Publish or perish. That’s all most people know about the world of scholarly publishing. Research happens and then researchers transmit their findings. The full extent of this process is referred to as scholarly communication—everything that happens between the lab and the newspapers, including how articles are written, reviewed, submitted for publication, published, reviewed by the press, and communicated to policy makers and the public, as well as all other research “dissemination” activities via marketing, speaking, conferences, social media, books and so on.
Scholarly publishing is the capstone of this effort within academia—a modest but vital part of the scholarly communication spectrum related mostly to peer-reviewed journals in the sciences and monographs in the humanities. The core of this process (recognizing that many changes to it have happened over time) is an ancient and critical part of the scholarly communication process, steeped in history and arcanity, loaded with rules particular to each field, funding agency, and journal, and laced at the institutional level with incentives like promotion and tenure. This system is old and familiar, serves a purpose, and has broad buy-in from the research community, but it is changing—not necessarily quickly but energetically and in different directions. As a consequence it is probably fair to say that no one in academia is confident right now what the road ahead looks like for scholarly publishing. In addition, this commotion has caused a trickledown effect, feeding uncertainty about what kind of research we’re valuing, publishing, and funding; about the reproducibility of research (is research working the way it should?); about why and how universities and research institutions should incentivize and recognize different types of research communication (and how these decisions affect promotion and tenure); about the impact of the Internet on best practices for research communication; about whether research is sufficiently accessible by the people worldwide who need to read it (a conversation limited not just to library budgets but to whether there is a basic human right to science knowledge that we need to acknowledge); and a host of other issues such as open access (making information immediately and freely available for use and reuse), peer review, embargoes, impact factors, data deposits, preservation, institutional repositories, access costs and much more.
Different stakeholder groups have worked on these and related issues for years but rarely together in a broad, large-scale collaborative and global way. There has been collaboration and agreement at the margins, but in terms of achieving broad or rapid movement stakeholders have been generally been working to advance solutions that meet their particular needs, and these solutions are neither all-encompassing nor collaborative across widely differing viewpoints, groups, regions and disciplines. And the end result, some would argue, has been less than optimal progress toward open, too many solutions that don’t necessarily mesh well and a lingering air of distrust and acrimony between some stakeholder groups who are tired of fighting over their differences, even though they all care deeply about the future of scholarly communication writ large.
To many experts and observers, then, it has become apparent that if solutions to scholarly communication-related issues are going to emerge that are widely embraced, effective and sustainable—particularly at the global level where different countries often have vastly different outlooks on these issues—stakeholders will need to engage directly, openly discuss their different ideas and perspectives, and figure out ways to knit together and build on work that has already been done and then fill in the gaps. Developing a broad, collaborative, global approach is seen as critical—now more than ever—to support the future of research (including evaluation and funding), and efforts to develop better global information access and equity. Arguably, even global economic development and public policy development will be affected by how the future of research publishing unfolds. For such an important issue and as in any multi-stakeholder environment—from environmental protection to medical research to international policy—mechanisms need to exist where representatives of different stakeholder groups can speak directly to one another so they can collaborate and coordinate on developing systems and policies that govern shared products, processes and resources. No single actor in a multi-stakeholder system like this can enact system-wide change unilaterally; a mechanism for collaborative action needs to exist but it doesn’t currently exist in scholarly communication on a broad scale.
So if we are going to fix this system, what should it look like? Who should decide and why? The Open Scholarship Initiative (OSI) was designed to tackle the issues in scholarly communication (beginning with scholarly publishing) by bringing together high-level representatives (importantly, people with decision making authority) from all the key stakeholder groups to share perspectives. The goal of OSI is to build a sustainable, robust framework for direct communication and cooperation among nations, universities, researchers, publishers, funding organizations, scholarly societies, libraries, policy makers, and other scholarly publishing stakeholders, in order to shape the future of scholarly communication, beginning with scholarly publishing and the issues that surround it, to support a climate for finding common understanding and workable solutions and to help this stakeholder community move toward these solutions together. OSI was developed by the National Science Communication Institute (nSCI) in early 2015 in partnership with and funded in large part by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and George Mason University, which also hosted the first annual OSI summit of global leaders earlier this year (in late April).
The first meeting of OSI delegates—dubbed OSI2016—was designed to address some very broad and foundational questions that underpin this effort. What do we mean by publishing for instance? Who should decide what is and isn’t open? What is the moral-ethical case for open? By airing these different ideas and perspectives in a diverse environment filled with high-level decision makers, meeting delegates worked to find common ground on where to begin moving forward together. OSI2016 brought together 190 delegates from 12 countries, 15 stakeholder groups and 182 institutions to answer these questions—including high-level representatives from 50 major research universities, 35 scholarly publishers, 24 government policy organizations, 23 scholarly libraries and groups, 23 non-university research institutions, 17 open knowledge groups, eight faculty and education groups and more. Future meetings will be at least the same size or larger, and will include even more international representation.
OSI2016 was the first of ten planned annual meetings. Between meetings, other elements of OSI will continue to develop, including studies, pilot projects, partnership agreements and so on. Annual meetings will underpin this effort and will give delegates an important opportunity to meet and interact but the bulk of the substantive work of the broader OSI effort will continue year-round.