Demystifying Open Science

The commercial, operational, strategic, and cultural implications

Publishers are increasingly finding they need to support the growing set of practices that comprise open science. Going beyond providing open access to the results of research, open science extends to how research is conducted, reported, shared, and evaluated. In essence, the principles of openness are applied to the entire research lifecycle in such a way that more parties can collaborate and contribute. In practice, that involves tools for collaborative research, with research processes and data made freely available and licensed for reuse, plus a shift towards sharing knowledge earlier in the process with transparency in reporting to aid further collaboration.

Research reaches more readers and can be replicated more easily when it is published “open.” It is no wonder, then, that governments, funders, organisations, and researchers, particularly in the face of COVID-19, now favour establishing open science practices.

At the same time, there are risks and real challenges for the field of scholarly communications. It is a vast topic with implications reaching across most functions of organisations, from the fundamentals of business models to the detail of how peer review is performed. While it can seem a bit overwhelming, a good way to demystify open science is to approach it from three distinct aspects: Commercial, Operational, Strategy & Culture.

Commercial 

As new directives and trends emerge, publishers need to understand the issues and be able to apply them to their products and stakeholders to maintain both the commercial value and accessibility of their content. For most publishers this means change. Adapting to changing flows of money, new business models, relationships with different parts of the research process, serving new needs and meeting evolving standards. There are big challenges and opportunities.

For an organisation to find their right direction, it is often about identifying the risks and uncovering the opportunities. One of the biggest risks is not doing anything and the key to navigating this tricky terrain is staying close to the mission of the organisation.

It is interesting that open science is increasingly being leveraged at international, national and funder levels as part of moves to strengthen research systems. One way to simplify the concept is by thinking of it as ways to get more value from the research. That emphasizes the role of the publisher to keep value in research and to add value where possible.

Business strategy needs to consider the degree to which open access and open science feature in the market that a publisher is serving. That can be quite different depending on regional, subject and customer focus. Some organisations see a fit with their mission but also financial challenges with business models. Open access is linked to a need for growth, scale and efficiency which may not align with existing business and there may not be a clear path for new institutional and consortia deals to match subscription revenue.

We are in a period of experimentation with institutional deals, which will continue to evolve. There is likely to be continued expectation around transparency, although hopefully with less work for everyone involved as workflows develop. Offering demonstrable value to the research offering may help deals to survive budget cuts. Bold approaches such as ‘Subscribe to Open’ are seeing success likely because the right chord has been struck on working together towards enabling an open future.

One aspect of commercial success is to focus on your publishing workflow. Whether achieved through investment, vendors, or partners, the publishing process needs to work harder, be easier for authors and achieve more for the research. It needs to connect to more and at more points. Finally, funders are your customers. Develop relationships and understand their needs wherever possible.

It may be helpful to enlist a service that can help you understand your current position in terms of adoption and provide support as you take the next steps. For instance, re-defining excellent author service in the context of open science surfaces the priorities, such as how research data is handled, and provides the confidence to reduce services that that no longer enrich the offering in the way they might have in the past. Also, the options to leverage technology, to partner, or to use vendors are opening up all the time.

Operational

Both the high-level infrastructure and the small detail of operations can be key to successfully operationalising open science publications. It requires following new standards (e.g., Funder ID, Research Organization Registry [ROR]), elevates the importance of research data, and offers seemingly existential challenges to the timing and the format of publications. In this landscape, knowledge of what your organisation offers compared to the field and agreement on where you want to be – even if it’s a small step – is incredibly important.

The open science lifecycle creates multiple opportunities for publication of information that are not part of traditional publication workflows. Drafts submitted for publication are no longer only the purview of blind peer review, but of the entire community and shared as preprints. In addition, data sets are often released with a preprint and then continue to have as long a life in the life cycle as the publications that accompany them. Libraries and researchers benefiting from open science publication want, respectively, to track their subscriptions and publications, meaning that publishers must reconfigure data collection models that currently track publication usage based on library-based acquisitions or website click counts.

Publication, in this model, is multi-faceted, encompasses more than the culminating journal article and has a wider reach. It will ideally include some version of open peer review, managing a preprint server, or hosting of data sets. It will also allow for usage outside the traditional subscription-based statistics tracking. The focus of any successful open science operation is on the end user first and foremost.

When it comes to supporting researchers, publishers can absolutely do more to support them with open practices, even if they don’t specialize in providing access to preprints or hosting data sets. Publication workflows can be better configured to help researchers be compliant in several ways: first by linking authors’ work to Funder IDs, such as those provided by CHORUS, second by linking researchers to organisations in the ROR, third by assigning a DOI to the content, and fourth by following FAIR principles and NISOs Open Discovery Initiative recommended practice.

Standard metadata and keywording with shared subject terms across multiple publications or data sets is another step toward building a network that researchers can tap into at both the beginning and end of the publication life cycle. It is not enough to leave discovery of research to titles, abstracts, and author-chosen terms: keywords built on industry-supported taxonomies and controlled vocabularies will help (MeSH is a starting place, but certainly not the only one).

Publishers can operationalise open science production workflows by supporting reuse of content. The challenge to complying with these open initiatives lies with developing two end-user-focused metadata workflows, one that begins with the researcher at submission and one that begins with the internal information created for any publication. Every piece of information collected about an article or data set needs to be focused on its use for further dissemination.

Can your organisation make this statement confidently: “I know how end users utilize our publication metadata to find and share our content”? If not, it is time to reconsider how you work with open science publications and data sets.

Strategy & Culture

One of the principles of open science is to make science more accessible to all levels of society, so publishers will need to think about how to achieve this both in the letter and the spirit of the initiative. We’ve touched on the technical and operational challenges this creates, but there are other considerations as well.

The mandate to make science more accessible is not just about discoverability and re-use; it’s also about contextualizing research. Publishers have a responsibility to make sure not only that their science is openly available, but that it can be interpreted and understood by audiences who would not previously have had access to it. We know that there are some areas of the research community who fear that open science can be open to misuse; publishers will need strong communication strategies to explain the research they publish and how it might be used and will need to work together as a community to prevent misuse and misinterpretation.

The principles of open science support greater scrutiny of scientific research; and this will extend to the publishing process too. So, the question for publishers is, how ready are you to make your processes more transparent? Transparency matters because it’s when we shine a light on processes, that we begin to understand where biases and problems may creep in.

Publishers should be readying themselves to share internal data, for example on the peer review process and the demographics of their author base. This takes courage, as all the evidence suggests that the peer review process discriminates against women and scientists of colour. Publishers who advocate for open science but are not prepared to open up their own activities to scrutiny will likely face pushback from diversity and inclusion advocates. As a sector we need to be prepared to practice what we preach with regard to transparency.

Different voices and perspectives will also be needed within publishing itself; communicating open science to a wider audience will not be the same as communicating it within the field, and we need to get more diversity to better understand the diversity of these potential new audiences, what their needs are, and how they might use openly available science in their own lives.

It is important to embrace the opportunities of this mindset shift from confidentiality to transparency. Reducing bias in peer review will lead to better research outcomes, and the scrutiny that open science initiatives bring will serve as a valuable barometer of whether publishers are doing enough to address issues of bias.

This shift will also continue the trend in the industry for greater collaboration on issues that cross the boundaries between publishers. The sectors will need to work together on how to implement and manage open science and look for ways to embed this mindset of openness to all aspects of their activities.

Culturally publishers have been slow to respond to societal change. Open science presents a great opportunity to become more agile, to demonstrate the value we add in bringing research to users, to help readers – of all kinds, not just those with research backgrounds – to understand and interpret data and research. We have an opportunity to lead the change instead of following it.

Industry Support

It is heartening to see how the industry is rising to the challenges of open science. There are initiatives to increase understanding between different parties in the research process. Industry groups are developing standards and technical infrastructure. Partnerships are filling service gaps and supporting an iterative process of change. All of this means that there are ways through and ways to make it work.

With its worldwide network of experienced publishing associates, Maverick has the breadth and depth of open science expertise to help, with any questions or challenges. We offer a pragmatic and problem-solving approach with step-by-step plans tailored to the type of business and its stage of open science maturity. We can help you understand your current position in terms of adoption and provide support as you take the next steps. Contact us.

View Maverick’s panel discussion on Demystifying Open Science.

Ruth King

Maverick Senior Associate, Ruth King, is a publishing professional with deep experience of open science, change management and process development. She has worked in open access publishing since its inception and brings experience from a breadth of business types, from a start-up company using a new business model to global corporate environments.

Michelle Urberg, PhD, MSLIS

Maverick Affiliate Associate, Michelle Urberg, is a publishing professional and trained librarian and musicologist, whose expertise encompasses end-to-end metadata standards use, creation, and conversion. She has deep knowledge of metadata, analytics, and principles governing discovery. Michelle was a metadata librarian for the ExLibris business unit of ProQuest, where her work involved metadata transformation (including KBART and XML), MARC cataloging, developing metadata creation workflows, and managing open access metadata across multiple platforms. She holds a PhD in music history and an MS in library and information science.

Nancy Roberts, PhD

Nancy Roberts is the Head of Technology and Content for Maverick Publishing Specialists and founder of diversity and inclusion startup, Umbrella Analytics. She has worked in a variety of production and operational roles across publishing for the past 20 years, following on from the completion of her postgraduate publishing diploma at West Herts College. She has a PhD in Postcolonial Feminist Literary Theory and an Executive MBA from Cranfield University.

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