Research and policy

Next month a second Radical Open Access conference will take place in Coventry, themed around an ‘ethics of care’. On the same day, there is a (very expensive) conference about open access policy called ‘Moving Towards Full Open Access in Higher Education‘ happening in London. I will be attending the first of these, and am writing this blog post to think through why that feels like the correct decision.

When I began my PhD I had high hopes that I could weave together the research aspects of my work with concrete policy ideas. As I’ve progressed with the thesis, and become more comfortable with the fact that this is a humanities thesis, I’ve come to realise that the boundary between evidence-based policy making and policy-based evidence making is harder to navigate than I thought it would be.

So I’ve been concentrating on trying to do good research and end up with a coherent piece of work that will hopefully be interesting and useful to at least some other people, rather than come up with ‘actionable’ policy prescriptions.

One of the fundamental aspects of my research is about the necessity of moving away from an APC-funded version of gold open access towards collectively-funded and co-operatively governed models. (Additionally, the reports evaluating the UK’s offset agreements I’ve been writing confirm that while these agreements constrain costs for institutions, they entrench hybrid open access and big deals.) But the kind of open access that I want to see is already being built, by various people and organisations including those involved in the Radical Open Access Collective. At the moment I’m thinking about how productive it is to advocate for policy change by trying to get research funders and higher education institutions to shift away from per-article funding to support these kind of initiatives. The issue of scale is important here; can the work of ROAC-affiliated institutions be scaled up significantly with help from funders and institutions, and do they even want that to happen?

Ideally, research funders would be switching attention away from per-article costs towards funding infrastructure (both technical and human) and supporting scholarly communities to find ways of publishing openly that work for them.

Personally, the purpose of me presenting at the London policy conference would be to try to influence the thinking of those present to consider how we can collectively support the growth of scholarly commons. But in the current political moment, I don’t imagine I will have any success. I don’t have the words yet to translate my perspective into something that managers and policymakers will pay attention to. And the Radical Open Access Conference is full of people who are already doing the work, already acting to create a more care-ful scholarly future. I feel that learning from them will make my work better and so, in the medium term, help shape my ability to talk and write about open access in a way that makes clear the positive benefits of co-operative approaches.