OA implementation lags behind rhetoric
As ALPSP celebrates its 50th anniversary, poor change management levels hamper OA adoption
The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) celebrated its 50th anniversary during the 2022 Annual Conference. The event, held at the Hotel Mercure Piccadilly in Manchester, will be remembered for its glittering chandeliers. The rhetoric around digital change sparkled just as brightly, but was there substance beyond the shine?
At the time of the conference, most scholarly publishers and learned societies had already pledged to implement digital transformation, shifting toward greater Open Access (OA). Few of the discussions at the conference, however, focused on how, in practical terms, they would manage change along the way. Embedding digital-first processes requires strong leadership to overcome barriers, coupled with widespread transparency around the OA-readiness of each scholarly publisher.
Over three days, the scholarly audience attended a series of discussions on the benefits of OA, but these were largely preaching to the converted. The Open Pharma forum, one of the satellite events, demonstrated the value of OA clinical studies, which are well suited for conversion into plain language summaries; these enable Pharma to communicate the latest research findings outside scholarly circles, mainly to doctors and patients—a requirement imposed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), that science content creation solutions, proposed by the likes of SciencePOD, routinely deliver. During the opening keynote, Peter Cunliffe-Jones (University of Westminster), discussed the role of OA in reducing misinformation for policy-makers, media professionals and fact-checkers, as well as the wider scientific community, while discouraging predatory journals.
Further discussions focused on the need to expand the OA business model, following the recent announcement by the US Office of Science and Technology (OST) to make OA mandatory for publications derived from publicly funded research. The move offered further validation for the OA model, and offers further opportunities for publishers serving Stateside learned societies or university presses. At the time of writing, 45% of publications by volume are already published under OA, under 2021 Delta Think data.
Achieving the cultural agility and processes necessary for meaningful digital change is the biggest challenge faced by our industry. A dedicated session, “A look back at the evolution of publishing focusing on the changes in industry in the past 50 years”, looked at progress so far.
Delivering a smoother OA experience for authors is an issue of change management. Large organisations often struggle to adopt change in the face of inertia, political undercurrents and the ebb and flow of leadership directions. Smaller organisations like societies are more agile, but often resistant to change due to associated costs.
All that said, our industry has proven it is capable of change. The ALPSP Innovation Award nominees demonstrated the innovative initiatives the scholarly industry is piloting, particularly among small- or mid-size organisations. One of the co-winners of the 2022 ALPSP Award for Innovation in Publishing, Charlesworth’s Gateway is using WeChat social media communication technology to enhance communication between Chinese authors and publishers.
Others are focusing on solving data-sharing issues. GigGaByte journal, the other 2022 Award co-winner, caters for rapidly changing fields by publishing updatable datasets and software tools of value to more specialist communities.
Leadership toward company-wide transformation
Despite these promising initiatives, digital transformation must be company-wide, touching every aspect of the scholarly product lifecycle. We need to understand the internal change management process required to move toward a more author-centric offering that built on digital technologies.
There was no shortage of expert consultants with the change-management knowledge at the conference. Consultants are typically brought in to propose new processes towards a more effective digital approach. However, this can cause internal friction when members of staff have already identified the specific, detailed changes required, outside standard change management methods.
This data is difficult to assemble, not because publishers are holding back, but due to poor overall collection of OA-readiness data for display. So, when the US OST issued its new policy for publicly funded research to be made available in OA, US customers began asking publishers to identify which parts of research were publicly funded.
The difficulties for publishers in providing Plan S-mandated OA-readiness data show that our industry lacks established standards (time of first acceptance, number of reviewers, peer review length, etc.). Publishers need to create norms across the entire industry, allowing authors to make their own comparisons between OA outlets.
Introducing such new metrics would come under change management methodology. Some publishers, like Hindawi are already making Plan S-requested metrics public, according to Chair Catriona MacCallum. PLOS, represented by its Director of Open Research Solutions, Iain Hrynaszkiewicz, announced at the conference an extended partnership with DataSeerAI to measure and publish multiple ‘Open Science Indicators’ across the entire PLOS corpus, going back to 2019; this would be ongoing for newly-published content, and would include rates of data-sharing in repositories, code-sharing and preprint-posting, in addition to future plans for protocol-sharing.
Tech-driven publishers, such as MDPI and Frontiers, present in the audience, have been metrics-conscious from their inception. They streamline every step in the peer-review process for prompt publication timelines and have automated many of their processes to the extent that they sometimes encounter resistance from scientists themselves. Voices have expressed concern to strict turnaround times for peer-review, for example, which were interpreted by some as pushing peer-reviewers into rushing their work. Yet, workflow streamlining and optimisation are a by-product of the digital transformation of our industry.
Sustainable Development Goals
Once change management has been implemented, there is real hope for applying research to global causes, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which were discussed at length during the conference.
Christina Brian, Vice President Business, Economics, Politics, Law Books at Springer Nature, concluded that SDG content is more likely to be published under OA, to be highly cited, and to receive more attention—as measured by altmetrics—than other research content.
Moving forward with OA
Although the audience at the ALPSP Annual Conference 2022 no longer needs to be convinced about the benefits of OA publishing, they have yet to fully adopt transparent criteria to measure their OA readiness, and focus on improving the author experience. They must also open the scholarly research publishing process further, illuminating excellent OA research for the benefit of the wider knowledge economy with the help of author-centric content marketing materials like plain language summaries, infographics and author podcast or video interviews to spread the latest discoveries far and wide.
Sabine Louët, Founder and CEO, SciencePOD, purveyors of science content for educational, informational and content marketing purposes.