The goal of these guidelines is to promote Open Access by facilitating the understanding of all relevant issues in this area. They are not prescriptive in nature, but have the value of proposals, likely to facilitate informed decision-making for the adoption of an Open Access policy by governments.

Policy Guidelines for the Development and Promotion of Open Access

By Dr. Alma Swan, a leading expert in scholarly communication and Open Access, Director of Key Perspectives Ltd, United Kingdom.

Executive Summary

These Guidelines provide an account of the development of Open Access, why it is important and desirable, how to attain it, and the design and effectiveness of policies.

Open Access is a new way of disseminating research information, made possible because of the World Wide Web. The development of the concept is summarised as follows:

■      The Web offers new opportunities to build an optimal system for communicating science – a fully linked, fully interoperable, fully-exploitable scientific research database available to all

■      Scientists are using these opportunities both to develop Open Access routes for the formal literature and for informal types of communication

■      For the growing body of Open Access information, preservation in the long-term is a key issue

■      Essential for the acceptance and use of the Open Access literature are new services that provide for the needs of scientists and research managers

■      There are already good, workable, proven-in-use definitions of Open Access that can be used to underpin policy

■      There is also a distinction made between two types of Open Access – gratis and libre – and this distinction also has policy implications

■      Two practical routes to Open Access (‘green’ and ‘gold’) have been formally endorsed by the research community

■      The primary, and original, target for Open Access was the journal literature (including peer-reviewed conference proceedings). Masters and doctoral theses are also welcome additions to this list and the concept is now being widened to include research data and books

There is already considerable infrastructure in place to enable Open Access although in some disciplines this is much further advanced than others. In these cases, cultural norms have changed to support Open Access.

Open Access is achieved by two main routes:

■      Open Access journals, the ‘gold’ route to Open Access, are a particularly successful model in some disciplines, and especially in some geographical communities

■      The ‘green’ route, via repositories can capture more material, faster, if the right policies are put in place

Additionally, ‘hybrid’ Open Access is offered by many publishers: this is where a fee can be paid to make a single article Open Access in an otherwise subscription-based journal. In some cases, the publisher will reduce the subscription cost in line with the new revenue coming in from Open Access charges, but in most cases this is not offered. The practice of accruing new revenue from Open Access charges without reducing the subscription price is known as ‘double dipping’.

There are a number of issues that contribute to the importance of Open Access:

■      There is a problem of accessibility to scientific information everywhere

■      Levels of Open Access vary by discipline, and some disciplines lag behind considerably, making the effort to achieve Open Access even more urgent

■      Access problems are accentuated in developing, emerging and transition countries

■      There are some schemes to alleviate access problems in the poorest countries but although these provide access, they do not provide Open Access: they are not permanent, they provide access only to a proportion of the literature, and they do not make the literature open to all but only to specific institutions

■      Open Access is now joined by other concepts in a broader ‘open’ agenda that encompasses issues such as Open Educational Resources, Open Science, Open Innovation and Open Data

■      Some initiatives aimed at improving access are not Open Access and should be clearly differentiated as something different


The benefits of Open Access are summarised as follows:

■      Open Access improves the speed, efficiency and efficacy of research

■      Open Access is an enabling factor in interdisciplinary research

■      Open Access enables computation upon the research literature

■      Open Access increases the visibility, usage and impact of research

■      Open Access allows the professional, practitioner and business communities, and the interested public, to benefit from research

As Open Access has grown, new business models have been developed – for journal publishing, for Open Access repositories, book publishing and services built to provide for new needs, processes and systems associated with the new methods of dissemination.

The dissemination of research depends upon the copyright holder’s consent and this can be used to enhance or hamper Open Access. Copyright is a bundle of rights: authors of journal articles normally sign the whole bundle of rights over to the publisher, though this is not normally necessary.

Authors (or their employers or funders) can retain the rights they need to make the work Open Access, assigning to the journal publisher the right to publish the work (and to have the exclusive right to do this, if required). Such premeditated retention of sufficient rights to enable Open Access is the preferable course of action rather than seeking permission post-publication.

Formally licensing scientific works is good practice because it makes clear to the user – whether human or machine – what can be done with the work and by that can encourage use. Only a minor part of the Open Access literature is formally licensed at present: this is the case even for Open Access journal content.

Creative Commons licensing is best practice because the system is well-understood, provides a suite of licences that cover all needs, and the licences are machine-readable. In the absence of such a licence, legal amendments to copyright law will be necessary in most jurisdictions to enable text-mining and data-mining research material.

Policy development is still a relatively new activity with respect to research dissemination. Policies may request and encourage provision of Open Access, or they may require it. Evidence shows that only the latter, mandatory, type accumulate high levels of material. Evidence also shows that researchers are happy to be mandated on this issue.

The issues that an Open Access policy should address are as follows:

■      Open Access routes: policies can require ‘green’   Open Access by self-archiving but to preserve authors’ freedom to publish where they choose policies should only encourage ‘gold’ Open Access through publication in Open Access journals

■      Deposit locus: deposit may be required either in institutional or central repositories. Institutional policies naturally specify the former: funder policies may also do this, or may in some cases specify a particular central repository

■      Content types covered: all policies cover journal articles: policies should also encourage Open Access for books: funder polices are increasingly covering research data outputs

■      Embargoes: Policies should specify the maximum embargo length permitted and in science this should be 6 months at most: policies should require deposit at the time of publication with the full-text of the item remaining in the repository, but closed, until the end of the embargo period

■      Permissions:  Open Access depends on the permission of the copyright holder, making it vulnerable to publisher interests. To ensure that Open Access can be achieved without problem, sufficient rights to enable that should be retained by the author or employer and publishers assigned a ‘Licence To Publish’. Where copyright is handed to the publisher, Open Access will always depend upon publisher permission and policies must acknowledge this by accommodating a ‘loophole’ for publishers to exploit

■      Compliance with policies: compliance levels vary according to the strength of the policy and the on- going support that a policy is given: compliance can be improved by effective advocacy and, where necessary, sanctions

■      Advocacy to support a policy: there are proven advocacy practices in support of an Open Access policy: policymakers should ensure these are known, understood, and appropriate ones implemented

■      Sanctions to support a policy: both institutions and funders have sanctions that can be used in support of an Open Access policy: policymakers should ensure that these are identified, understood and appropriate ones implemented where other efforts fail to produce the desired outcome

■      Waivers: where a policy is mandatory authors may not always be able to comply. A waiver clause is necessary in such policies to accommodate this

■      ‘Gold’ Open Access: where a funder or institution has a specific commitment with respect to paying ‘gold’ article-processing fees, this should be stated in the policy


© UNESCO 2012.