18 December 2013 | General
Open Access: Practice, Opportunities and Challenges – Report from a COST Strategic Initiative

Over recent decades, advances in information technology have revolutionised the way that information is generated, stored and, largely due to the evolution of the Internet, disseminated. For researchers and scholars in all disciplines these changes present new opportunities and challenges for how their work is published, and the concept of open access is now becoming well established.

Open access refers to the making available of content (especially, though not exclusively, journal research articles) in online digital format, free of charge, and increasingly free of most copyright and licensing restrictions and of technical or other barriers to access, such as digital rights management or requirements to register to access. 

Open access publishing is becoming increasingly common across all academic disciplines. A growing number of funding bodies and institutions now also require that publicly funded research is made available to researchers and the general public in open access format. There are, however, significant differences in the uptake of open access in different disciplines.

In light of the importance of this topic, a stakeholder symposium was held in Vienna on 13-14 May 2013 bringing together around 40 delegates from across Europe and beyond to discuss the opportunities and challenges of current and future open access practice. The symposium was proposed as a strategic initiative by COST’s Biomedicine and Molecular Biosciences (BMBS), Individuals, Societies, Cultures and Health (ISCH), and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Domain Committees. Delegates at the symposium discussed how best to implement open access in different disciplines. Key insights from the symposium were then discussed at a high-level policy workshop held in Brussels on 15 October 2013, featuring a lively debate involving policymakers and representatives of research institutions, policy organisations and the publishing sector. The members of the strategic initiative drew on insights and debates from these two events to formulate a number of recommendations regarding open access. 

These recommendations are meant to impact open access policies, models and practices, and also suggest ways in which COST could encourage and promote awareness on open access publication among scholars and researchers. 

In general, the initiative recommended that publicly funded research should be fully available to researchers and to the wider audience: however, this should not come as a directive, but should involve careful prior consultation across the scholarly community. Moreover, public research funding agencies should ensure grants for open access publishing are provided also after research grants have ended, as that is when important publication and dissemination work takes place. Setting up multilingual search platforms for publications issued in languages other than English was also highlighted as a way towards improved conditions for open access to research outcomes.  

Insights from the discussions held as part of the strategic initiative, and the recommendations deriving from the initiative, are now available in the initiative’s report: Open Access: Practice, Opportunities and Challenges report

The leaders of the Strategic Initiative, together with Daniel Spichtinger (Policy Officer for OA at the European Commission), also published an  article in the London School of Economics ‘Impact of Social Sciences’ blog