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Berlin 10 Open Access Conference Recap
Posted On November 15, 2012
As open access (OA) and other “open” movements become more of a part of the mainstream consciousness, conversations surrounding OA continue to evolve—moving from whether OA is a good approach to far more provocative questions such as, how do we move past the legacies of the print publication world and what is a journal in today’s environment? These questions and many others were raised at this year’s Berlin Open Access Conference, held in Stellenbosch, South Africa from Nov. 6-8, 2012. This year’s conference marks the first time the meeting was held in Africa, making it possible for strong turnout from throughout the continent—two-thirds of African countries were represented. The 270 delegates were from all over the world and represented a range of stakeholders—policymakers, researchers, research funders, publishers, higher education administrators, and librarians. Throughout presentations and discussions, participants were encouraged to think globally and take bold collective actions to advance the open agenda.

During opening remarks, professor Russel Botman, rector and vice-chancellor of Stellenbosch University, noted his support for Open Access through its connection to African development. He explained, “If we want to accelerate the development of Africa, we must embrace Open Access.” Furthermore, “if knowledge is the currency of our time, then Open Access is a redistribution mechanism.”

In her keynote speech, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science from the European Commission, continued to focus on the global importance of OA to facilitate knowledge production and knowledge consumption. She noted rather succinctly, “Open Access spurs innovation, generates jobs, and creates wealth.” She noted that, “knowledge is increasingly being produced, not just in the established industrialized economies, but worldwide. And we need to share this knowledge, especially when we are faced with global challenges, such as climate change, clean energy or food and water security, which are so complex that no one country or company can provide the answers. Luckily, thanks to the internet, scientists around the world are developing new habits of communication and collaboration. This offers tremendous opportunities that must be harnessed. We need to work together to achieve this.”

The European Commission has been at the forefront of supporting Open Access in large part to provide public access to publicly-funded research outputs. She explained that, “the public expects much greater engagement with science. In this context, it is increasingly difficult to ask taxpayers in any country to put their money towards research, if they are barred from accessing its results. That is one of the reasons why open access is so important.” Likewise, “Open Access is also a means of maximizing the economic value and impact of publicly funded research. In these difficult times, this is something that policy makers around the world are obviously very concerned about. We can only justify spending public money if we can get the most out of it.”

The European Commission (EC) continues to advance OA at a high level. As part of the new Horizon 2020 framework, the EC launched a pilot project to provide support for OA to research data.

Geoghegan-Quinn closed her remarks by noting, “Innovative solutions and clever strategies are contagious. That is why I am here with members of my staff to learn about and be inspired by other ideas and initiatives that come from beyond our frontiers, because good science and good innovation should have no boundaries. Breaking down the remaining boundaries is what open access is all about.” In conclusion, “Any differences or problems are about how we achieve open access—we are all agreed that open access is definitely the way forward.”

Lars Bjørnshauge, director of SPARC Europe, challenged attendees to push for real change. He used the language of Jimi Hendrix via Bob Dylan’s rendition of “All Along the Watchtower” to make his point: “[T]here’s too much confusion here.” While his musical reference added a lighthearted note to his presentation, his message was stern: The traditional system of scholarly communication simply does not work, and it is time for stakeholders to aim to radically change the system of scholarly communication. “It has become more and more obvious for more and more stakeholders that the still dominant system of scholarly communication and publishing based on subscription barriers and reuse restrictions does not work. It simply does not adequately serve research, higher education, societies, and the people.”

Bjørnshauge continued, “But how come we have such an inefficient system to communicate research? How come, despite all kinds of technological advances, we still have a system that is essentially the print age?” He challenged the group to “reclaim responsibility for research outputs and how these are managed, disseminated, curated, and measured.” His suggested course of action relies heavily on collaboration among research funders, governments, and universities to “come out of the deadlock of the big deals, thus freeing resources to facilitate a system transition.” But he encouraged stakeholders to “avoid repeating the mistakes that we are trying to repair: lack of transparency, catering for monopolies, and no competition.” He pushed the OA publishers in the room to “stop flashing your impact factors” and instead focus on new ways to consider value and impact such as altmetrics. Likewise, “[abandoning the journal impact factor] might mean that will have to abandon the concept of the journal, which is a print age concept as well. The good news is that this is beginning to happen.”

Issues surrounding metrics and measuring impact came up during several sessions. Professor Tom Cochrane, the deputy vice chancellor of Technology, Information and Learning Support from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia, talked about ramifications of OA for quality and impact assessment within a university. In short, he noted that OA to the university’s research output as collected and disseminated via its repository has given the university “much richer data for quality and impact assessment.” In the 9 years since its OA policy was introduced, there has been an “unmistakable systematic effort on bibliometrics through citation counts.” In addition, they can now “trace an article in sources beyond the ‘cited literature’ boundary”—through new collaborations, linkages in network-based tools such as Wikipedia, and citations outside the literature.

Dr. Tom Olijhoek (SURF Foundation, The Netherlands) and Dr. Cameron Neylon (PLoS, U.K.) both added to the discussion about impact and alternate types of metrics. Olijhoek’s presentation, titled “Why the Thomson-Reuters Impact Factor has to be replaced” suggested that there is nothing wrong with using citations as a quality criteria for articles and authors. However, using average citations for the average article as a quality indicator for a journal is where things go wrong. “You cannot draw conclusions on individual article qualities based on the average quality of all articles in a journal.” He continued, “Fortunately, Open Access enables the development of new ways to assess quality. We can look at citations plus usage (downloads and views), plus peer review (expert opinion), plus altmetrics (storage, links, bookmarks, conversations, reviews, opinions).”

Neylon focused on article-level metrics (ALMs), another type of altmetrics. He emphasized that “[W]e want to see scholarship used—in all the right settings, and at the right time.” Citations in scientific literature are one particular type of re-use, but not the only one. Neylon demonstrated that policy articles, for example, are highly viewed but not well cited, but those are the articles that have the broadest reach. He noted, “It’s not about where you publish, but who you reach.” So he too indicated that it is time to change measure of impact to reflect reach and use, not simply citations.

Several other presentations focused on Open Access within the African context and OA to support society in general. Dr. Williams Nwagwu, lecturer at the Africa Regional Centre for Information Science in Nigeria, emphasized that Africans are here to contribute to the growing body of OA literature. “We need information exchange, not just information transfer. We need Africans to be participants and contributors [uploaders], not just OA downloaders.”

Michelle Willmers, program manager of the Scholarly Communication in Africa Programme, shared her perspective on scholarly communication in Africa. She noted that there are less than 300 universities in Africa serving more than 900 million people in 54 countries. She shared an illustration of a growing “mountain” of scholarly exchange in teaching and research, yet only the tip of this mountain is included in traditional OA repositories and programs. She emphasized that scholarly communication occurs across all of these layers and in various types of artifacts—email, conference proceedings, teaching materials (slides, images, video), grey literature, animations, simulations, and so on. Instead of simply focusing on formal research outputs, the University of Cape Town has been taking a more inclusive approach and is working on openness through a single lens rather than through silos of OA vs. Open Education. Likewise, in many cases, the boundaries between research and teaching have been blurred—and associated materials could be re-used by others for a variety of purposes. So the University of Cape Town is focusing on the entire “mountain of content” when they talk about openness.

Carlos Rossel, publisher for the World Bank, discussed why OA is right for the World Bank. He noted that he went into OA with reluctance: “Our business was sustainable, we were reaching audiences in the North and South, so if the system wasn’t broken, why fix it?” But he quickly became an advocate for the World Bank to shift to an OA model of publishing since it was clearly linked to their organizational mission to eliminate global poverty. “Publishing doesn’t lead directly to gains against poverty, but anything we can do to remove impediments can help achieve this.” The organization as a whole has embraced openness in connection with transparency and accountability. He noted that for the World Bank, OA is “mission driven; it makes us open, transparent, and accountable. It’s results driven. And it works.” Furthermore, he encouraged other organizations to consider similar moves: “Open Access is right for the World Bank. If you are a mission-driven organization, Open Access should be right for you too.”

Heather Joseph, executive director of SPARC, closed the meeting with a few final thoughts. She distilled discussions into a few key themes: “networks, participation and collaboration, and inclusion.” She encouraged participants to collectively “pick your favorite boundary and push it” and reiterated that, “[W]e need to get serious about alternatives to a single measure of impact.” The academic world is slow to change, but “article level metrics are a key lever to encourage change in academic behavior and practice.” In general, OA has made great progress, but “we need to be bolder about taking action.”

These notes only cover a small fragment of the presentations and discussions held at Berlin 10. Slides from many presentations are available on the Berlin 10 website. Further discussions are available on Twitter using the #Berlin10SA hashtag.

Abby Clobridge is the founder of and principal consultant at FireOak Strategies (formerly Clobridge Consulting), a boutique firm specializing in knowledge management, information management, and open knowledge (open access, open data, open education). Abby has worked with a wide range of organizations throughout the world, including various United Nations agencies; private sector companies; colleges and research universities; nonprofit, intergovernmental, and multi-stakeholder organizations; and the news media. She can be found on Twitter (@aclobridge).

Email Abby Clobridge

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Comments Add A Comment
Posted By John Schumacher1/8/2013 3:54:12 PM

Thanks for the report.

This "the language of Jimi Hendrix via Bob Dylan’s rendition of “All Along the Watchtower” "
should be
the language of Bob Dylan via Jimi Hendrix's rendition of “All Along the Watchtower”
the language of Bob Dylan via "All Along the Watchtower”
Thanks for the correction, John. You are correct.

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