A Vision for Scholarly Communication Currently, there is a strong push to address the apparent deficits of the
scholarly communication system. Open Science has the potential to change the production and dissemination of scholarly knowledge
for the better, but there is no commonly shared vision that describes the system that we want to create.
Between April 2015 and June 2016, members of the Open Access Network Austria (OANA) working group “Open Access and Scholarly Communication” met in Vienna to discuss this matter. The main outcome of our considerations is a set of twelve principles that represent the cornerstones of the future scholarly communication system. They are designed to provide a coherent frame of reference for the debate on how to improve the current system. With this document, we are hoping to inspire a widespread discussion towards a shared vision for scholarly communication in the 21st century.
The twelve principles
Accessibility:Scholarly communication should be immediately and openly accessible by anyone. The production of knowledge serves mankind and increases prosperity. Free and open dissemination of knowledge within the scientific community and beyond facilitates exchange, collaboration and the application of research results. There should be no technical, financial or legal obstacles delaying or preventing the accessibility of research findings. All research results should be accessible to people that are diverse in physical, economic and other conditions. Access should be ensured in the long-term.
Discoverability:Scholarly communication should facilitate search, exploration and discovery. There have never been as many scholars as today, and never have they been as prolific as today due to new modes of communication and technology that is cheaper and more widely available. Researchers spend considerable time not only with communicating their own research, but also with staying up-to-date with the work of their colleagues. A system of scholarly communication should therefore organise scientific knowledge in such a way that it enables researchers and their stakeholders to efficiently and effectively identify research that is relevant to them. In addition, researchers should be able to find feedback on their own work and activities connected to it as easily as possible.
Reusability:Scholarly communication should enable everyone to effectively build on top of each other’s work. Following Newton’s phrase “Standing on the shoulders of giants”, modern scholarship is based on cooperation. Ideas are not created in a vacuum. Reuse of research processes, methods and results as well as abstraction and extension should therefore represent basic values of scholarly communication. The possibility to reuse data, materials and results enables researchers and communities to learn from each other and to speed up the production of new knowledge. Consequently, while appropriate attribution of authorship must be ensured, a maximum of reuse and processing should be permissible.
Reproducibility:Scholarly communication should provide reproducible research results. Reproducibility of research findings is one of the distinctive features of research and a gold standard in many disciplines. As a minimum requirement, the research process should be traceable, e.g. by providing access to raw data and documenting the research process as well as the (intermediate) results (discussions, research diaries, pre-publications etc.). This facilitates an understanding of the methodology and simplifies assessment. Opening up the methodology and production of results also helps to identify cases of unconscious wrongdoing, deception, and fraud. It should be possible to identify different stages of a research process and to understand its evolution.
Transparency:Scholarly communication should provide open and transparent means for judging the credibility of a research result. Virtually all new knowledge builds upon past findings, but in practice one cannot reproduce every research result to verify its credibility. A system of scholarly communication should therefore make it possible to judge the credibility of research results based on context information. This information may stem from the authors as well as from peer review or other forms of feedback. Context information should answer the five classic Ws: who, what, when, where and why, as well as the questions “Who paid for it?” and “How was it received?”. Details on funding and on the relationship of researchers to study subjects highlight potential conflicts of interest and how ethical questions were addressed. Information that should be available at any point is whether a piece of research has been corrected or retracted after publication.
Understandability:Scholarly communication should provide research in a clear, concise and understandable way adjusted to different stakeholders. A fruitful dialogue among researchers and between researchers and their stakeholders is mutually beneficial for both research and society. Keeping communication as clear and concise as possible facilitates knowledge transfer and exchange within research and beyond. What is considered clear and concise, however, is very dependent on the recipient and the situation. Communication amongst researchers usually involves a high degree of abstraction and special language, whereas communication with interested citizens requires more broadly understandable language. Scholarly communication should therefore be adapted for different stakeholder groups inside and outside of academia, by taking into account specific requirements in order to make it more meaningful and allowing for further involvement and participation.
Collaboration:Scholarly communication should foster collaboration and participation between researchers and their stakeholders. Research is often of relevance to a great variety of stakeholders such as patients and doctors, students and teachers. Researchers and their stakeholders can benefit from working together, ranging from discussion over participation to real collaboration with lay communities in citizen science projects. Collaboration leads to a better understanding of research among stakeholders, and stakeholders can point out research questions that are important to them. Researchers can get feedback on their work, and in cases even receive support in conducting their research. Scholarly communication should therefore facilitate and encourage these forms of collaboration.
Quality Assurance:Scholarly communication should provide transparent and competent review. Reviewing safeguards research discoveries, ensuring that results can be trusted and built upon. A system of scholarly communication should therefore incentivize, reward, and recognize reviewing, no less than doing research in order to create a balance between the production of knowledge and its consolidation. The primary function of reviewing should be to ensure that research is technically sound and that the results can be reproduced/that the research process is traceable. Transparent communication and open peer review can help to raise the quality of reviews and to avoid biased and hasty judgements.
Evaluation:Scholarly communication should support fair evaluation. Evaluation influences the perceived impact of research results, researchers, journals or institutions, and therefore the way scientific knowledge is produced. It is therefore essential that these evaluation processes are conducted fairly and adequately. Assessment should offer an overall, multidimensional analysis, especially in an interdisciplinary context. Researchers should be given the opportunity to comment on evaluation results and they should be able to verify data collection and analysis processes. To build future research on solid ground, reward structures should be adopted and quality in research must be favoured over quantity. Adequate incentives should be provided to reward endeavours to publish better, rather than more.
Validated Progress:Scholarly communication should promote both the production of new knowledge and the validation of existing knowledge. In order for scholarship to progress, it needs original research that contributes novel results to the body of knowledge. A system of scholarly communication should identify research gaps and highlight fields that need engagement and contribution. Uncertainty and risk-taking should be accepted in order to encourage testing of unusual methods and theories. But research also needs the validation of existing results in order to build future research on solid ground. Therefore, a system of scholarly communication should also promote the reproduction and continual validation of existing knowledge. The two functions should be appropriately balanced to achieve validated progress.
Innovation:Scholarly communication should embrace the possibilities of new technology. Over the past 400 years, scholarly communication has been constantly evolving. This evolution has opened up new opportunities for researchers to work and collaborate. Therefore, scholarly communication should embrace the possibilities of new technology. The Web, in particular, has revolutionised the way we create, disseminate, explore and consume information, and its potentials are not fully exploited yet for scholarly communications. These potentials include real-time exchange and dissemination, ubiquitous and simultaneous availability of resources, zero marginal cost for dissemination, new workflows, improved reusability of data and results, the ability to process huge volumes of data and new forms of presenting and visualising results.
Public Good:Scholarly communication should expand the knowledge commons. Scientific knowledge is critical for the development of society. As scientific knowledge is intangible in nature, its use by one person does not preclude its use by another person. On the contrary, knowledge tends to grow when it is shared. Therefore, no barriers should be established to restrict the use and reuse of research results. Scientific knowledge should be a public good and as such part of the knowledge commons, in order to enable everyone in society to benefit from this knowledge.
Working Group “Open Access and Scholarly Communication” of the Open Access Network Austria (OANA)
- Peter Kraker (Know-Center & Open Knowledge Austria, Working Group Lead)
- Daniel Dörler (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna)
- Andreas Ferus (Academy of Fine Arts Vienna)
- Robert Gutounig (University of Applied Sciences (UAS) JOANNEUM)
- Florian Heigl (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna)
- Christian Kaier (University of Graz)
- Katharina Rieck (Austrian Science Fund (FWF))
- Elena Šimukovič
- Michela Vignoli (AIT Austrian Institute of Technology)
- Edeltraud Aspöck (Austrian Academy of Sciences)
- Sebastian Dennerlein (Graz University of Technology)
- Asura Enkhbayar (Know-Center)
- Gerda McNeill (University of Vienna)
- Nora Schmidt (Lund University)
- Gregor Steinrisser-Allex (Medical University of Graz)
- Eveline Wandl-Vogt (Austrian Academy of Sciences)