The European Commission recently announced a second tender for its Open Research Publishing Platform, a venture designed to meet the publication requirements of Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe funded research and to provide an open publishing venue for all interested researchers. In this post Bianca Kramer analyses what changes to the tender might mean for a future European Commission publishing platform and discusses the wider implications of the new tender for scholarly communications.

On July 18, a new tender was launched for the European Commission Open Research Publishing Platform. This is the second tender for the platform; the previous tender (open from March-May 2018), was not awarded. No further information was given on how many applications there had been or why the tenders received were rejected, but it was announced a second tender would be launched, and previous tenderers would be encouraged to re-apply.  With the information on the new tender now available, it is interesting to consider what has changed this time around – and what would make this tender successful where the first one failed to be awarded.

Previously, the platform was to offer to Horizon2020-funded researchers the option to either submit articles for publication after peer review, or to be published as preprints with the choice of going through peer-review using the platform (or elsewhere). This has now been simplified: all articles submitted will be published on the platform as preprints (when eligible) and, when passing peer review, as peer-reviewed publications. While the scope is otherwise unchanged (scholarly articles in all fields of research, including social sciences and humanities), it has been made explicit that the platform should not be limited to beneficiaries of Horizon2020, but also to beneficiaries of its successor programme, Horizon Europe.

As in the previous tender, peer review will be open (with the identities of both authors and reviewers known, and reviewer names and review reports published). Articles will have an open license (CC-BY or CC0 is specified this time around) and authors, or their organizations, will not be required to transfer copyright, meeting requirements of Plan S.

The platform as proposed, also seems to meet most other mandatory technical requirements of Plan S, as long as information on editorial processes (e.g. number of submissions and rejection rates) and publication costs will not only be made available to the Commission, but to the public as well.

The contract period remains 4 years, with €1M funding available for the running of the platform itself (including customizations, sustainability planning and communication) and the remainder of the max. €6.4M budget to be allocated on a per-article basis, for an envisioned total number of 5600 articles over the four-year period (about 10% of expected publications resulting from Horizon2020 and Horizon Europe grants during four years). This would amount to a per-article cost of approximately €950 per article. Tenderers are required to provide information about the actual costs of publishing, including the final costs per article and how operations and costs are affected by scaling up.

The main differences with the previous tender thus do not lie in the scope and functionality of the platform itself. The tender emphasizes that the European Commission is looking for an existing solution, and that alternative models for the platform will not be considered. This limits the possible tenderers to a small number of available platforms. Differences do lie in the requirements for tenderers themselves, the threshold that will be applied for various criteria in judging the tender, and the ownership of the underlying infrastructure of the platform.

Regarding the requirements for tenderers themselves, while the previous tender required tenderers to have an annual turnover of €1M, in the current tender this has been reduced to €500K. This would give smaller organizations (or consortia) the opportunity to be awarded the tender, although the cut-off value might still be too high for organizations that might otherwise be interested to apply.

Another change that lowers the bar for acceptance is that for the various criteria the tender will be judged on (quality and appropriateness of the proposed technical and methodological approach, organisation of the work and resources, and quality control measures), the minimum score required has been lowered, from 70% for all criteria to 50% for quality control measures and 60% for the other two criteria. What this could mean for the potential features of the platform is hard to say as the scoring criteria themselves are not further detailed in the tender.

A final change in this tender is that previously, the European Commission required the platform to be built with either open source software or ‘commercial off-the-shelf’ software, disallowing proprietary infrastructure not available to other providers. It also required a potential full handover of the platform as a publishing service, after the four-year contract period. These requirements have been relaxed: the use of proprietary technology is now allowed, with the Commission only requiring a non-exclusive license for the duration of the contract, and longer only for specific customizations. In addition, the handover will now only include the content of the platform as well as specific customizations, with the goal of transferring them to another publishing infrastructure if desired by the Commission.

Since the Commission has not publicly commented on the failure of the previous tender, it can only be hypothesized whether these modifications have been made to address specific points where applications in the previous round have failed to meet the tender criteria (thus increasing their chance of success if they apply again), or also to encourage applications from organizations that have not previously applied. Either way, it is clear that the Commission intends to provide a platform for open access publishing for their beneficiaries that is based on an existing solution from established parties. It is also clear that the Commission focuses on the openness of published research outcomes, but not on the openness of the publishing technology itself.

In the short-term, the tender (if awarded this time) can contribute to a growth in open access publishing, and importantly, to the options available for Horizon2020/Horizon Europe-funded researchers for open access publishing. In the longer term, it would be interesting to learn from the proposals for both this and the previous tender, and thus for them to be shared openly. They should in principle constitute a set of well thought-out, financially reasoned proposals for a publication/dissemination platform for both preprints and peer-reviewed articles, with open peer review. The proposals may have already brought parties together with a vision to collaborate to develop innovative, open solutions that go beyond what currently exists. Even if these proposals are not awarded the tender for the European Commission Open Research Publishing Platform, this new thinking amongst academic publishers is where the future of scholarly communication will ultimately lie.

 

About the author

Bianca Kramer is scholarly communications librarian at Utrecht University Library, The Netherlands. She was a member of the European Commission’s Expert Group on the Future of Scholarly Publishing and Scholarly Communication and co-authored the article ‘Are funder publishing platforms a good idea?’.

 

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Featured Image Credit, Finn Hackshaw via Unsplash (Licensed under a CC0 1.0 licence)

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