European Commission expert group report on the future of scientific publications

This report, drafted by the expert group on the future of scholarly publishing and scholarly communication to the European Commission and published on 30 January 2019 proposes a vision for the future of scholarly communication; it examines the current system -with its strengths and weaknesses- and its main actors. It considers the roles of researchers, research institutions, funders and policymakers, publishers and other service providers, as well as citizens and puts forward recommendations addressed to each of them. The report places researchers and their needs at the centre of the scholarly communication of the future, and considers knowledge and understanding created by researchers as public goods. Current developments, enabled primarily by technology, have resulted into a broadening of types of actors involved in scholarly communication and in some cases the disaggregation of the traditional roles in the system. The report views research evaluation as a keystone for scholarly communication, affecting all actors. Researchers, communities and all organisations, in particular funders, have the possibility of improving the current scholarly communication and publishing system: they should start by bringing changes to the research evaluation system. Collaboration between actors is essential for positive change and to enable innovation in the scholarly communication and publishing system in the future.


Report's view on the current state of scholarly communication ecosystem

"In its present state, the scholarly communication system displays a number of shortcomings that need to be addressed. On the open side, open access is far from its objective of reaching 100% of publications, and even when open, usage is regularly limited because the access licenses to content are either unclear or missing. On the technical side, the traditional article, often in PDF format still predominates and the interoperability of platforms remains limited by the competition-driven constraints of commercial publishing. Structural inequalities (money, resources, prestige) are also intensified by competition organized around rankings and the impact factor despite many studies showing how such a metric is both simplistic, and may even distort the research process. The building of research communities is hindered by various forms of delays (peer review, embargoes). The process of certification (peer review), while essential to scholarly communication, is increasingly criticized for biases, opacity, etc. Commercial firms also tend to treat new technologies as elements of competition, thus favouring fragmentation and tactics such as lock-in. Finally the journal market, which, in itself, is not completely aligned with the research forum of theories, concepts and facts, also lacks transparency when considered from the perspectives of production costs and price setting."


Key recommendations from the report

Researchers and research communities should:

  1. When participating in research assessment, for example in hiring, promotion and tenure, and funding decisions, focus on the merits and impact of a researcher's work and refrain from the use of metrics - particularly journal-based metrics - as a proxy. In particular, they should incorporate the recommendations from DORA and the Leiden Manifesto into the assessment process.
  2. Take responsibility for ensuring that all research contributions are made openly available, discoverable, and reusable according to agreed community standards (including the FAIR principles).
  3. Increase awareness of, and sense of responsibility for, implications of choices and actions in roles as authors, reviewers and members of decision-making groups.
  4. Strive for a balanced and diverse representation (in terms of gender, geography and career stage) when seeking collaborations, organizing conferences, convening committees, and assigning editors and peer-reviewers, and building communities such as learned societies.
  5. Work towards increased recognition and appreciation of peer-review work as core research tasks. To this end, support greater transparency, including the publishing of signed reports. Support better training and inclusion, and focus on quality of the research in peer review.
  6. In the case of communities of researchers, such as learned societies, develop policies and practices that support modes of scholarly communication in line with the vision outlined above. Along with universities, learned societies and other research communities need to alert and train their researchers to the importance and the responsibilities of communicating knowledge, either formally, through publishing, or through other means.

Universities and research institutions should:

  1. Develop policies and practices to ensure that all research contributions are made openly available, discoverable, and reusable according to agreed community standards (including the FAIR principles).
  2. Promote and implement the recommendations of DORA and the Leiden manifesto to ensure that research assessment takes into account a wide range of scholarly contributions including research articles, preprints, datasets, software, patents and materials (e.g. in hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions).
  3. In deciding which infrastructures to use, support, and contribute to, choose platforms using free or open source software, offering open data via an open license, and leveraging open standards where possible. Acting in this fashion will also reinforce researcher-led initiatives that aim to facilitate scholarly communication and publishing.
  4. Strive for a balanced and diverse representation including, but not limited to, gender, geography and career stage) when hiring, seeking collaborations, when organizing conferences, when convening committees, and when assigning editors and peer-reviewers, and building communities such as learned societies.
  5. In negotiations with service-providers refuse non-disclosure clauses and include clauses which enable cost and price control, and compliance monitoring. Strive to facilitate collective action with other institutions by e.g. sharing cost and price data through joint initiatives (e.g. OpenAPC).

Research funders and policy-makers should:

  1. Develop policies - along with appropriate funding mechanisms - to ensure all research contributions arising from their funding are available to everyone, everywhere, without any barriers to access or restrictions on reuse.
  2. When evaluating researchers, ensure that a wide range of contributions (scholarly publications, but also data, software, materials etc) and activities (mentoring, teaching, reviewing etc) are considered, and that processes and criteria of evaluation are both appropriate to the funder’s research programme, and transparent.
  3. Develop funding mechanisms to support the development of open, interconnected and distributed scholarly publication infrastructures, and for their maintenance over the long term.
  4. Consider how funding policies affect diversity and inclusivity of research on a global scale. In particular, funders should work to ensure that review boards, committees, panels, etc., are diverse - in terms of gender, geography, and career stage.
  5. Work with the other actors in the scholarly communications ecosystem to ensure that the total costs of enabling research to be openly available to everyone, everywhere, without barrier or restriction, be also open and transparent.

Publishers and other service providers should:

  1. Develop and publicly announce transition plans to move as soon as possible to comprehensive open access.
  2. Develop, use, and support interoperable tools (including open source software wherever possible) and services not only to facilitate access and reuse of scholarly outputs, but also to facilitate innovative interventions of new entrants.
  3. Strive for balanced diversity (including, but not limited to, gender, geography and career stage) among authors, reviewers, and editors who work with publications.
  4. Foster transparency and accountability in peer review, for example by publishing peer review reports and author responses alongside the published articles.
  5. Make all publishing charges public (including special pricing and waivers), and provide full descriptions of services provided, in order to enable the development of a transparent and cost-effective marketplace designed to support the open communication and reuse of all scholarly contributions. 6. Experiment with new approaches to the evaluation and communication of research outputs, and share the outcomes so that a body of evidence can help to optimise future systems.

Practitioners, educators, and other societal groups should:

  1. Organize and advocate for free access to, and right to reuse of, publicly funded research results.
  2. Reach out to funders, research institutions, and policy makers in order to develop new communication channels, new forms of co-creation and co-planning of research, and new forms of funding in response to needs, concerns and issues emanating from the population at large.
  3. Look for opportunities to engage with research topics / results that are of interest to societal groups and their communities.
  4. Bring forward research topics/questions that are mis- or underrepresented (e.g. by contacting relevant researchers, attracting the attention of other actors in the science system, or mobilising action in organised interest groups).


Source and full report: European Commission