open access funds, how would this affect publications that have never been made open access, or publications that contain sensitive data which is not fit for full open access? Such scenarios and how to navigate them should be clearly communicated.

Funding bodies

Some funding bodies may be opposed to open access publishing due to the nature of their discipline (ethics, human participants, etc.), as well as competition from other institutions and within their non-academic industry. How journals are chosen for publishing the research may encounter difficulties if there are differences between funders’ open access publishing policy, especially if the funding includes a grant from a cOAlition S member. Plan S states that any research co-funded by a cOAlition S member must adhere to the Plan S open access requirements. The Plan S conditions need to be clearly stipulated to collaborators from other institutions, organisations and industry partners, especially if they are outside of the UK.

While Plan S states that APC expenditure must be accounted for in grant applications for the Plan S on-board funders, considering the amount APCs can vary between different journals it would be beneficial to have more clarity regarding how it will be budgeted to help set expectations. This could potentially affect the number of intended outputs of a research project.

What Jisc can offer: our preliminary ideas

Jisc offers services to facilitate the administration of open access publications, from policy compliance (Sherpa services), trusted repository services (OpenDOAR and CORE) to services dedicated to the cohesion of research outputs to institutions and academics (Publications Router, ORCID, RIOXX). As the above emergent themes and questions demonstrate, Plan S has opened up areas where institutions may require further support to ensure they are well-equipped to ensure the transition to Plan S is as frictionless as possible. Ideally, this will require clear, practical guidance on coordinating Plan S preparations, and interlinked systems to help remove pain points from workflow. With this in mind, and reflecting on Jisc’s current offering, the final talk of the day explored a number of ideas as to how we may be able to help – on which we would value your comments and feedback:

  • A compliance service built on the Sherpa Romeo database (currently under review)
  • A community-constructed Road Map(s) with activities and timescales for Plan S policies compliance planning
  • A ‘live’ community-curated and quality assured FAQ on Plan S questions within institutions
  • A mailing list specifically for peer-to-peer support with Plan S planning, with time limited life, for wider variety of institutional stakeholders that current Jisc Repositories list, or the UKCoRR list
  • A community-constructed institutional workflow models for dealing with open access in Plan S
  • An explanatory document for end-users on transformative deals and ideas
  • A selection of practical guides on how to meet Plan S requirements
  • Supporting exploration of advocacy approaches with peers and expert input
  • Support for emergent issues like IP and academic sharing platforms
  • Greater support in evaluating a broader range of publisher offers

Our priority now is to work through these ideas and see which, if any, our members would find useful for us to develop in our services to support individual institutions and the higher education sector.

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