OASPA’s fourth ‘Equity in Open Access’ workshop took place in June and was the final in our workshop series. In this workshop participants focussed on two broad topics: (1) perceptions and prestige in open access (OA) publishing and (2) pathways to funding for sustainable and inclusive OA-publishing without researcher-facing charges.
Workshop participants were mainly librarians and publishers with a few funders and other stakeholders also included. In case you missed it, here is the full report arising from workshop #4 released in July by our ‘Equity in OA’ workshop-series partners, Information Power.
An earlier OASPA blog (Money Flows & Trust Signals in ‘OA for all’) represents one half of OASPA’s reflections from workshop #4, and covered OASPA’s thoughts on pathways to funding. Our thinking on prestige and perceptions discussed in this same (fourth) ‘Equity in OA’ workshop are below.
Perception & prestige problems in open access
We should not assume that concerns around the quality of OA content are issues of the past or restricted to certain world regions. OASPA has heard about these concerns, first hand, via OA market interviews with stakeholders in five world regions and again from stakeholders in every continent in conversations throughout this Equity in OA workshop series. As recently as July 2023 we also noted US-based early-career scientists’ feedback around OA publishing in this session on public access advancing equity and learning. Headline thoughts were around high and exclusionary costs of publishing OA, but other strongly voiced concerns were about quality and misinformation in OA publishing. (The hyperlink takes you to the full session webpage where two videos are listed; the researcher-feedback discussion is in the second video.)
When done properly and in adherence to good practices and high standards, OA publishing is valuable and trustworthy. However, good OA publishing practices need to be clearly distinguished. OASPA has a role to play here, and is already experienced in this space having been setting standards for OA publishing, and assessing an array of OA organisations against strict criteria, for 15 years. Others playing a key kitemarking role in the sector are services like DOAJ, DOAB, COPE and Think. Check. Submit. OASPA is committed to focusing our attention on this as an area of priority and will remain vigilant in our assessment and vetting role in the sector to make good OA publishing practices easier to identify.
Workshop #2 and OASPA’s accompanying post (Why do professors pick paywalls?) already explored some of the themes around mistrust in, or non-preference for, OA publishing. The discussion in workshop #4 again highlighted how perceptions and misconceptions can sometimes lead to a murky view of OA. Occasional malpractice, not just by publishers but also by researchers, adds further doubt to this cocktail. The issues, discussed by workshop #4 participants, included:
- The poor-quality perception problem – OA publishing can sometimes have a tarnished reputation because of what is judged to be a ‘high-volume + low-quality’ throughput approach. This is particularly acute in perceptions around APC-funded OA publishing, but during workshop #4 we heard that even outside of the APC-based approach there can be concerns around ‘free’ OA (i.e., OA publishing without researcher-fees/APCs) with perceptions that these approaches are all of lower quality than ‘traditional’ (paywalled) publishing.
Even though high editorial selectivity and standards are often applied to OA publishing processes, and although OASPA works hard to denote trustworthy OA publishers through its membership application process, there is a persisting undercurrent of mistrust in OA publishing that was voiced by some stakeholders on all continents. We are contending with:
- Presumptions that paywalled papers are subject to higher rejection rates and greater editorial selectivity.
- Presumptions that OA content is of low quality.
- Breakdown of trust in peer review and editorial processes in publishing generally.
- Predatory publishing – continuing to tarnish the reputation of open access, it remains an unfortunate fact that some organisations exhibit unscrupulous, improper and/or illegal behaviours that include posing as legitimate publishers and tricking researchers into paying APCs and other fees for what appears to be peer-reviewed publication. Think Check Submit is a cross-sector resource created collaboratively to help researchers discern the trustworthiness of a publisher, and to detect deceptive practices. Workshop #4 participants agreed that its use needs to be promoted further.
- Marketing malpractice – Excessive poorly targeted marketing and overzealous content solicitation that is untargeted can make legitimate publishers look like predatory ones.
- The prestige problem – this is a multifaceted issue sustained by long standing, toxic systems of research assessment, career evaluation, tenure and reward that are baked into academia. Impact factors or other metrics create perverse incentives and have huge influence on researcher practice and choice of publication venue. For many researchers, having their work accepted in a ‘ranked’ journal, a high impact-factor title, or in what they (or their peers and seniors) feel is a prestigious venue is often more important than making research openly available.
- The ‘journal-wrapper’ – Our part 1 blog from workshop #4 already argued that using the article as an ‘atomized’ unit that defines career-progression is problematic. Perhaps even more problematic is the use of journal-based ‘value’ and prestige conferred via journal-level metrics. Hanging on to the concept of the journal as a ‘wrapper’ denotes prestige based on journal-level measures that are subjective (based on brand and reputation) and metrics that are often flawed (impact factor). Some would argue this also gives prominence to irrelevant metrics (in the context of career evaluation), like use of journal-level rejection rates as a basis for judgements about individuals’ research contributions and quality of their work.
- Researcher malpractice – Such is the power of the pressure to publish in a prestigious or recognized journal (in order to further or secure a career) that, at times, malpractice on the researcher side also takes place, driving paper mills, image manipulation, data fabrication/falsification, plagiarism, duplicate submissions, and so on. Today we also have the rise of AI-generated content – helpful in cases like language editing, but prone to misuse. All of this has a knock on effect on publishing workflows as ever-more sophisticated ‘detective software’ and new processes are needed to weed out spurious and untrustworthy reporting.
- The above issues span editorial integrity, publisher or researcher malpractice, research culture and research-assessment, and negatively affect scholarly publishing in general. Perceptions around OA-publishing being lower quality are exacerbated by these (wider) endemic issues that affect scholarly publishing.
Image credit: Gerd Altmann
What all of this tells us is that in addition to good practice recommendations and/or requirements that OASPA may develop, it could also be worth OASPA commencing researcher-facing engagement, education and training about OA. Working with researchers would be a new realm of activity (for OASPA). Any inputs or suggestions are welcome. If we do embark on such activity, collaboration with libraries and others already working with researchers will be needed.
How researchers are incentivized also needs thought and reform. While research evaluation is the role of higher education, publishing entities and groups like OASPA can support and help drive change. Participants in workshop #4 suggested that OASPA could require or recommend that OASPA members sign up to the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), and although OASPA would be ineligible to join, that it could support and collaborate with the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment (CoARA).
Replacing prestige with trust (in process & practices)
In workshop #4, participants discussed how part of the solution to perceptions of low quality OA publishing is positively defining what good or trustworthy OA publishing is, and so, help identify reliable publishing venues.
The consensus amongst workshop participants was that a focus on the process and quality-assurance practices that a publisher (or journal / book / platform) follows is the best way to inspire trust. And that this matters more than the abstract and flawed concept of prestige. A philosophy that therefore emerged in workshop #4 was to drive a shift away from prestigious and towards trusted publishing venues – the latter judged by publishing processes and practices.
Participants discussed how some kitemarks already hint at publishing venues that can be, and are, trusted, such as COPE membership, DOAJ listing and OASPA membership.
A new (and as yet unreleased) rubric for measuring publishers by their practices is also in development within the librarian community. This underscores the thinking that process and transparency are important.
Workshop participants reached the consensus that publishing organisations need to expose what is done, how it is done, and according to which publishing standards. And that this should be given more prominence (by publishers, institutions and funders) than prestige markers such as what the impact metrics say, and how established a publication is. A sustained multistakeholder drive is also likely to be needed to incentivize researchers’ selection of publication venues that follow strong, reliable and continuously-evolving publishing processes designed to weed out misinformation, assure trusted outputs are openly shared, and increase equity.
As OASPA sees it, all this goes back to basic principles of openness and transparency that include, but also reach beyond, OA publishing and open licensing, and arguably, should underpin all scholarly communication. We will explore this a bit further below.
Transparency trumps misconceptions
OASPA already collaborates with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), with DOAJ and with the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) to define principles of transparency and best practice in scholarly publishing. These continually refined principles of transparency and best practice are now at version 4, released September 2022 and they feed into criteria on which all applications for OASPA membership are evaluated. In other words, OASPA members must demonstrate that they meet these criteria. Much of what is needed, as discussed in workshop #4, is already encoded in these principles, especially on peer review and general good-publishing practice.
Part 1 of our reflections from workshop #4 talked about demonstrating value as an important aspect of the trust signals needed for new money flows to work in favour of equitable OA publishing for all. The principles of transparency and best practice undoubtedly form an important foundation for demonstrating value and these trust signals. Building on these, there is still more that can be done. To overtly foster trust and help researchers and others make informed choices, OA publishing organisations could focus on:
- Open financials – without some degree of financial transparency, it is not possible for an institution or funder to judge whether use of its limited funds towards a particular OA publishing operation is reasonable. There has, in recent years, been a close focus on transparency of costs and transparency of pricing.
- Open processes – beyond transparency and clarity of publishing processes and editorial policies, more openness in all publishing steps could help. Examples include pre printing followed by open/transparent peer review, and exposing a record of versions (rather than one version of record) all supported by open data. This sort of opening up of publishing processes could help build trust and overtly prove the value in peer review, editorial selection, production and other steps of the publishing process. Of course, re-thinking scholarly publishing is a necessary part of this, and such thinking again challenges, as it should, the very concept of a scholarly journal – long materially unchanged.
- Plans for achieving a fully ‘transitioned’ state -Transparency from a publisher about how any ongoing transition to OA for hybrid/paywalled titles is progressing, and how (future) output is going to be transitioned to full OA (ideally on the basis of equitable OA that is open for all) will be helpful.
- Governance – publishing organisations that are transparent about their ownership and governance will add an additional facet to their trustworthiness. Some requirements on this front are already listed under the ‘organisation’ section of the latest principles of transparency and best practice. The final statement arising from the 16th Berlin OA2020 meeting emphasised, among other things, academic self-governance in scholarly publishing. This dovetails not only with the principles of practice discussed above but also with outcomes from OASPA’s OA market work in 2021 where one of just three final recommendations was to strengthen community representation in publishing governance.
Thinking back to our previous post and the need for money flows to support OA for all – it is only on the back of increased trust, born from demonstrable rigour in process and built on transparency, that new and existing funders – perhaps both public and private – will be moved to engage in supporting more equitable forms of OA.
On the other side of the same coin: without willing partners and payers responding to publisher-led changes and coming forward with concrete financial commitments, it is impossible for the transition to OA to be completed, or for equitable OA publishing to be scaled and sustained. Take, for instance, the so-called Diamond-OA route, or indeed any publishing model where there are no researcher-facing fees to read or publish: stakeholders need to work together to ascertain where, how, and under what conditions funding is to come from to sustain this approach at scale and on an ongoing basis. As we know, and so frequently hear, publishing is not free.
And returning to the topic of this blog, as the formal report from workshop #4 mentions, OASPA was challenged to help set out new metrics to measure impact and quality in order to assist with kitemarking. Workshop #4 participants felt these measures should be based on practices/processes rather than prestige. It was also felt that these may (at least at times) need to be discipline-specific to be most meaningful and applicable.
And what of equity if we focus on process, transparency and trust?
Discussing trust, new metrics and kitemarking brings us to the subject of indexing. We are not veering off topic – in case you think we are.
OASPA has already heard (see specifically point 6 in our ‘OA market’ post) that many journals – several of these regional titles, often based in Global South countries – are not indexed by the large indexing giants of the North/West that list many of the world’s “ranked journals”. Venues such as Scopus and Web of Science have gaps in the record; an OASPA webinar from earlier this year – Reviewing the Data on Knowledge Creation: Access, Governance and Equity – expands on indexing issues and related imbalances. If OASPA were to become involved in devising new ways for metrics to measure impact and quality based on practices/processes then an aim would be more balanced and inclusive ways for publication venues or publishing organisations to be indexed. DOAJ (for journals), and DOAB/OAPEN (on the books side), are obvious partners for such work.
Reflecting on our various discussions around APCs and waivers including as covered in workshop #3, we emphasise that reducing barriers and burdens are hugely important. Related to the above focus on process and publishing practices it would be constructive to move our thinking from minimising burdens (e.g., complex waiver policies and requirements to prove eligibility) to proactively enabling equitable open reporting in a manner that is more welcoming to all, and more comprehensive and effective for the scholarly record.
Transparency and openness as described above would and should also help expose what is being done to increase participation, inclusion and equity in general. As a helpful example, the 2023 transparency report from EDP Sciences contains financial, process and governance information, and is a useful marker for inspiring trust in how a more equitable form of OA is being delivered, with transparency of details available for any current and/or new supporters and also other publishers who wish to increase trust and probity.
APCs may have their place
Much has been said over the last few blogs and reports about the exclusionary nature of the APC/BPC model. This is true and valid not only because of the ‘per unit’ nature of the model where each output carries its own charge, but also because of the scale and predominance of the model to the exclusion of other options for researchers.
We should acknowledge, though, that many regional journals and books in the Global South run on an APC/BPC model. The costs, prices and surpluses made in these cases are usually in a different order of magnitude: as an example, the Nairobi Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences charges $250 USD as its APC; in another case, because of part of the costs of peer review being covered by the Agricultural Extension Society of Nigeria it costs a researcher $100 to publish in the Journal of Agricultural Extension. These cases are in stark contrast to publishing operations charging an APC of ~$3500 USD (the average APC reported for multidisciplinary journals as per this March 2023 analysis by Delta Think). OASPA notes that it may be inappropriate or unnecessary for smaller and/or lower priced titles to shift away from APCs where they are already operating inclusively.
The challenge for these publishers is that as the drive for international ranking and recognition intensifies, many researchers (incentivised to chase ‘prestigious’ publications) shun local titles. These titles then end up losing out on regionally-specific work that is relevant to the particular local context. Instead, this work gets submitted to other often larger titles and international venues that publish a broader range of work. When this happens, the local publishers that rely on APC incomes to sustain their publishing operations are doubly disadvantaged.
So, APCs may have their place, and OASPA is likely to undertake work, in the short term, on ways to improve the palatability and contextual applicability of the APC approach as it is such a common way of achieving OA.
Much has to be learned, across different stakeholders, about achieving, habituating and strengthening OA via other routes, and OASPA has a role here, too.
Equity – no matter the model – where now?
We have not covered all forms of inequity and all that there is to do to increase equity in OA; this is because we are still (largely) focused on tackling equity issues in pricing and exclusion in access to OA publishing.
On this, and at the end of the ‘Equity in OA’ workshop series, OASPA concludes that bans and draconian measures are more likely to have adverse and unintended consequences. The specific context in which a publishing operation works, and the way in which inclusion and equitable participation is assured can differ vastly even within the same model, whatever that model is. What OASPA is most interested in is helping publishing organisations put equity (along with openness) at the centre of their operations.
Along with perceptions, malpractice and prestige, this post has covered some points around researchers, research evaluation and indexing. Coming back to OASPA’s primary stakeholders – OA-publishing organisations and OA-infrastructure providers – we should note that the Equity in OA working group of OASPA will, this autumn, be reflecting on all we have heard, and working with OASPA to steer future action. OASPA’s early thoughts on this, shaped by what we have heard in each workshop, are contained in this post as well as across all of the the posts arising from our Equity in OA workshops (individual links also at the end of this post).
We would also value having your thoughts on increasing Equity in OA. The OASPA annual conference taking place (online) 19 to 21 September 2023 is one forum where you can have some say in how OASPA takes this effort forward. You can review the conference programme and perhaps register for the OASPA conference*. Comments at the end of this post or direct by email are also welcome.
*Charges apply to attend OASPA’s annual conference. OASPA Scholar Publisher category members and individuals who are not connected to an organisation able to fund them are able to attend free of charge. Please follow the registration link for more information.
We offer huge thanks to all participants across our four workshops, and to our external facilitators and partners in the ‘Equity in OA’ workshop series – Alicia Wise and Lorraine Estelle of Information Power. The workshops and resulting outputs would have been impossible without the interest and engagement from the community, the rich variety of inputs received, and Alicia and Lorraine’s expertise. All of this, of course, under the guidance of OASPA’s working group on Equity in OA and the leadership of Claire Redhead, OASPA’s Executive Director.
With the close of the ‘Equity in OA’ workshop series, the work for OASPA carries on. We will continue this series of blogs to report on OASPA’s next steps, and here I must acknowledge the work of Bernie Folan whose expert and thoughtful pre-publication reviewing and editing of each of these posts (listed below) has been invaluable.
If you have previously opted in to hearing about Equity in OA from OASPA then (unless you tell us otherwise by email) you will continue to be alerted as forthcoming posts and new announcements on Equity in OA are released. If you have not yet done so but would now like to, then please opt in to hear from us about Equity in OA.
And finally, if you have thoughts on this effort, or find something to be missing or misrepresented, please comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Four workshops on increasing equity in open access have been convened, and OASPA’s reflections arising from each have been released –
- The APC debate, rainbows and reflections (based on workshop #1)
- Why do professors pick paywalls? (based on workshop #2)
- Making waves in APC & waiver practice (based on workshop #3)
- Money flows and trust signals in OA for all (Part 1 based on workshop #4)
- Trust as the new prestige (Part 2 based on workshop #4) is this post above.