OA Switchboard’s self-assessment of the Principles of Open Scholarly Infrastructure (POSI)
7 October 2021 (full 7 October 2021 blog post here)
Coverage across the research enterprise
It is increasingly clear that research transcends disciplines, geography, institutions and stakeholders. The infrastructure that supports it needs to do the same.
OAS: We support all OA business models, policies, and types of scholarly output (OAS principle #4). In our deed of incorporation our object description includes: “...striving for the research ecosystem to work better for researchers, funders, institutions and publishers, and their business partners...”
In our principle #6 we state that we serve three primary stakeholders, and that as an intermediary, we observe the funder/institution/publisher researcher (author) proposition and interaction.
A board-governed organisation drawn from the stakeholder community builds more confidence that the organisation will take decisions driven by community consensus and consideration of different interests.
OAS: The OA Switchboard initiative is a collaboration between funders, institutions and publishers. The directors of the Board are responsible for the governance and the management of the foundation (Stichting OA Switchboard). From our articles of association: “...The board shall consist of at least 3 (three) and at most 9 (nine) directors, always observing equal representation of each of the stakeholder groups: one third each for funders, institutions and publishers...”
Our principle #5 (industry-wide representation and collaboration in developing open source solutions and services) is incorporated in our articles: “...community representation, involvement and input in product/service development is ensured and formalised via: an Advisory Group, which holds regular meetings as part of the framework of the organisation, Task/Working Groups, information on the website regarding the development roadmap, regular reporting (via newsletters or blogs or otherwise), and relevant ‘Codes’...” We’re delivering on all this, but aim to further build representation and involvement of researchers.
We see the best option as an “opt-in” approach with a principle of non-discrimination where any stakeholder group may express an interest and should be welcome. The process of representation in day to day governance must also be inclusive with governance that reflects the demographics of the membership.
OAS: We are not a membership organisation (there are no 'members' in our stichting). Everybody who meets the criteria can join (provided they preserve the integrity of scholarship). Funders, institutions and publishers with a signed Service Agreement can get an account in OA Switchboard and send, receive and respond to ‘messages’. Everybody can participate in the Advisory Group and Task/Working Groups, provided they adhere to our ‘Codes’.
Achieving trust in the selection of representatives to governance groups will be best achieved through transparent processes and operations in general (within the constraints of privacy laws).
OAS: The duties of directors of a Dutch foundation (stichting) are imposed by Dutch Corporate law and Dutch Insolvency Law. According to the DCC (Dutch Civil Code, Book 2) a Dutch foundation is a legal entity that has no members. Its purpose is to realise the objects stated in its articles of association using the assets allocated for such purpose. Under Dutch law the directors are responsible for the governance and the management of the foundation. This includes realising the objects but also laying down foundation strategies (financial and business, if any), foundation policies, the execution thereof, etc. This is a collective duty of the board of directors. A director must always act in the best interests of the foundation, its organisation and its stakeholders (such as personnel and creditors). Directors shall be appointed by the board whose resolution for that purpose shall be unanimous.
For other organisation bodies and applicable ‘Generic Code’, see: https://www.oaswitchboard.org/governance
The community, not infrastructure organisations, should collectively drive regulatory change. An infrastructure organisation’s role is to provide a base for others to work on and should depend on its community to support the creation of a legislative environment that affects it.
OAS: We are neutral and independent (principle #1) and support all OA business models, policies, and types of scholarly output (principle #4).
A powerful way to create trust is to publicly describe a plan addressing the condition under which an organisation would be wound down, how this would happen, and how any ongoing assets could be archived and preserved when passed to a successor organisation. Any such organisation would need to honour this same set of principles.
OAS: Dissolution and liquidation is covered in our articles of association: “...In case of liquidation, the assets can only be distributed to another not for profit entity without owners, who have a similar dissolution and liquidation clause...”
Formal incentives to fulfil mission & wind-down
Infrastructures exist for a specific purpose and that purpose can be radically simplified or even rendered unnecessary by technological or social change. If it is possible the organisation (and staff) should have direct incentives to deliver on the mission and wind down.
OAS: The purpose of a stichting is to realise the objects stated in its articles of association using the assets allocated for such purpose. Under Dutch law the directors are responsible for the governance and the management of the foundation. This includes realising the objects. The board may resolve to dissolve the foundation.
Time-limited funds are used only for time-limited activities
Day to day operations should be supported by day to day sustainable revenue sources. Grant dependency for funding operations makes them fragile and more easily distracted from building core infrastructure.
OAS: Our principle #3 is to have a self-sustaining, not-for-profit, business model to cover our operational and development cost. This is defined as:
We develop and provide paid-for services to those who see the benefit and choose to make use of it.
We have a transparent pricing model (service fees) for value delivered to the participants.
If we succeed in our proposition and solution, the economics are sound and the service can fund itself at acceptable pricing levels for the participants.
Financial/operational surplus will be used to build a healthy buffer, to invest in service extension/improvement and to lower the price (service fees).
Initial investment/funding (e.g. long-term low-interest loans) can be recuperated via a normal course of business.
We provide full transparency in cost.
During our launch phase (2021-2022) we aim to pro-actively shape the market, build a solid basis with founding partners (for capital and expertise) and launching participants (proving the product-market fit). As of 2023 and beyond, we aim to run as a self-sustaining not-for-profit business, whereby we run a full operational service, with a growing participant base who fully operationalise the OA Switchboard in their systems/workflows, able to scale, and with all costs covered by a transparent pricing/business model.
Goal to generate surplus
Organisations which define sustainability based merely on recovering costs are brittle and stagnant. It is not enough to merely survive, it has to be able to adapt and change. To weather economic, social and technological volatility, they need financial resources beyond immediate operating costs.
OAS: See our principle #3 (described in detail above under ‘Time-limited funds are used only for time-limited activities’).
Goal to create contingency fund to support operations for 12 months
A high priority should be generating a contingency fund that can support a complete, orderly wind down (12 months in most cases). This fund should be separate from those allocated to covering operating risk and investment in development.
OAS: See our principle #3 (described in detail above under ‘Time-limited funds are used only for time-limited activities’).
Mission-consistent revenue generation
Potential revenue sources should be considered for consistency with the organisational mission and not run counter to the aims of the organisation. For instance…
OAS: By law and design, Stichting OA Switchboard is a mission-driven organisation, and by our principle #3 we operate a self-sustaining, not-for-profit, business model. We charge fees for development and maintenance of the infrastructure, and for participants to exchange information and communicate.
Revenue based on services, not data
Data related to the running of the research enterprise should be a community property. Appropriate revenue sources might include value-added services, consulting, API Service Level Agreements or membership fees.
OAS: Stichting OA Switchboard signs a Service Agreement with each participant. In this agreement OA Switchboard declares that it does not have and does not claim to have any ownership of or legal interest in the data, that OA Switchboard shall not use data for any other purpose than delivering the services, and that we won’t create a database or derivative products. The fees charged are for development and maintenance of the infrastructure, and for participants to exchange information and communicate.
All software required to run the infrastructure should be available under an open source license. This does not include other software that may be involved with running the organisation.
OAS: (see Q11 of our FAQ on https://www.oaswitchboard.org/faq). The following software is developed for us by our tech partner, and delivered to us under and Open Source license (MIT):
Core (message hub & data store): Open source code, fully transparent. The (public) repository and documentation can be found here: https://bitbucket.org/oaswitchboard/api/
Web application (with User Interface): developed and released as part of the Open Source Pubsweet framework. Possibility to contribute via community owned/shared/joint development
The following parts are developed for us by our tech partner, and delivered to us under an Open Source license (MIT). Contributions made available to the community for use and further development:
Connectors: Open source code and (where possible) part of an Open Source project like OJS (plugin), etc. The possibility to contribute via community owned/shared/joint development. Connectors are here: https://bitbucket.org/oaswitchboard/api/src/master/connectors
Message structure standard: an explanation of the data fields in the message structure can be found here: https://bitbucket.org/oaswitchboard/api/src/master/messages
All source code produced by our tech partner for us, is delivered to Stichting OA Switchboard under an Open Source license. To run it, there is a dependency on AWS Platform-as-a-Service:
Platform-as-a-Service offered by AWS (Amazon Web Services) is not open source (e.g. API gateway, VPC, server environments, Lambda serverless runtime, messaging services including SQS/SNS/SES)
Database-as-a-Service offered by AWS is open source, PostgreSQL enabled as a managed database service
Open data (within constraints of privacy laws)
For an infrastructure to be forked it will be necessary to replicate all relevant data. The CC0 waiver is best practice in making data legally available. Privacy and data protection laws will limit the extent to which this is possible.
OAS: Due to the specific nature of OA Switchboard (‘message hub’) this principle is challenging to assess us against. All participants, through the OA Switchboard Service Agreement declare: “...in consideration of receiving data from other participants, participant shall respect all applicable agreements between parties relevant to the data, including but not limited to arrangements regarding confidential information and commercial terms, and participant shall comply with Applicable Data Protection Laws...”. . In the Service Agreement OA Switchboard declares that it does not have and does not claim to have any ownership of or legal interest in the data, that OA Switchboard shall not use data for any other purpose than delivering the services, and that we won’t create a database or derivative products.
Available data (within constraints of privacy laws)
It is not enough that the data be made “open” if there is not a practical way to actually obtain it. Underlying data should be made easily available via periodic data dumps.
OAS: See assessment above under ‘Open data’.
The organisation should commit to a patent non-assertion covenant. The organisation may obtain patents to protect its own operations, but not use them to prevent the community from replicating the infrastructure.
OAS: With our mission and principles, this is not something we would be doing.
(return to full blog post)