Unlocking a Stronger Open Access Ecosystem

December 22, 2023  • Jylana L. Sheats, Ph.D., MPH, Nataliya Shulga, Ph.D., Sejal Goud & Aaron F. Mertz, Ph.D.

Download Publication
View this Publication
Download PDF

The concept and practice of ‘Open Science’ represent a broad, decades-long effort-turned-international movement to “make research products and processes available to all, while respecting diverse cultures, maintaining security and privacy, and fostering collaborations, reproducibility, and equity.” Often used as an umbrella term, Open Science is fundamentally an ecosystem brought to life and operationalized through components at each stage of the research lifecycle. Open scientific knowledge, open scientific infrastructure, open engagement of societal actors, and open dialogue with other knowledge systems are the four recommended pillars that capture the many facets ‘Open Science.’ 

Open Science has the potential to increase scientific collaborations and the sharing of information for the benefit of science and society; make multilingual scientific knowledge openly available, accessible, and reusable for everyone; and open the processes of scientific knowledge creation, evaluation, and communication to societal actors beyond the traditional scientific community. Recognizing the benefits of Open Science and the need for further investment, the Biden-Harris Administration named it a priority in January 2023, with the United States (U.S.) White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) declaring 2023 as the ‘Year of Open Science’ in alignment with other parts of the world.

Thus, throughout 2023, a series of efforts within the U.S. and globally have taken place to increase awareness of the Open Science movement and to advance open and equitable research. Other organizations have been advocating for Open Science for years, with the United Nations holding its third Open Science Conference in February 2023 with the theme ‘Accelerating the Sustainable Development Goals, Democratizing the Record of Science.’

Among the multiple components of Open Science, open access, which falls under the open scientific knowledge pilar, is at the core of reform efforts. UNESCO defines open access as having “free access to information and unrestricted use of electronic resources for everyone,” adding that “any kind of digital content can be open access from texts and data to software, audio, video, and multi-media.” The broad nature of Open Science and open access gives room for complexity and controversy—requiring inputs and perspectives from diverse stakeholders within and outside of the scientific community.

Always working at the pulse of critical issues at the intersection of science and society, the Aspen Institute Science & Society Program convened a roundtable of experts from across six countries and multiple sectors to foster what might be considered a ‘provocative’ conversation on open access, in that participants could not always find common ground on aspects of a future model for open access. This roundtable forms one piece of a constellation of Open Science activities within our program’s Global Science pillar.

Four central questions guided the discussion:

  1. What are the obstacles or barriers to open access?
  2. How can we overcome unequal country wealth, technology access, and education across countries to promote the benefits of scientific research toward solving societal issues?
  3. What are financial models for open access to which most (even for-profit) publishers could agree?
  4. How can political solutions (including legislation) help to promote the implementation of open access?

This report, which is freely available to members of the scientific community, policymakers, and the public, represents a summary of the discussion.

The communication and dissemination of scientific knowledge are foundational aspects of the scientific endeavor. The advantages of open access are documented, with benefits for both researchers and broader society. The European Commission has expressed that “Nowadays, it is widely recognised that making research results more accessible contributes to better and more efficient science, and to innovation in the public and private sectors.” 

How and where research is communicated has significant implications for shaping future research and its application. Since open access is described as a model created in response to “perceived limitations” of subscription-based dissemination of scholarly works propelled by the Internet, discussions about the open access ecosystem often center on publishing practices. 

Drawing together insights from across sectors, the questions offered during the roundtable elicited responses that overlapped and intersected. To help guide researchers, this report is organized along eight key themes: 

  1. Prioritization of open access models among open access stakeholders 
  2. Equity of publication costs and open access
  3. For-profit and nonprofit perspectives on open access publishing
  4. Academic barriers to open access
  5. Worldwide, cross-sector collaborations as a vital component to open access
  6. Extending open access transformations beyond developing new business and financial models
  7. Security and integrity in open access
  8. The role of governments, policy, and funding agencies