Europe is making a brave move to change scholarly communication and is galvanising the open access publishing debates again.  Plan S is the latest initiative to push forward open access publishing by requiring that all *funded* research is published open access immediately on publication in open access journals or in repositories, with an open licence allowing reuse.  We have seen and commented on an initial version of the plan and the latest version has been released today.

As stated in the accompanying press release, this modified guidance is the result of the largest consultation on Open Access ever undertaken and had received over 600 responses.  The BSA and the Academy of Social Sciences were among those who responded to the initial consultation earlier this year.

Plan S – The Principles

The 10 Principles and Implementation include an ambitious timescale and prioritise immediate open access publishing to accelerate a transition of the scholarly communication system begun many years ago.

“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.”

In addition:

  1. Authors or their institutions retain copyright to their publications. All publications must be published under an open license, preferably the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY), in order to fulfil the requirements defined by the Berlin Declaration1;
  2. The Funders will develop robust criteria and requirements for the services that high-quality Open Access journals, Open Access platforms, and Open Access repositories must provide;
  3. In cases where high-quality Open Access journals or platforms do not yet exist, the Funders will, in a coordinated way, provide incentives to establish and support them when appropriate; support will also be provided for Open Access infrastructures where necessary;
  4. Where applicable, Open Access publication fees are covered by the Funders or research institutions, not by individual researchers; it is acknowledged that all researchers should be able to publish their work Open Access;
  5. The Funders support the diversity of business models for Open Access journals and platforms. When Open Access publication fees are applied, they must be commensurate with the publication services delivered and the structure of such fees must be transparent to inform the market and funders potential standardisation and capping of payments of fees;
  6. The Funders encourage governments, universities, research organisations, libraries, academies, and learned societies to align their strategies, policies, and practices, notably to ensure transparency.
  7. The above principles shall apply to all types of scholarly publications, but it is understood that the timeline to achieve Open Access for monographs and book chapters will be longer and requires a separate and due process;
  8. The Funders do not support the ‘hybrid’ model of publishing. However, as a transitional pathway towards full Open Access within a clearly defined timeframe, and only as part of transformative arrangements, Funders may contribute to financially supporting such arrangements;
  9. The Funders will monitor compliance and sanction non-compliant beneficiaries/grantees;
  10. The Funders commit that when assessing research outputs during funding decisions they will value the intrinsic merit of the work and not consider the publication channel, its impact factor (or other journal metrics), or the publisher.

Many European and UK funding bodies, including UK Research and Innovation (UKRI – the funding councils), have signed up to Plan S and readers can view a full list here.  Depending on how and when each funding body chooses to implement Plan S, all those receiving grants from supporting bodies may have to meet the open access publishing criteria set forth in the final Plan S.  For UK scholars, funding may be defined very broadly – not just as receiving grant money – but also being employed at a UK university.  While the full details remain to be worked out (UKRI is in the process of conducting an Open Access Review), the BSA encourages all members to be aware of Plan S and how it may affect their publishing choices.

Plan S – The Unintended Consequences

Free and ready access to research for all is a laudable aim definitely, and one that the BSA supports in principle because we want sociological knowledge to be available to everyone.  Our charitable purpose is public education and the spread of sociological information.

However, we had and still have some concerns about the unintended consequences of this method of implementation.  The nature of this policy is that discussions and solutions now seem focussed around being compliant and what results may not be the best way to achieve open research.  Among many who responded to cOAlition S, we called on policy makers, funders and publishers to consider the following:

  • New publishing models that do not create inequalities of access to publishing, i.e. ensuring that early career researchers, those at non-research intensive universities, international scholars, practitioners and others who would be considered ‘not funded’ have the ability to publish.
  • A publishing model that protects and preserves the quality of published research without the influence of financial pressures.
  • Licences and publishing agreements that allow researchers to make their work available with clear and appropriate reuse permissions and restrictions where necessary.
  • Consideration for academic and disciplinary views and differences – i.e. the ways in which this transition might be different for sociology and the social sciences.
  • A sustainable transition to new publishing business models so that the BSA and other learned societies continue to exist as neutral bodies undertaking activities on behalf of the discipline and for public education.

A fuller version of the BSA response to the initial guidance is on our website.

The BSA also contributed to the AcSS response to the initial guidance and you can read both the AcSS contribution and those from its member organisations.

Plan S – An Altered Approach?

This latest guidance responds to some of the concerns raised but does not offer a drastically different approach to implementation:

  • Both versions of the guidance acknowledge that all researchers should be able to publish open access regardless of access to funds. However, no practical methods are offered to allay concerns.
  • There is a clearer place for hybrid journals and repositories (Green OA) in the open access vision of Plan S and publication in hybrid journals may be compliant under certain criteria.
  • Some limited options have been allowed with regards to licencing; funders are able to agree certain exceptions to the CC BY licence, though a clear preference is stated for CC BY.
  • The timescales have been lengthened from 1 January 2020 to 1 January 2021 and gives each funding body some flexibility with the exact timing of implementation, which allows for some time to adjust business models.  This flexibility may also allow funders who support largely social sciences, arts and humanities research to consider approaches suitable to their communities.

Things you can do:

  • Look for your funding body on the Plan S list of supporters here
  • Let us know your views on open access publishing. Email Alison Danforth, Publications Manager
  • Speak to your librarians to ask about their views on Plan S.
  • Speak to Pro VCs and/or Heads of Department about how your university has been responded to Plan S.
  • Find out if your university is participating in the UKRI Open Access Review and if there is a method for sociologists to contribute.

Alison Danforth is Publications Manager at the British Sociological Association.