Friday, March 15, 2024 News

Open Access as a Means to Equity: Progress, Challenges, and the Continued Role for the BOAI

Open Access

Open Access (OA) is not an end in itself, but a means to other ends, above all, to the equity, quality, usability, and sustainability of research. We must assess the growth of OA against the gains and losses for these further ends.” –BOAI 20 Recommendations

Since the launch of the BOAI, we have seen the development of a robust global movement which has moved open access from an untested concept into the mainstream, and today just over half of all scholarly journal articles are now available for anyone to freely access and to read. 

While we celebrate this remarkable progress, we also recognize that to fully realize the promise of OA that was envisioned when the BOAI was launched, we have more work to do to ensure that the systems we are building to support OA are truly equitable and enable anyone, anywhere to to both access and contribute to the global record of scholarship. 

It’s critical for the community to work together to guard against adopting policies, practices and business models that may make scholarly communications free to read, but in the process, create new barriers for authors to publish. As we have seen, these barriers to publish do not impact authors evenly, but rather disproportionately exclude voices from historically marginalized communities, the Global South, as well as those in the early stages of their careers. 

Recognizing the imperative for the global OA movement to actively address these inequities, in 2022, the BOAI conducted a global community consultation to create a plan for doing so. Today marks the second anniversary of the BOAI20 Recommendations, which aimed to ensure that the OA movement centered equity in its efforts to achieve the BOAI’s original vision that “an old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good.”

To do this, the BOAI20 Recommendations call for:

  • Supporting community-controlled infrastructure
  • Reforming of research assessment and rewards
  • Favoring inclusive publishing and distribution channels that move away from APCs and never exclude authors on economic grounds.
  • Favoring publishing models which benefit all regions of the world and are controlled by academic-led and non-profit organizations—and moving away from “transformative” or “read-and-publish” agreements.

It has been exciting and encouraging to see the beginnings of a renewed focus on equity both at the policy and community levels over the past two years.

Major new progressive policies centered on equity have been issued. These include the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science, released in November 2021, which is comprehensive in scope, highlights the importance of non-commercial/community research infrastructure, and has been approved by 193 countries. In the U.S., the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a sweeping memorandum in August 2022, “Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research, that will make all U.S taxpayer-funded research immediately available for the public. Setting a critical precedent for national policy, the OSTP memo treats OA as a means to achieve equity. And in May 2023, the Council of the European Union, under the leadership of the Swedish Presidency, adopted conclusions that call for transparent, equitable, and open access to scholarly publications through the immediate and unrestricted access to publicly funded research. 

Building on these policies, the global community is increasingly pursuing paths to OA focused on greater equity, including the pioneering work being done in Latin America to support OA infrastructure led by Redalyc, SciELO, and AmeliCA, and the strengthening of global open repository infrastructure spearheaded by COAR. Critical work to reform research assessment is being pursued by DORA, CoARA, and the NASEM’s Roundtable on Aligning Incentives for Open Scholarship. The landscape for OA publishing is shifting, with mass resignations by editorial boards over excessively high APCs, and a growing interest in Diamond and Subscribe to Open as values-aligned business models. In addition, universities are developing Rights Retention policies, while last year Bulgaria adopted the world’s first zero-embargo Secondary Publishing Right.

This renewed energy in not just making content OA, but on how the content is made openly available, is laying the foundation to realize the promise of OA put forth by the BOAI of “uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge.” To support the achievement of this vision, the BOAI is transitioning to playing a more active role within the Access to Knowledge movement; look for updates in the coming weeks.

Melissa Hagemann has been a leader of the Access to Knowledge movement for over twenty years. She led the Open Society Foundations’s work to define Open Access (OA) through the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) and went on to support the development of the global OA movement.

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