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Scoping the Open Science Infrastructure Landscape in Europe
illustration
2020
infrastructures
The objective of the study is to analyse the European Open Science infrastructure (OSI) landscape, seeking to identify the scope of those currently in operation and a series of characteristics such as their audience, openness and sustainability. The survey covered 120 relevant OSIs from 28 European countries.  

Scoping the Open Science Infrastructure Landscape in Europe

Report commissioned by: SPARC Europe

October 2020

Executive Summary

Introduction

This report collates the results of a survey of infrastructure or services that are part of the European Open Science infrastructure (OSI) landscape.

The survey consisted of two parts: Part 1 assessed the general infrastructure offering; Part 2 (which was divided into two sections) considered the infrastructure’s intended audience and stakeholder community, technical design, and sustainability. Part 1 of the survey was completed by 120 relevant OSIs from 28 European countries, while Part 2 was completed by 67 (part 2a) and 68 (part 2b) respondents comprising executives and senior managers, IT specialists, researchers, and contributors.

The survey was published in spring 2020 and was distributed by email and on social media to international library networks and consortia and via personal contacts at libraries in all European countries, to numerous scholarly communication lists, via EOSC networks, and amongst LIBER, SCOSS, SPARC Europe and OPERAS members. In addition, we contacted infrastructure listed in Innovations in Scholarly Communication. As a result, we received 353 responses, but after normalization and verification that all datasets conformed with the definition of infrastructure as provided at the beginning the survey, e.g. OSIs with a regional, national or international focus, prior to 2019, no projects and based in Europe, 120 OSIs were selected as relevant responses.

Goals and purpose of OSI: OSIs are motivated by their ambition to further OA and OS and provide access to a variety of research outputs. Discovery and archiving are the main areas of the research lifecycle which they cover. The majority integrate with external systems run by not-forprofits or RPOs.

The survey found that OSIs are predominantly motivated by their ambition to further the vision of Open Access (OA) and Open Science (OS) by making research and knowledge openly and widely available (72 out of 120). 97 out of 118 responding OSIs provide services that support OA, 66 to open data, 49 support open software. A considerable amount of respondents (35) provide support for OS evaluation.

Just over half of 116 OSIs provide access to both journals and data, followed closely by conference papers showing its significance for engaging in conversation on innovative research. Access to a variety of non-traditional and early research outputs is also provided, with 41 respondents providing access to images and photographs, and 32 providing access to software and code. Preprints are served to a lower extent than other outputs – in 22 cases – with no notable differences between disciplines. The most common areas which OSIs support in the research lifecycle were (i) enabling discovery and search services and (ii) providing storage for archiving and/or digital preservation. 95% of all OSIs provide services in three or more stages of the research lifecycle. In line with this finding, when asked to estimate the count of their total objects created, published, hosted, provided discovery of, evaluated and/or archived, OSIs reported they had provided discovery
of the highest number of objects and had created and evaluated the least. Aggregation & indexing, search, storage, identity (e.g. ORCID) and persistent identifiers are central to the OSI ecosystem since they are referred to by many.

The majority of OSIs (57 out of 67) integrate with external systems and services; the overwhelming majority of these are run by not-forprofits or RPOs. Infrastructures that support persistent identifiers are mentioned by 45% of the cohort.

Target audience: OSIs predominantly serve researchers and libraries across all disciplines with a global focus. Most have consulted with stakeholders on needs in the last 2 years.

Almost all OSIs are aimed at supporting researchers (114 out of 118), but a considerable proportion also support libraries (74) and research managers (66) who are often tasked with evaluating research. A large proportion of OSIs (51 out of 64) have consulted their stakeholders on their needs within the last two years. Most OSIs (72 out of 118) serve the full spectrum of subject areas. Despite being based in Europe, roughly half of 118 OSIs operate globally showing the significant contribution that European OSIs are making to supporting the OS sector worldwide. OSIs that have a national focus (46 out of 118) tend to be based at research organisations, whereas globally-focused OSIs tend to be either based at not-for-profits or research organisations The majority of forprofits are also globally-focussed.

The large majority of OSIs (51 out of 64) have consulted their stakeholders on their needs within the last two years which shows their customer service orientation-focused OSIs tend to be either based at not-for-profits or research organisations.

Technical openness:The majority of OSIs have APIs, integrate with external systems, and allow code contributors. The majority of OSIs either have fully or partly open source software.

Principles of openness also apply to the technology underpinning OSIs.
The vast majority of OSIs (50 out of 65) have application programming interfaces (APIs), typically to support data harvesting (12 out of 46) and metadata exchange (7 out of 46), which shows the OSIs’ inclination towards openness. Many OSIs (57 out of 67) also integrate with external systems or services. Of the tools and services that three or more OSI’s integrate with (n=19), the majority are either run by a not-for-profit organization or a research performing organization. This points to the important role of not-for-profit organisations and the infrastructure they
provide in the open science landscape .

Over half of OSIs are built using fully open source software (34 out of 64) or partly open source (19), which shows a clear trend towards open source. Collaboration is key to the success of many OSIs since 33 out of 53 of respondents allow others to contribute their code to the OSI. Most commonly, the number of code contributors used on open source software ranged between one and five (14 out of 27) although seven reported using more than 25.

Compliance with specific open standards and principles: Most OSIs have strategies to comply with FAIR and with open standards, EOSC service requirements and Plan S technical conditions. OSIs report maturity in the open content and open standards of the COAR/SPARC Principles most. They see most challenges with good governance, sharing open content and open standards.

A clear majority of responding OSIs (45 out of 54) have a strategy to comply with FAIR data principles which shows that FAIR is becoming a strong standard. Across the board, responding OSIs tend to prioritise FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Reusable and Interoperable) principles around discoverability, documentation and accessibility. 36 out of 61 OSIs noted usage and compliance with at least some open standards, whilst a large minority (23 out of 61) stating that the OSI they represent only use open standards. Finally, most OSIs state they meet the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) service requirements and Plan S mandatory technical conditions, which demonstrates that many OSIs are adaptable and up-to-date with recent standards.

OSIs report maturity most in the open content and open standards of the COAR/SPARC principles. Effectively implementing good governance, sharing open content and applying and following open standards are the areas that see the greatest amount of challenges. Most good practices are mentioned in the areas of open content and open standards.

Governance: The majority of OSIs have a board, steering group or advisory committee and are guided by a formal vision, plan or roadmap.

Four in five OSIs have a board, steering group or advisory committee, and stakeholders such as researchers and libraries are frequently represented on these bodies. This illustrates that a large majority exercise some good governance. Almost all OSIs are also guided by mission/vision documents (94 out of 118), with considerably fewer utilising strategic plans or roadmaps (68 out of 118), illustrating that many know where they want to go, but considerably less have formulated and described plans on how to get there. Following good governance is a key challenge for OSIs.

Financial sustainability: OSIs are generally run on low resources despite offering a range of services. One third of OSIs start the year with no approved budget. Most OSIs do operate sustainably but their ability to do so is reliant on grant income.

Services are commonly run by a small staff of 2-5 full-time equivalents (FTE) (25 out of 65) or less FTEs by not for-profits and RPOs and with varying levels of reliance on volunteers. The sustainability of an OSI can thereby be considered somewhat under threat when dependent on a small core team. Some of the services run with limited personnel resources provide a range of services which means that it is not always the case that more resources are necessary to provide a rich service offering.

Two thirds of respondents (42 out of 64) begin each fiscal year with an approved budget, which is most commonly used to cover salaries (57 out of 66), travel expenses (47 out of 66), equipment (44 out of 66) and – for half of respondents – marketing. One-third, however, start the year without an approved budget which can impact the stability of an OSI. Two in five respondents (n=53) report an annual revenue of less than €50,000, but 12 OSIs report a revenue above €500,000. Infrastructure income sees revenues matching the outgoings to a large extent. Most OSIs operate sustainably and at least break even on their costs, with roughly half (19 out of 36) noting that their operational deficit is covered by grants or sponsored projects, while another half (18 out of 36) breaks even thanks to earned income. Approximately one-third of respondents (22 out of 64), however, begin each fiscal year without an approved budget.

OSIs most commonly report national government grants as their most important source of income (22 out of 62) with the European Commission and membership fees coming in second and third respectively (with 14 responses each). It is worth noting that an additional 30 respondents commented that their OSI does not rely on grant funding including most of the for-profits, over 15 RPOs and a handful of not-for-profits. However, thirteen out of 32 respondents stated that without grant funding their OSI could only remain viable for less than a year which is a clear concern for a user community that might depend upon it. The greatest sustainability challenges relate to costs and funding, a lack of resources such as staff or equipment and the ability to keep up with technological development and OA/OS.

Conclusions

We see a diverse, interconnected, open, professional and viable OSI ecosystem developing in Europe on solid ground – one that is worth investing in. It is a system that is made up of valuable service providers, both large and small, serving the global research community. Nonetheless, OSIs still have a range of issues to contend with in their organisations and strategies, particularly as they move towards more openness and a sustainable future.

Sharing lessons learnt, developing communities of practice, developing guidance, pooling resources and working with initiatives such as Investin Open Infrastructure (IOI) and JROST will help them grow even further. Additionally, despite a strong commitment to open source and open standards by many, challenges remain for some in good governance, sharing open content and applying open standards. This ecosystem will thrive if OSIs follow good governance practices, ensuring the community it will be steered by their needs, and will stay true to the values of research.

To sustain themselves, OSIs will need to continue to diversify their fundraising efforts and upskill to embrace a range of business or revenue models in the future to spread the risk to their financial stability. Funding agencies, governments, institutions, charities and other funders need to consider strategies on how to effectively fund this rich and important landscape more structurally. We also call on governments to maintain and increase support for both development activities and for sustaining operations. Making smart choices on what to invest in will be essential.

 

   This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Table of Contents

1. Executive summary

2. Introduction

3. Overview of survey respondents

4. The OSI Landscape in Europe

5. Technology

6. Governance and sustainability

7. Conclusions

Appendix A: Respondents by country

Appendix B: Survey questions