Blog post - OA Switchboard’s self-assessment of the Principles of Open Scholarly Infrastructure (POSI)

7 October 2021 by Yvonne Campfens, Executive Director OA Switchboard

OA Switchboard is a mission-driven, practical solution that thrives on collaboration. We referred to the Principles of Open Scholarly Infrastructure (POSI) throughout 2020 while we were designing a sustainable governance and funding set-up for OA Switchboard, not just because of the guidance POSI gives on areas to address, but because POSI is also a leading example of garnering the trust of the broader scholarly community. During this time we also talked with numerous stakeholders, expert legal advisors in various countries, and founders and leaders of other industry initiatives to define our own core principles.

This post is a reflection on how we are honouring POSI since we moved to the operational stage as Stichting OA Switchboard from 1 January 2021, an independent legal entity founded by OASPA in October 2020.

Trust of the community for OA Switchboard
Before presenting our POSI self-assessment, some words on why trust of the community is so important for OA Switchboard and how that meant we had to embed certain principles in our deed of incorporation and legal structure from the outset. Our objects are both practical (streamlining communication) and mission-driven (striving for the research ecosystem to work better for everyone, such that Open Access is supported as the predominant model of publication). 

As an intermediary, connecting parties and systems and streamlining the neutral exchange of OA related publication-level information, we are committed to equally serve our three primary stakeholder groups (research funders, institutions and publishers). Parties need to trust us to be independent in doing that. Furthermore, the data being exchanged via the ‘hub’ between primary stakeholders may be sensitive or confidential (e.g. pre-publication metadata, personal data, financial information), and parties need to trust us with that.

Being ‘not-for-profit’ then isn’t enough, nor are empty words and promises. We needed guaranteed collectively controlled funder-institution-publisher collaboration and ultimate protection of our assets. We had to ensure economic interest and control are separated. In other words, that OA Switchboard can never be taken over by any (commercial) entity. That’s why we didn’t go for a ‘community owned’ set-up (where there are still ‘shares’ and shareholders), but for a model without owners at all. The chosen legal structure, a ‘stichting’ (foundation) under Dutch law, protects us and the community by design and law.

We also needed to promote collaboration and sharing, and to ensure that all parties can validate that there are neutral and accurate assessment algorithms. That’s why we chose open source software, providing a guarantee that the OA Switchboard can be validated as the neutral host and facilitator it aspires to be, without vendor lock-in and with a guaranteed exit scenario.

Last but not least, we needed to be fully transparent and explicit about our position with respect to the data being exchanged via the OA Switchboard. There are understandable concerns about patron privacy, data protection laws, and data being commercially exploited. That’s why we’ve taken both technical and legal (contract) measures.

So, how does that meet POSI?
The sixteen POSI principles are divided into three sections: Governance, Sustainability, and Insurance. We’ve arranged our self-assessment in the same way. For each principle, we begin with a short description (in italics), taken from the original POSI paper. As done in the blog posts of Crossref and OurResearch we’re using colours to indicate how we’re doing for each POSI principle. OA Switchboard self-assessment against each item starts with ‘OAS:’ followed by how and what we’re doing.

If we have marked something as green, we think we’re doing a good job of it. It doesn’t mean we think we’re doing a perfect job and we’re committed to continual improvement. An amber marker means we think we’re making progress, but still have a way to go. We’ll be continuing to work on it. Some principles were hard to score ourselves on, given the specific nature of OA Switchboard. For now, we’ve marked these grey. At the end we reflect on some specific considerations and choices made to ensure OA Switchboard’s sustainability that may be relevant for other open scholarly infrastructure initiatives and ongoing conversations on the POSI framework itself.

OA Switchboard welcomes feedback on our POSI self-assessment and looks forward to contributing to POSI.

Thank you
We thank Geoffrey Bilder, Jennifer Lin, and Cameron Neylon for authoring the principles, and also thank Crossref, Dryad, ROR, JOSS and OurResearch for their POSI commitments, which inspired us to start with this self-assessment.

(blog continues under Summary)

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Our detailed self-assessment is here.

Closing remarks

We didn’t mark ourselves as green on a number of POSI principles so there is some work to do, and for two of the principles there are some OA Switchboard specific points to consider that may be relevant for other open scholarly infrastructure initiatives and ongoing conversations on the POSI framework itself.

Our own principle #3 on a self-sustaining, not-for-profit, business model has been worked out in quite some detail. There is solid overlap with the POSI/Sustainability principle, but we feel strongly about an additional item: recurring revenue. To ensure continuity into the future as best as possible, it is important to know how you’re planning and realistically expecting to cover your cost in future years. That’s why OA Switchboard provides ongoing paid-for services to those who see the benefit and choose to make use of it. We have a transparent pricing model (annual service fees) for value delivered to the participants. We charge these annual fees for development and maintenance of the infrastructure, and for participants to exchange information and communicate.

Although we assessed ourselves as amber on the POSI/Insurance (Open source) principle, and we said that in general an amber marker means we’ll be continuing to work on it, we have to be realistic and see things in perspective. The OA Switchboard is not only a mission-driven initiative, it also provides a tool (the central information exchange hub) that stakeholders operationalise in their workflows and systems. We are running it as an industry-collaborative not for profit initiative, which means financial resources are limited. Nevertheless, the demands and requirements on data privacy and security are significant - and for good reason. Deciding to go for self-developed open source for core business logic, combined with connecting (via self-developed open source connectors) and running AWS microservices in an AWS Virtual Private Cloud was our conscious decision for sustainability.

This POSI self-assessment has been a very useful exercise for us to reflect on the development of our principles now that the OA Switchboard is operational, and reviewing this will be an ongoing process as we move forward.

Yvonne Campfens, Executive Director