Capture d’écran 2015-06-29 à 17.26.53OPERAS is a proposed distributed Research Infrastructure (RI) project for open access publishing in the Social Sciences and the Humanities (SSH). It envisions to assume a catalyst role in the transition to open science in these fields in Europe by setting up a European research publishing infrastructure with robust services that will lead to a significant improvement of the way research is carried out, communicated and evaluated. Recent discussions on open access to research publications and research data and the relevant funder requirements stress research communication as an integral part of the research process. This point holds particular strength in the SSH; publication of research in the SSH in the form of articles and monographs is strongly embedded in research, through laborious writing and editing processes, unlike the case in most of the STEM sciences. Writing and publishing, therefore, forms a significant part of the actual research process; it is informed by the actual research, as well as, in turn, shapes the research in a dialectic process.

Important issues in the current research discourse in the SSH are the new ways of doing research, especially computer-aided research in the rather traditional print-based Humanities, part of what is known as Digital Humanities1 ; an increasing call for open access to research outputs in the SSH, both publications and research data, with an emphasis on opening up monographs in the Humanities and investigating new and sustainable business models2, as well as the issues of assessing the impact of research in these scientific fields through multimodal and qualitative means of evaluating research output that is appropriate for the SSH disciplines3. Meanwhile, the European publishing landscape in the SSH is very fragmented, dominated by many small publishers, most of them institutionally and/or publicly supported, resulting in lack of scale and efficiency4 . This, in practice, means that European researchers have less access to primary research information (the publications and primary data which are fragmented and therefore not visible), less tools to perform advanced research on the scientific information, and less impactful publishing services on a par with recent developments in scholarly communications and technology. In the United States, the perceived need to deliver robust services at a large scale, already documented in a 2007 report on University Publishing at a Digital Age, has led to new initiatives5 , most prominently an alliance of publishing libraries and presses, the Library Publishing Consortium.

In the European context, OPERAS proposes to unite and improve existing and hitherto uncoordinated publishing services and infrastructures across Member States under a RI that will address the aforementioned challenges and will improve the way research is carried out, communicated and evaluated in the SSH. More specifically, OPERAS will work to systematize and improve practices in the following key areas: technology for publishing and research;  access to and discovery of content; publishing practices of editors/researchers and publishers; metrics and evaluation of research. Bringing together existing and advanced services in a RI is expected to lead to a significantly more efficient university-publishing system than what exists now, with multiple direct benefits for the actual research process and methods in the SSH.

In the front of technology OPERAS will work on the interoperability of the fragmented publishing infrastructure among partner MS and other countries, in view of providing researchers with cutting edge publishing technology, and will work on further improving the existing important technology used. OPERAS will provide a single point of access to vast primary content for their research, hitherto fragmented into different systems and enhance content discoverability through digital libraries and indexes. The proposed RI will further provide existing tools already developed by partners to all participating countries, such as TEI XML workflows for the publication production of multiple document formats and standards online peer-review tools, as well as further develop technology to assist advanced machine-aided research in the vast content of the infrastructure, such as Text and Data Mining (TDM). It will provide technologies for measuring alternative metrics, to assist with new ways of evaluating research in the SSH, for locating reviewers, for enhancing alternative ways of writing, publishing and reviewing (e.g. blogs and open review workflows) and proactively locating potential collaborations. Under the technology strand of the project OPERAS plans to enable European researchers to perform research, use research publications and publish their research electronically with aligned cutting edge technologies in a way that has not been proposed before, fostering innovative research techniques to be applied on research result and allowing for new questions to be tackled by the research community.

With respect to content, the pan-European alignment into a RI of existing robust publishing services with significant content already published effectively means that European researchers will have access to a large and steadily growing corpus of high-quality publications in the SSH from a single position in the web. Existing content will be made significantly more visible through the infrastructure which will align indexing services across partners and render available to European and other researchers to perform research and use; this fact is expected to facilitate and intensify the research process making the research already published and being published there potentially more impactful. It is further expected to intensify collaborations across Europe and the need for transnational research. Importantly, large numbers of this content are openly accessible, and partners will work with the principle of open access for future publications produced to further increase usefulness of materials and lower access barriers. All in all, a vast library of well-structured and easily searchable content on the SSH will become available to European researchers and citizens.

OPERAS will have an important impact on publishing practices of researchers and publishers across the SSH in Europe at many levels. It will offer researchers as authors a wide choice of publication venues and greater potential for collaborations for research and writing than ever before was available in Europe. It will further result in a serious improvement and impact of publishing services developed throughout the EU with a focus in the SSH. These are mostly university-led and publicly/institutionally funded and operate with heavy involvement of the research community outside of the corporate publishing sphere. This will happen through the coordination of the publication services, as well as of editorial and other policies and publishing practices, which will affect the way research is carried out and communicated. The RI will enhance open science, establishing open access publishing as the norm in the entire cycle including new practices in open peer-review and collaboration, new forms of publishing and shared minimum standards of editorial policies of high quality. Technologically, the RI will offer cutting edge publishing services for peer-review, publication production, linking publications to research data, publication indexing and preservation, among others.

The proposed RI will systematically address the current important topic of metrics and research evaluation in the SSH. By providing the technological tools for alternative metrics and new indicators for the existing and future publications content, OPERAS aims to introduce new concepts for measuring the impact of research outputs at the European scale, including not just publications but also research data, blogs and other types of research outputs. This will enhance the dialogue on metrics and evaluation, enabling an evidence-based discourse, and allow new ways of evaluating impact to become available and new ways of doing and communicating research become embedded in the researcher evaluation processes in the SSH across research institutions in Europe.  Providing concrete alternative metrics for the large numbers authors, publishers and research institutions already represented in the proposed RI will have a nearly immediate impact in the discussion of evaluating research across Europe in the SSH, thus igniting change.

In contributing towards an inclusive and efficient scholarly communications system in the SSH in Europe, OPERAS envisions to position itself centrally in engaging the wider ecosystem of stakeholders of scholarly communications, e.g. researchers, research institutions, libraries, platforms, publishers, funders. Beyond the services described above, OPERAS will systematically provide skills and training to researchers on numerous cutting edge issues relevant to scholarly communication in the SSH; it will provide evidence for informed decisions to institutional and funding bodies; it will provide information and studies on cutting edge issues such as the impact of new evaluative methods, metric systems, new business models and sustainability strategies, among others.

In sum, by coordinating and improving existing SSH publishing services under the umbrella of a European RI, OPERAS is expected to have far-reaching implications in the way research in the SSH is carried out and communicated in Europe: it will provide researchers  with a unified environment, tools and services for carrying out their research in new and innovative ways, it will foster collaborations between researchers in Europe leading to more research in ways that were not possible before, in will enable access to a large and growing corpus of openly accessible content, as well as innovative and computer-aided research on it, it will provide researchers and institutions with shared high standards for publishing in terms of technologies, editorial publication standards; it will introduce new ways of communicating research, new ways of evaluating research and contribute to an ethos of collaboration, open science and transparency in the entire research process.

  1. Williford, Ch. and Henry, Ch., One Culture: Computationally Intensive Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Council on Library and Information Resources (2012)  []
  2. All of the above discussed extensively in Eve, Martin Paul (2014a) Open Access and the humanities: contexts, controversies and the future. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. []
  3. Quality Indicators for Research in the Humanities, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences Interim report by the Committee on Quality Indicators in the Humanities May 2011 ; Dolan, C.  Feasibility Study: the Evaluation and Benchmarking of Humanities Research in Europe, HERA Report (2007) []
  4. Frantsvåg, J.E. The size distribution of open access publishers: A problem for open access? First Monday 9:4 2010, 15 []
  5. Brown, L., Griffiths, R., Rascoff, M. (2007). University Publishing In A Digital Age, Ithaka Report []