OPERAS’s Answers to the Expert Group for Open Science of the European Commission

The OSPP (Open Science Policy Platform) asked their stakeholders some questions on the future of Scholarly Publishing and Scholarly Communication. These are the answers prepared by the OPERAS Core Group. OPERAS is the European Research infrastructure for open scholarly communication in the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH).

QUESTION 1. In practice, how do you imagine the vision of an ideal state of scholarly communication put forward by the expert group and, more specifically, your role as an actor in that future system? You may depart from the suggested vision, if you think necessary/you disagree.


The importance of infrastructures in the future of scholarly publishing
First of all, it must be noted that OPERAS, as an infrastructure dedicated to open scholarly communication in SSH falls into neither of the categories of stakeholders the report mentions in its recommendations. It means that the landscape of scholarly publishing envisioned by the report is far from being complete and has several blind spots, focusing on the “visible” part of the ecosystem (publishers, researchers, funders) and forgets the invisible part for the end-user, e. g., the infrastructure, composed of a collection of service providers of different sorts more or less interoperable. In that range of actors somehow ignored as subjects (but treated as objects) by the report, are the publishing platforms that play nowadays a crucial role in the structuration of the scholarly publishing landscape. The publishing platforms are usually ignored because they are invisible to the researchers who concentrate on the content of what they read, and they are treated as a commodity by publishers. We strongly believe that if a thing such as an “ideal state of scholarly communication” exists or could be sought for, it should be conceived as an ecosystem, a sort of collective brain producing a collective knowledge in which each part is connected to each other and contributes to the whole with its own specificity. The infrastructure implements the design of the ecosystem: it enables or curtails certain connections, certain workflows and outputs, it enforces the principles that are more or less adopted across the ecosystem. In that domain as in others, “code is law”.

Therefore, here are the principles we would want the “ideal state of scholarly communication” reflect in the future:

Support bibliodiversity
An ideal state of scholarly communication would take into account the specificities of each discipline – some issues are not the same – without neglecting collaborations. Scholarly communication should be fine-tuned to the discipline-specific scholarly outputs (addressed in more detail below), yet, it should also take into account outputs of inter-, trans-, or cross-disciplinary collaboration. The openness towards such forms, e. g. software as an output of collaboration of SSH and ICT scholars in all groups of authors is a key factor to encourage a fruitful exchange between disciplines.
It would also take into account the different types of scholarly communications, especially monographs which are particularly important in SSH. This also include improving the status of various kinds of scholarly outputs, which are currently treated as marginal or auxiliary for research. First of all, established forms of scientific writing, as journal articles or monographs, have been remediated in the digital environment into multimedia monographs (so called extended publications), or scientific blogs. Similarly, critical editions of sources (incl. scholarly editions of literary works) are often considered less valuable than monographs, what discourages scholars from publishing important resources that could stimulate further studies, while boosting multilingualism and bibliodiversity.
Reconcile data and publications
It would also build bridges between data and publications, especially to address the whole research circle. In fact, many genres considered auxiliary are valid research contributions. For instance, scholarly databases of bibliographical or biographical data – a digital counterparts of lexicons and dictionaries – are usually (if not by definition) outcomes of the research process, as they contain data or metadata collected through the survey of available sources. This is also valid for research data in the humanities, which are often byproducts of research (e.g. sources collected by a scholar working on a monograph). Incentivisation of both types of resources is important to encourage scholars to publish and to make available massive amounts of data, which could stimulate further studies. Another genre worth looking at is research software in digital humanities, often developed in a close collaboration between the Humanities scholars and ICT professionals, yet such work is hardly perceived as an outcome of a research process. By incentivising these genres of scientific outputs, scholarly communication will stimulate the creation of valuable knowledge which is now artificially confined in traditional forms due to evaluation or prestige mechanisms. One striking example of such unproductive confinement is the evaluation of a data-paper as a proper research out, not the database itself.

Diversify evaluation criteria
It would provide evaluation criteria tailored to the types of outputs. The assessment of novel genres of scientific communication (e. g. a research database or a multimedia monograph) often goes beyond a mere scrutiny of scientific content (as in the case of a monograph published as a standard printed book) and involves the assessment of technical resources, projects usability, suitability as a research tool, etc. In order to give justice to the publication, reviewers need a certain knowledge going beyond their disciplinary background, involving genre-specific evaluation criteria.

Facilitate the adoption of new practices
It would also address the issue of business models allowing for open scholarly communication. Research outputs of publicly-funded projects should be openly available to citizens. Measures should be taken to incentivise open-access publishing and to grant fairly-priced access to paywalled resources.
It would also take into account different practices of scholarly communications, depending on career stages, on resources, on the position in an organisation.
It would bring help and tools and trainings for the researchers, which are all involved in this kind of process.
It would encourage and develop links between scholarly publishers, libraries and researchers in order to better understand the different needs of each community.
It would take into account the role of digital tools in exploration of the scientific output. All works and their metadata should be made available in the machine-readable format (e. g. txt file along a pdf), which will make data-driven scholarship easier.
It would also take into account new practices of peer-review and find a way to highlight this activity in a CV. We can already observe a gradual decline of scholarly review, a traditional genre, very important for the advancement of scholarship and for ensuring the scientific reliability and transparency of the process. Since reviews published in journals are often not seen as original research contributions, especially by evaluators, they tend to be less attractive to scholars, especially in earlier career stages. On the other hand, scholars produce a vast number of peer-reviews, which never see the light of the day, due to the traditional need of keeping them anonymous. The scientific communication of the future should find a balance for those practices, either by incentivising the peer-review practices, or by implementing some form of an open peer-review, in which reviews would be published and made open for the scientific community. In this latter case, published reviews could also serve as an indicator for qualitative metrics.

Act internationally
As research is done in a globalized-world and because exchanges between researchers are needed, it is especially important to use the vision and the work done by the Expert Group to change practices at an international level (about rankings).
OPERAS is the RI dedicated to scholarly communication in SSH. It brings the different stakeholders involved in SSH scholarly communication all together in Europe and beyond and is committed to addressing these different issues through different kinds of services.

QUESTION 2. What would you as an actor concretely need to do – and/or not do, to get us from where we are now to the state of affairs described in the vision put forward by the expert group? Critically, what would other stakeholders have to do – and/or not do?


As an infrastructure in construction globally already in accordance with the reports’ principles, what we need or don’t to do is less important than what we will do to implement those principles. In 20172018, thanks to its H2020 project OPERAS-D, OPERAS has prepared a design study including 7 White Papers on different topics that detail lines of action to improve the situation in the scholarly communication ecosystem, particularly in SSH:

1. Advocacy
The paper discusses the importance of the SSH in Open Science, showing how Open Science itself benefits from considering and accommodating the needs of researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds. While OPERAS does not endorse a specific Open Access publishing model, the infrastructure partners advocate for publication processes that can meet the present demand for Open Access, transparency, and open source tools in scholarly communication. In order to support stakeholders in advocating for Open Access, the White Paper presents the benefits of Open Access publishing for scholars, while also addressing common concerns in the SSH research community. The Advocacy White Paper presents a solution-oriented approach as it addresses concerns about Open Access publishing commonly shared by the research community and then suggests solutions from different angles. In this patchwork of initiatives, researchers – who move between countries and institutions, and collaborate with researchers from other parts of Europe – often face various challenges in disseminating their research openly and have concerns about doing so. The OPERAS consortium shares the common goal of highlighting these differences and – where possible and desirable – coordinating efforts in order to achieve an efficient and effective transition to Open Science.

2. Best Practices
Publishing is a composite activity that includes several components. Therefore, the adoption of best practices in academic publishing should address all aspects : service provision to authors, publishers agreements, peer-reviewing, editing, usage of open access licenses, dissemination, metrics and digital preservation. On each of these topics, best practices charts and lists have been elaborated by different academic and professional networks and already exist, gaining enough consensus in the community to be adopted by OPERAS consortium without the need for reinvention from the start. What has to be
done is to identify the most accepted best practices for each case and plan for concrete and specific actions for their implementation by OPERAS partners.
The is a crucial domain, however, where best practices are not clearly established : management of the transition to Open Access. Although several “flipping mechanisms” are proposed, none is widely considered as “best practice” over others. In that domain the debate in the academic community clearly lacks maturity.

3. Common Standards
The White Paper on Common Standards comprises desk research and identifies key operational and technical aspects to be addressed by digital research infrastructures and service providers. It particularly sketches the landscape of Open Science in Europe, focusing on the policy framework and
the institutional initiatives at EU level; it also describes current and emerging research practices and highlights the needs of the stakeholders and communities engaged in scholarly communication. Reference is specifically made to technical and operational standards for publishing infrastructures, and their importance in providing a digital scholarly communication framework that fosters content reuse and collaboration among researchers, while enabling the implementation of innovative research
methods. To this end, the white paper identifies needs yet to be met, introduces 4 complementary areas (content quality and impact assessment, interoperability, availability and processability) for the introduction of common standards, and provides basic recommendations for their future implementation.

4. Multilingualism
Scholarly publication is indisputably boosted by the use of the English language. However, the need to publish in English in order to get visibility and recognition represents an impoverishment of certain research fields, particularly in Social Sciences and Humanities. Taking this backdrop as reference, the challenges for OPERAS are to support researchers that want to continue publishing in their own language and to develop transnational scientific cooperation at the same time. Thereof, the proposed intervention areas are: translation, multilanguage discovery tool and the endowment of national languages.

5. Open Access Business Models
The white paper on Business Models for Open Access proposes that there is no single ideal business model for Open Access that can be adopted as standard. It describes the current landscape in which there are multiple approaches to OA publishing, many of which are adopted by OPERAS members to suit their particular circumstances, although the APC and BPC models still predominate especially among commercial publishers. The paper describes the business models adopted by members both from the point of view of publishers, and of service providers such as Knowledge Unlatched, as well as looking at models emerging elsewhere such as in the USA and at national level in some European countries, where interesting collaborative approaches are being undertaken. The paper analyses the pros and cons of different models, and concludes with some suggestions for ways of bringing greater stability and sustainability to Open Access publishing models.

6. Platforms and Services
OPERAS as an infrastructure supporting open scholarly communication will provide a catalogue of services to the academic community. Despite their diversity, the services should follow common rules and principles to establish a common framework where they can be included and managed. The principles concern governance, sustainability and insurance. It entails to set up contractual relationships between the infrastructure and the service providers that reflects the principles mentioned earlier. Finally, there is a need to achieve a fully functional web of services that prevents gaps and overlaps regarding the users’ needs. The list and structure of OPERAS’ future services has been elaborated as a part of the infrastructure design study.

7. Tools Research and Development
The approach in OPERAS emphasizes the importance of building the open science scholarly communication infrastructure in Social Sciences and Humanities on community driven tools. In this perspective, the development of Open Source tools and the setup of a toolbox appear to be appropriate answers to the existing needs and evolutions in scholarly publishing.
Following a first discussion in the Working Group, participants discussed the partners’ practices and needs to help focus the Working Group objectives on three functions:

  • Peer review: interest in emerging practices such as open peer review, peer review tracking
  • Authoring: interest in simple and all-in-one services, especially online and collaborative authoring
  • Publishing: in particular, simple tools needed by small academic journals

The main results of the Working Group are: notes on observed trends, a common approach and criteria for choosing tools, a list of relevant tools, detailing features and functionalities, an analysis of the current needs of the partners.

In addition to the aims defined in its different working groups, OPERAS has launched a special initiative dedicated to the FAIRication of SSH data and publications, in the perspective of integrating them better in a fully interoperable scholarly communication ecosystem.

Support FAIRification of data AND publications in SSH
CO-OPERAS – open access in the European research area through scholarly communication – Implementation Network aims to build a bridge between SSH data and the EOSC, widening the concept of “research data” to include all of the types of digital research output linked to scholarly communication that are, in SSH, part of the research process. The goal is to contribute to a better integration of SSH research objects into the EOSC, as a major component of the IFDS. One of the main challenges the social sciences and humanities need to address to achieve that goal is the fragmented nature of research fields, across many disciplines and subdisciplines, usually grounded in regional, national and linguistic specific communities: as a result, code multilingualism is a clear trait of these disciplines where English as a Lingua Franca is far from being the sole means tobcommunicate research results. Multilingualism has to be properly addressed in order to ensure access and reuse of SSH data. Another challenge for the IN to address would be the fact that in SSH the machine readable tools and materials are rarely available and often incomplete or non-interoperable. These issues are perceived as strategically important priorities by the research community. The core strategy of CO-OPERAS IN is integration rather than fragmentation, and coordination rather than competition. Thanks to a consortium of 38 members, in 13 countries in Europe and beyond (North and South America), CO-OPERAS IN aims to bring the FAIR principles into the SSH research environment, leveraging existing scholarly communication services and platforms to connect them as components of an emerging EOSC, and more broadly to the global SSH communities. The main purpose of the CO-OPERAS IN is the FAIRification of the research process and resources in the SSH, leveraging both on building services, sharing standards and on changing the communication culture in SSH. A second purpose is the contribution of CO-OPERAS network to the FAIR standards from the SSH data.

This input is licensed under a Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0). Creative Commons License 

Judith Schulte

Digital Humanities Officer at Max Weber Stiftung (MWS) and Communication Officer for OPERAS

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