The Council of the European Union recently announced its support for an open access infrastructure led by scientists. Per Pippin Aspaas draws on the Norwegian concept of “dugnad” to design the kinds of social infrastructure that scholarly-led academic publications require and how they can be funded.
On May 23, 2023, the Council of the European Union adopted Council conclusions on quality, transparent, open, credible and fair scientific publications. Member States are invited to help build the infrastructure to provide fertile ground for community-based and scholar-led open access. This is the long awaited sequel. Action Plan for Diamond Open Access launched in March 2022.
Diamond Open Access is a publishing model that omits Read-and-Publish Deals and other types of publishing fees. Instead, nonprofit funding mechanisms facilitate the publishing infrastructure. Publicly funded institutions, learned societies, libraries, charities, and/or governments are pooling resources—both economic and in-kind—so that the full texts of scholarly books and journals are available online for free.
The publishing landscape is represented by thousands of scientific journals with between 5 and 50 articles published and academic book series with an average of less than ten books published per year. These small publications are usually initiated and managed by scientific communities (formal or informal scientific societies) that live For rather than off their work. While Diamond Open Access already exists, it hasn’t really taken off yet. Most smaller outlets are still hosted by commercial entities that either hide all content behind paywalls or demand money from government-funded institutions in the form of “read and publish” deals or Gold Open Access publishing fees. Such publications could easily be converted into a more sustainable non-commercial publishing model.
Open access led by community-based scholars like a Norwegian voluntary work
Norwegian word voluntary work (bee in Finnish) can be used to characterize the ideal way to implement the Diamond Open Access model. Volunteer work means voluntary work for the common good of society. For example, people in the local building block community may or entrust the necessary landscaping, fence repair and facade renovation to a commercial service provider or join forces and do it yourself. The last option implies the real voluntary work. A voluntary work it is a social act in which members of a community solve their own needs by acting collectively, without economic bargaining. The resources that are pooled together are the human resources: everyone contributes according to their know-how and abilities, and they are willing to learn and help each other.
Norwegian word core voluntary work implies more than just the sum of the work of each. It is equally important to work together, in person, interrupted by coffee breaks and joint lunches. Such voluntary work meetings usually take place once or twice a year. between each voluntary work, a janitor (often living in the same house) will handle day-to-day practical matters for a small salary. The board, made up entirely of local residents, is elected at the annual general meeting. The head of the board is responsible for financial matters, and the caretaker reports to them.
The scientific communities behind a diamond magazine or book series can be compared to those listed above. voluntary work system. The social act of editing a journal or series of books, collectively helping each other through peer review or proofreading are non-commercial ways of collaborating in academia that can be real. voluntary work. The caretaker will technical editor (also known as assistant editor), an information technology professional who runs the day-to-day operations of a publishing house, reporting to the editor-in-chief. Residents of the quarter will become the editorial team.
However, there is one fundamental difference between voluntary work and scientific communities. Most scientific communities are not local; there will be shipping costs. Editors of a magazine or book series tend to live far apart and work daily in different institutions, often in different countries. They cannot go down the stairs and gather in the garden outside, as the local community can.
Diamond Open Access Capacity Center is being created
An EU-funded Diamond Open Access Capacity Center is currently being set up to help build capacity and professionalize the services offered by the many existing Diamond Open Access platforms across Europe. The technical infrastructure is extremely important. However, we need to think, and urgently think about how to finance the additional workload of technical editors, as well as regular meetings of editorial boards or “social infrastructures”. Without these resources, there will be no transition to an open system.
Without physical meetings where editorial boards can work together on calls for writing articles for special issues, discuss proposals for improving publishing platforms, Diamond Open Access initiatives are unlikely to be sustainable. Ultimately, face-to-face meetings are important in reinforcing a sense of community that can quickly evaporate if the editor-in-chief is left alone with no real team around him.
Time for the Open Access Diamond Fund!
A Diamond Open Access Capacity Center with empty pockets can be useful, but it’s not a game changer. What is required is a special fund. I estimate that a community that runs a journal that publishes 30 peer-reviewed articles a year would be happy to do so for €30,000. This would fund a part-time assistant editor (the “caretaker”) and allow editorial board meetings to be held each year. The rest of the publishing software is free. The Diamond Open Access Capacity Center offers its assistance free of charge. The community supports the work by offering for free the most important resource, namely its own know-how and working time.
Read-and-publish deals are likely to be short-lived; they were supposed to be “transitional deals” after all. The public money that has so far been spent on these deals could be better invested in these kinds of funds when these deals come to an end. It would be truly transformational. My suggestion is that applicants apply to the Foundation every five years and receive a reward ranging from 1,000 euros for an article to 7,500 euros for a monograph they intend to publish. Opinions, book reviews and the like will cost 50 euros each. After five years, they report how many have actually been published and can apply over the next five years. The proposed grants are adjusted accordingly. In addition, magazines and book series that intend to make the laborious transition from a commercial to a non-commercial publishing platform should be offered a special transitional grant.
We need to make existing non-profit initiatives sustainable and at the same time encourage more scientific communities to move away from commercial models and become voluntary work-based on. For this change to occur, the appropriate amounts of money must be placed at the disposal of the right stakeholders, namely the scientific communities themselves. The time has come for the Open Access Diamond Fund.
A longer version part of this opinion was published as part of the Diamond Papers series, edited by Pierre Mounier and Johan Rurik.
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