Commentary on cOAlition S’s revised Plan S | Editor Resources

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Commentary on cOAlition S’s revised Plan S

What next for Open Access?

A revised set of principles and guidance were recently released by cOAlition S, a group of national and private funders who have expressed an ambition to bring about full and immediate open access at time of publication. Their plan (‘Plan S’) has undergone some revision following a public consultation on the original version that attracted over 600 responses from us at Taylor & Francis as well as other members of the scholarly communication community. We provide an update on the key changes below, as well as our initial thoughts on the revised Plan, its principles and its implementation guidance.  

For an overview of the Plan in its original form you can read our earlier Editor Resources post. We also made Taylor & Francis input to the consultation publicly available – you can view this on the Taylor & Francis Newsroom. 

Key points 

  • The terminology and recommendations in the revised principles and implementation guidance are more inclusive, seemingly to address some of the concerns raised from the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HSS) community about the risk of applying a one size fits all approach to implementation of the Plan. Although liberal licencing remains a cornerstone, a more restrictive licence (CC BY-ND) may be permitted on a case by case basis, if a request is made to the funder. 
  • The timeline has been pushed back a year to 2021 in an effort to give the community more time to prepare. The transformative agreement route to compliance now covers a broader range of transformational activities.
  • The Plan and its supporting guidance focus more on rewards and incentives and call for assessment to focus on the impact of the work as opposed to its publication venue.
  • We discuss two challenges in the revised guidance: the timeline for transition and the conditions around the Green OA route to compliance.

What’s new and what hasn’t changed? 

There is more nuance in the revised guidance: more sensitivity to disciplinary difference, an acknowledgement of the value and role of learned societies, and a broader spectrum of openness and OA.  

The core principle was: 

After 1 January 2020 scientific publications on the results from research funded by public grants provided by national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms. 

It has now been revised to state the following (our emphasis in bold): 

“With effect from 2021, all scholarly publications on the results from research funded by public or private grants provided by national, regional and international research councils and funding bodies, must be published in Open Access Journals, on Open Access Platforms, or made immediately available through Open Access Repositories without embargo.” 

The supporting principles remain largely unchanged, although some elements have been clarified. Where previously there was a principle covering standardisation and capping of fees, this is now more evolved and acknowledges the ‘diversity of business models’ whilst calling for transparency around fees and services. There is also a call for alignment across a larger group of stakeholders, where previously this had focused on alignment across funders. The principle around the importance of open archives and repositories has been replaced by one focused on rewards and incentives – calling for the value of work to be assessed as opposed to where it is has been published.   

Other changes include outlining less challenging (but still ambitious) technical requirements for repositories, and a broader interpretation of what a transition to OA might look like (“transformative agreements model agreements and ‘transformative journals’ in a new form.”), although this is still not clear.  

What’s Taylor & Francis’ view on this? 

Several of the points raised in our input to the consultation have been addressed. We welcome the reference to HSS – as the largest HSS publisher it is encouraging to see some acknowledgement of the needs and circumstances of these fields. The broader recognition of Open Research and transformation is also laudable we believe that many of our journals already comply via the transformative agreement route, as we already have a number of agreements in place in various regions that cover both readership and authorship (subscription and OA).  

Two elements of the plan remain challenging: the timeline for transition and the criteria around the Green OA route to compliance 

The additional year does not allow sufficient time to prepare for implementation. We question how the coalition can set a deadline for a large-scale transition to OA without clarity on how to obtain the critical mass needed to get there, given the diversity of approaches towards OA by region and by discipline, and the lack of demand for OA in certain areas. A number of inputs to the consultation, ours included, noted the potential for a knock-on effect beyond Plan S, affecting researchers who are not funded by a member of the coalition and potentially marginalising them as a result. We believe it is very important that a barrier to publication is not created through this process.  

The coalition have noted their intention to obtain more support from the global funder community – we would like to understand the timelines around this process and how this will mitigate the effect on unfunded researchers. Whilst OA is an important and growing means to disseminate research more widely, there is simply not the demand (yet) to justify moving all our journals to OA. That said, we remain committed to making our journals more open and are exploring models that achieve this aim in fields with less funding, particularly HSS. We ask the coalition to provide more detail on how they will obtain the necessary support to allow us to effect a transition within the timeframe outlined.  

We remain concerned about removing embargoes around the Accepted Manuscript as we believe that this will lead to subscription cancellations. It is hard to prove or disprove this theory without risking the viability of journals. The production of the Accepted Manuscript depends upon investment in people, infrastructure, systems and services. This investment is underwritten by subscription revenue. Removing that support will close down this Green OA route to compliance. Our colleagues at Springer Nature made a similar point in their response to the revised guidance. As per our earlier input we ask the coalition to review the embargo question and work with publishers and academic librarians to test various scenarios.  

We commend cOAlition S’s stated intention to collaborate with the wider community during the implementation phase and will welcome discussion and clarification on a number of points, some of which are listed below 

  • Depositing Accepted Manuscripts to an author nominated repository is impractical and unscalable. We ask the coalition to develop a shortlist of recommended repositories, and to advocate for common standards around manuscript deposit. 
  • When will the coalition release its guidance on waivers and what support will they offer? (NB: many publishers, ourselves included, have had a waiver programme in place for a number of years.) 
  • What is the timeline for development of the ‘tool that researchers can use to identify whether venues fulfil the requirements’ and what support do they need from publishers? (For example, we have provided information on journals for a number of years to the Sherpa services maintained by JISC.) 
  • The guidance doesn’t cover non-peer-reviewed or non-primary content such as Editorials, commentaries, case studies and book reviews – these are often of high value to the community but are often unfunded. What happens to this content? 
  • Who will be judging whether arrangements are or are not transformative and on what basis? 

If the 2021 deadline is to be achieved then speed is of the essence, based on our previous experience with policy implementation. As well as ensuring technical and operational readiness, discussions with society partners, editorial board members and communities must take place and any recommended changes must be approved, often at an annual board meeting 

What are the implications for journals and societies? 

It is reassuring that the revised documentation acknowledges the value of learned societies, and it highlights the ongoing work by the SPA-OPS project (Society Publishers Accelerating OA and Plan S) in finding viable options for learned societies to move to OA 

We are working through implications and options for our journals, editors and society partners, keeping in mind that most journals at present typically publish a low level of Plan S funded content, and must continue to serve their wider communities.  

Our initial review suggests that journals published by Taylor & Francis will typically will be compliant through one of the routes outlined in the plan: 

  • The Open journals have no subscription element and the majority offer Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licences, as such we believe that these journals will be compliant (and attractive) venues for research across all subject areas. 
  • The Open Select journals are more complex: 
  • Transformative arrangements – we have a number of agreements in place already in various regions that cover subscription and open access and as such we believe that many journals will already be compliant. We continue to convert titles to a fully OA model where this is viable and where there is demand from the community.  
  • Compliance through the Green OA route – this is challenging for the reasons outlined above.  

We recommend that you keep abreast of the conversation and updates and ensure that you have a voice in ongoing discussions. You may also wish to inform your colleagues of developments as, despite the interest Plan S has evoked from many parts of the scholarly communication community, many researchers still seem to be unaware of its existence.  

Further reading and useful links 

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