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Blog post - OA Switchboard

Central information exchange hub

A mission-driven practical solution, that thrives on collaboration

4 March 2021 by Yvonne Campfens, Executive Director OA Switchboard

Dealing with Open Access publications, where there are multiple authors, affiliated institutions, research funders, business models, policies, mandates, requirements and agreements involved, is complex and administratively burdensome. Funders, institutions and publishers are faced with a myriad of systems, portals and processes when dealing with Open Access publication-level arrangements. This hampers the transition to Open Access, the realisation of policies and agreements, and progress in developing new business models. From a researcher perspective, this landscape is at best confusing and at worst impenetrable. (see visual 1)

These challenges are in no way unique to the open access publishing landscape and are in fact relatively common in marketplaces that have an increasingly complex web of interactions between buyers and sellers (see OA Switchboard introductory blog, 2019). The introduction of a central intermediary is often the easiest way to reduce complexity on all sides, but a payment component doesn’t come without challenges and risks. If one leaves out the payment component, there is still complexity around information and data exchange in our ecosystem. Other industries have already tackled similar problems successfully a long time ago. (Think of SWIFT, the global financial messaging service:  they have developed a common language across banks worldwide, serving their community for over 40 years now). The inspiration for the OA Switchboard has come also from examples of community-governed scholarly infrastructure (such as Crossref), which have successfully brought together a large and diverse community of stakeholders to address complex challenges.

In essence, the OA Switchboard is an independent intermediary, connecting parties and systems, streamlining communication and the neutral exchange of OA related publication-level information, and ensuring a financial settlement can be done. It is a tool to exchange structured (standardised) information about scholarly publications, without serving as an intermediary for any payments that may be associated with these publications. It enables stakeholders to send and receive a defined set of messages relating to the publication of open access research outputs, get them validated and routed to the correct recipient in the way they want to receive them. (see visual 2)

The technology is open source and API-based, supports many use cases, and can be called on when needed, or integrated in stakeholders’ own systems and workflows to achieve automation and scalability. (A user interface is available for funders, institutions and publishers whose interaction volume with the OA Switchboard is low, or who are not (yet) ready to connect via API). The OA Switchboard serves as an independent integrator for all parties in the ecosystem: funders, institutions, publishers and their solution providers. (see visual 3)

The OA Switchboard provides direct, indirect and community benefits: simplicity and transparency, collaboration and interoperability, efficiency and cost-effectiveness for all three primary stakeholder groups. (see visual 4)

After an initial meeting of key stakeholders in 2018 and subsequent feedback following presentations on the OA Switchboard concept, work was done to further explore the feasibility of this idea and gauge the level of interest in the community to participate. OASPA led a project through 2020 which prepared for the OA Switchboard to successfully go live as an operational solution in 2021. We are building everything in accordance with our core principles, and operating with a governance structure and funding model that ensure sustainability and preserve the goals of the OA Switchboard into the future. To this end, OASPA founded the OA Switchboard organisation as an independent, collectively governed entity in October 2020.

What does that mean and why is it important?

  1. As operational intermediary, we drive shared infrastructure and standardisation
    The objects of the OA Switchboard are both practical (streamlining communication) and mission-driven (striving for the research ecosystem to work better for researchers, funders, institutions and publishers, and their business partners). Therefore, we aim to complement what is already out there, drive standardisation, interoperability and the use of existing identifiers (persistent identifiers, for example DOIs, ORCID iD’s and ROR) and connect all parties and systems in the ecosystem via shared infrastructure: funders, institutions, publishers and their solution providers. We enable structured data exchange via predefined ‘messages’, collaboratively defined and meeting (defacto) industry standards. (see visual 5)

    This is important - an intermediary reduces complexity and administrative burden, while shared infrastructure and standards drive efficiency and cost reduction.

  2. We provide a practical solution to enable real-time, situational exchange of authoritative data
    We are a messaging system, not a database. For every message, we streamline communication and the neutral exchange of related publication-level information about a specific OA publication for the stakeholders who are party to the publication concerned.

    This is important as Open Access publication-level arrangements are situational - they depend on the exact composition (and order and roles) of authors and their affiliation(s) at a certain point in time in the publication workflow. Also, policies, mandates, requirements and agreements change regularly, so the way a certain OA publication is treated and regarded is not static. When it comes to information exchange about scholarly publications, timing matters.

  3. We have ensured that neutrality and independence of the organisation are preserved
    The legal entity under which the OA Switchboard operates is a ‘stichting’ (comparable to a foundation) where control and economic interest are separated. This means there are no members or shareholders, and the entity can’t be acquired by any (commercial) organisation. By nature and law, it is mission-driven and not-for-profit. Also, we will continue to explore collaboration with other mission-driven initiatives and entities, to keep overhead low and build on each other’s lessons learned and best practices.

    This is important because we are dealing with challenging and sensitive topics around data, and confidential information across different stakeholder groups. The OA Switchboard does not have, and does not claim to have, any ownership of or legal interest in the data and is only taking care of delivery. Data flowing through the OA Switchboard can’t be commercially exploited by any third party, and are only for the intent and purpose of the specific parties involved in the message exchange.

  4. We have built-in collective governance between funders-institutions-publishers
    We serve three stakeholder groups (funders, institutions and publishers), and aim to provide a balanced service between them and recover cost from all three equally. We operate a lightweight organisation, whereby the entity is ‘collectively controlled’ and the governance in the Board is split equally between funder, institutional and publisher representatives.

    This is important for an intermediary which is serving three stakeholder groups who may not always have aligned interests. We observe the researcher (author) proposition and interaction of funders, institutions and publishers. In light of this, in our articles of association we commit to providing means to integrate with own systems and author/researcher facing tools and services, and their third party service providers.

  5. We operate a self-sustaining, not-for-profit, business model and keep fees as low as possible
    The OA Switchboard operational and development costs are supported by a sustainable (self-supporting) business model. We develop and provide paid-for services to those who need them. We have a transparent pricing model (service fees) for value delivered to the customers. Financial surplus will be used to build a healthy buffer, to invest in technical development and service improvement, and to lower the price (service fees).

    This is important to ensure sustainability and continuity. We are not dependent on membership dues, donation and grants, but welcome financial contributions to advance our mission. As a not-for-profit charging fees for the services rendered, we will be able to lower the fees for participants in future years as more parties join.

  6. We aim to support all OA business models, policies, and types of scholarly output
    Our ambition and commitment is to support all OA business models, provided they preserve the integrity of scholarship (with or without individual publication fees, through agreements with publishers, through sponsorship models or other models), policies (funder-level mandates, national policies, etc) and types of scholarly output (journals, books, book chapters, proceedings papers, etc).

    This is important, because we aim for Open Access to be supported as the predominant model of publication - there is no single path and things continue to shape and develop.

  7. We do technology and service development collaboratively and open source
    We are committed to open source and open API’s.  By design, open source software licenses promote collaboration and sharing, and open source is also an essential mechanism for building transparency. Community representation, involvement and input in product/service development is ensured and formalised, and we are committed to providing means to integrate with stakeholders’ third party service providers (i.c. via open API’s).

    By developing this as open source we are removing the potential danger of vendor lock-in and adding protection for the future,  as well as removing license fees, hence being a cost-effective approach. The open API’s and industry-wide collaboration in product/service development are important as we serve as independent integrator for all parties in the ecosystem: funders, institutions, publishers and their solution providers.

Next steps

The confidence to take the steps in moving the OA Switchboard to an operational stage was inspired by the commitment and encouragement of many early adopters, launch customers and founding partners. As publishers: AboutScience, American Physiological Society, Berghahn Books, EDP Sciences, eLife, Hindawi, John Benjamins Publishing Company, JMIR Publications, Microbiology Society, PLOS, and The Royal Society; and as research institutions: BNL National Library of Luxembourg, California Digital Library, CERN, Iowa State, Jisc, Max Planck Digital Library, and VSNU/UKB. Continued funder support was committed by Austrian Science Fund (FWF), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dutch Research Council (NWO), FNR Luxembourg National Research Fund, UKRI and Wellcome Trust.

Participating publishers, research institutions and funders, sometimes accompanied by partners who provide specific systems or solutions for them, are now defining use cases between them. This takes time. There are practical implementation challenges to overcome and some topics, for instance around data and transparency, may be sensitive and need time to be dealt with.

In this current ‘launch phase’ we are working to achieve wide adoption and widespread usage, while allowing time for (technical) integration and implementation, and to further develop and improve the OA Switchboard. Our shared ambition is for the ecosystem to work better for everyone, and to learn, adjust and progress.

That means that we’re on a joint journey to support Open Access as the predominant model of publication. Through a collaborative approach we build and shape an industry-wide solution to streamline communication via a structured and standardised information exchange. That is important for improving efficiency and driving down cost, and for achieving a better service and experience for all stakeholders: funders, institutions, publishers and researchers.

Join us!

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