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Talking about transitional agreements: an open access community event


Jisc’s open access (OA) community events provide opportunities for institutions to discuss key topics in OA, to share strategies and to learn from others. This session focused on transitional agreements (TAs) and communicating these with different audiences. We invited speakers from a range of institutions to share their experiences of communicating TAs with a range of different audiences including senior leaders, academics and colleagues.

Senior leaders

Jane Harvell, Director of Library Services and University Librarian at the University of Sussex, started her TA conversation with the University’s Executive Committee following the announcement of Plan S. She wrote a briefing paper to explain the potential financial implications and consequences of researchers breaching funder requirements. Plan S and the transition to open access is now included on the institutional risk register as ‘Failure of researchers to engage with revised OA requirements leading to a breach of funder policy which may result in poor assessment results’, and is now reviewed every month by the senior leaders. Jane was asked why this is important. She replied: “having something on the institutional risk register, there’s no higher visibility really”.

Jane explained how to prepare a paper or presentation for senior leaders and we’ve written up her top tips.  She emphasised the importance of using the language of university committees like ‘reputational risk’ and ‘compliance’ instead of OA jargon as well as choosing the best format for the paper. Jane started writing an options paper but ended with a briefing paper to keep discussion focused and avoid the lack of a clear outcome. A key part of preparing the paper was getting it reviewed by expert colleagues from her institution and from the sector. Jane’s final suggestion was to bring the paper to life in the presentation, including with humour – “be a relatable person and they will listen”.

Amy Staniforth, from Aberystwyth University Library, also highlighted the importance of understanding the expectations of a senior committee. Aberystwyth’s Research Committee comprises researchers who aren’t senior leaders, and some expect detail and lengthy responses. To help them understand the complexity of TAs and the potential impact on budgets Amy included an example of a TA proposal being considered at the time. She now sends the committee regular reports on decisions about TAs but they didn’t fully understand the impact on budgets until the OA team had to reject a request for APC funding from a senior researcher. The email exchange that followed included senior leaders, giving Amy an opportunity to raise awareness and highlight concerns.

Communications with senior colleagues are also important at a more operational level. Aberystwyth wanted the Research Committee to understand their TA decision-making process in case their budget allocations disadvantaged researchers from niche disciplines not covered by TAs. Catherine Sharp from UCL touched on a similar need for strategic thinking on signing up to TAs because UCL researchers appear willing to be influenced in their publication choices based on the availability of TAs.


Catherine, Amy and Stephen Gorman, from Queen’s University, Belfast, shared their experiences of communicating about TAs with researchers at their institutions, describing the methods they used and highlighting what works well for them. All three talked about the webpages they have created to share information about TAs, and they’ve all either re-written their webpages or are in the process of doing so.

Queen’s have updated the gold tab on their open access Libguide to make information about publisher deals more prominent and clearer. They’ve categorised different deal types, used images and links to publisher webpages, and kept text to a minimum. This approach seems to be successful because the OA team aren’t getting lots of follow-up questions when they direct researchers to this page. The team keep fuller information about TAs as part of their service documentation.

Aberystwyth have also begun to update their webpages, starting with the page about publishing options. The new page is much more concise than previous pages, and includes a brief description of what TAs are as well as a list of agreements with just the mechanics of the deals – something that Aberystwyth’s small team “feel we can keep on top of”.

UCL’s TA webpage is intended to encourage authors to use the agreements but also to make them aware of what TAs are trying to do. UCL’s list of agreements include details of what authors need to do to take advantage of deals as well as restrictions. The UCL team were asked to create a list of journals included in their TAs and used Scopus and Web of Science to add subject categories. This has been popular with researchers but Catherine acknowledged that it may be superseded by cOAlition S’s imminent Journal Checker Tool.

As well as the gold OA Libguide, Queen’s share messages about TAs with researchers using a variety of channels that they know researchers engage with, eg, a news carousel next to the library catalogue on the main library webpage and the University’s weekly round up email. Queen’s, UCL and Liverpool all share details of new TAs with REF administration colleagues so that they can also disseminate via their channels.

Developing and maintaining webpages can be time-consuming. Surina Bhatti, one of Jisc’s Licensing Managers (LMs), outlined how LMs support institutions in communicating TAs to researchers. As part of negotiations LMs work with publishers and institutions to develop guides and processes for TAs, using the ESAC recommendations and Jisc’s own requirements for TAs. The intention behind this is to save institutions time by linking to publisher webpages and guides rather than creating their own.

Surina had shared SAGE’s new OA processes and systems during consultations as part of the recent negotiation and asked the publisher to work with the RLUK OA publisher processes group to refine messages. Feedback gathered as part of the consultation process is vital to help improve the comms materials publishers provide. LMs want to hear from institutions about any issues or difficulties once an agreement is live so that Jisc can work with the publisher to implement fixes or raise concerns with Jisc’s strategic groups as needed.

Surina asked attendees to share their thoughts on the following questions to help LMs secure the resources institutions need during the event and by emailing Helen Dobson.

  • Do you use/link to publisher author facing comms about TAs in your comms?
  • Which publisher OA workflow documents would be good templates for other TAs?
  • Which publisher has got author messaging right?
  • How else can publishers help you to deliver key messages about TAs?


Sarah Roughley Barake, from the University of Liverpool Library talked about the different groups of colleagues she communicates with about TAs and how they help to spread the message across campus. Within the library Sarah’s talked to Liaison Librarians, Customer Services and the Finance Manager. She’s shared the level of detail appropriate to each group based on the role each has in relation to TAs, and uses the ‘Think, Feel, Do’ marketing approach to prepare her messages.

A simple message delivered to Customer Services colleagues means they’re aware of TAs and can direct enquiries to the right person. Liaison Librarians are key partners in communicating TAs because they have access to academic colleagues in departments as well as the email lists these academics use. Sarah delivered webinars to this group to prepare them to communicate confidently about TAs and to answer enquiries from researchers in their departments. She also provides template text for each new TA so that the Liaison Librarians can promote them. To help build confidence in this group Sarah suggested that they approach discussions about TAs in the same way as they would a conversation about a journal subscription.

The Library Finance Manager also plays an important role in communicating TAs. It is essential that she not only understands how Sarah is spending her budget but also that she can communicate confidently about TAs to the university’s central finance and research policy teams using language that they understand.

Communication beyond the library also extends to the university’s pre-awards team. Sarah’s provided them with a checklist which means they can support researchers with grant applications without having to understand too much about TAs.


The following themes emerged during the Q&A section as priority areas. We’ve fed these back to the Licensing Team and Open Access Team and will provide updates via the OA Good Practice Jiscmail list shortly.

Journal lists

  • Institutions want TA journal lists, including subject information (See our guide on how to get title lists from KB+)
  • Institutions aren’t sure if the Plan S Journal Checker Tool will meet their needs

Publisher resources

  • Institutions need screenshots of publisher systems with some preferring access as a ‘dummy’ user
  • Institutions create their own resources because publisher webpages often include too much information and use their own ‘bespoke’ language


Institutions are talking about TAs in many ways, using all channels available to them, including emails to departments accompanying monthly REF compliance reports, presenting at departmental meetings, blog posts, links in email signatures, and announcements in university-wide newsletters. Although the message often begins in the library, other colleagues are valuable partners in spreading the word.

A lot of the communication taking place already focuses on practicalities of TAs. Using discussions to help researchers understand how TAs work and that agreements are transitional is an important role for OA advocates in support of the transformation of scholarly communication.

Beginning communication about TAs tends to prompt a lot of enquiries, so it’s a good idea to have a webpage or FAQ prepared before sending out messages. Some institutions mentioned having limited resource available to create the materials they wanted to. Jisc has started to prepare resources to support institutions. Please let Helen Dobson know what else Jisc can do to help.

Get in touch

You can find the event recording and slide desks on our Events page.

To find out more please visit our webpage about TAs or get in touch via the Jisc Collections helpdesk.

Follow us: @jisccollections



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