Towards the OA Commons: recommendations for the OA diamond model

9th March 2021News, Open Access, Open Science

A newly-published report on the OA diamond journals shines light on a community-driven open access publishing model and provides recommendations that could help the model flourish. It is the first study of its kind. It was commissioned by cOAlition S and funded by Science Europe. The research was undertaken by a consortium of 10 organisations: OPERAS, SPARC Europe, Utrecht University, DOAJ, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, LIBER, OASPA, ENRESSH, Redalyc-AmeliCA, and CSI. SPARC Europe was heavily involved in looking at how to grow the OA diamond sector in the future and sustain it.

The vision for OA diamond

The report presents a clear vision for the future: it calls for the creation of an OA Commons, an idea based on increasing global collaboration, stimulating diversity and innovation in the OA diamond sector. The OA Commons is envisioned as a community-driven international scholarly communications ecosystem in which diamond OA journals will thrive, learning from each other. The ambition is to bring together community-driven and governed journals and platforms and support them in their efforts in a more co-ordinated way. The strength of the OA Commons will lie in its diversity, it will serve a plethora of academic communities, topics and languages. At the same time, it will aim to create a common underlying infrastructure that is more streamlined and shared to enhance efficiency, encourage collaboration and knowledge exchange in the areas of publishing workflows, open licensing, marketing or preservation for example. 

SPARC Europe helped develop a set of recommendations that will help make this vision a reality. In particular, we focussed on those that have to do with building global OA diamond capacity and financial sustainability. 

Let’s come together! A new diamond OA Capacity Centre

We are calling on funders, infrastructures, institutions, societies and OA diamond journals to come together and form a new diamond OA Capacity Centre, aiming at strengthening the OA diamond sector in areas such as accounting, funding, indexing, editorial workflows and peer review, marketing, open licensing, preservation and other areas. The centre would consist of two main components: A Community of Practice (CoP) network and a resource center providing the community with toolkits, training and workshops. 

The CoP would establish lines of communication among different stakeholders and many existing networks within the OA diamond landscape, facilitating discussion among OA diamond journals and encouraging them to share their experiences with the model. The Capacity Centre would strive to build more shared infrastructure, over time providing OA diamond journals with a solid service infrastructure to rely on.  

As a first step towards the creation of the Capacity Centre the group plans to invite OA diamond stakeholders to discuss the idea, investigate existing regional solutions and to start to scope it out to make this their own. We hope that stakeholders will take an active part in these events and we will keep you informed as to where and when they will take place here:

How many people does it take to run an OA diamond journal?

The majority of surveyed diamond OA journals (over 1.600) run on less than 1 FTE for their operations and operate on small budgets: 70% declared less than $/€10,000 annual costs. Sixty percent rely heavily on volunteers to carry out their work with 86% reporting having either a high or medium reliance on them. We therefore consider it important to reflect on both the mid- to long-term role of volunteers and in-kind contributions when maintaining a journal. A sense of certain fatigue is clear among editors worried about the sustainability of their operations. We heard voices ranging from somewhat optimistic affirming that the model is viable “but relies too much on goodwill” to more dramatic ones declaring:“The journal is at risk of disappearing due to exhaustion of those involved”.

We therefore recommend transforming volunteer arrangements into more formal mid- to longer-term commitments (including more paid work where feasible or advisable) unless it underpins the development of young academics, which could be reinforced and more formally rewarded in future.

The financial health of OA diamond journals

Survey data informs us that RPOs, alongside national funding and government agencies, RFOs, including cOAlition S, libraries and other owners and funders of OA diamond journals have a vital role to play in providing support for OA diamond journals, now and in the future. Consequently, there is a strong need to bring these stakeholders together in order to collaboratively formulate a funding strategy for OA diamond for the next 5 years focussed on both funding development and operations. Such a strategy could build upon existing international and national funding scenarios, while at the same time encouraging the development of new funding mechanisms. 

Consistent and continued funding is key to create a sustainable ecosystem, where OA diamond could flourish. Just over 40% of surveyed journals reported breaking even, with 25% stating a loss. Since current support is far from sufficient for some, it is therefore essential for funders to provide regular long-term funding that could be used to finance operations. Furthermore, funders can help invest in the future of OA diamond by providing grants to  help OA diamond journals meet industry standards, build capacity in various areas or to develop OA diamond journal hosting platforms and shared infrastructures that serve many.

We also make some recommendations to owners of OA diamond journals to help them gain efficiencies to limit their costs. These include suggesting that OA diamond journals work together towards a more collaborative approach, developing partnerships aimed at helping raise funds and to collaborate on shared challenges like funding, indexing, quality assurance, marketing, intellectual property, managing DOIs or technology and infrastructure in place to support text to XML/HTML conversion. We also strongly believe that these partnerships and increased collaboration can create a more mature and interconnected shared service and infrastructure framework, which will help alleviate OA diamond resource pressures.

Since this post only provides select results, we invite you to read the report and separately published set of recommendations and to look at the additional materials that we have shared with the community for further research and reuse: the study dataset, the references library, and the crowdsourced Journals Inventory.

This study was enlightening since it shines light on a community-driven open access publishing model. The OA diamond model promotes both inclusivity and bibliodiversity as it serves a wide range of disciplines, languages, countries and communities. It makes open access publishing truly accessible to all since it removes some of the financial hurdles that researchers struggle with. For all the characteristics mentioned above, sustaining the OA diamond is of crucial importance. 

SPARC Europe looks forward to taking some of the study’s actions forward in the coming months to ensure that OA diamond publishing remains diverse, inclusive and accessible to all.