Crowd-funding the Open Science and Open Access Infrastructure: Reports from the Field 2/2

Tom Mosterd

Tue 15 Dec 2020

Read this article at hypothèses.org

As part of the 2020 Charleston Conference we participated in a, virtual, Lively Discussion organised by SCOSS and moderated by Vanessa Proudman (SCOSS). During this session, Eelco Ferwerda (DOAB / OAPEN) together with Lars Bjørnshauge (DOAJ), Kevin Stranack (PKP) and Silvio Peroni (OpenCitations) shared their reports from the field forming the basis for an exciting conversation around the crowd-funding of Open Science and Open Access infrastructure.

This blog post is a short summary of this session, the reports, discussion and some of the questions asked. It is split in two parts, this being the second part including the lively discussions and some of the questions. Part one can be found here.

Questions

 

SCOSS: What particular risk does your service face if it is not sufficiently funded and how would it affect the open science community?

PKP: I think we really face two primary risks. The first being that, without sufficient funding, the pace of our development and level of innovation slows down. This’d be concerning since this would mean we’d fall behind with the commercial sector in terms of development of features and general levels of innovation.

Second, we give away a lot of free support, free documentation, free online support and learning how to use our services. Having to cut back in this area could result in a downward spiral as we can offer less help to the community which can impact the adoption of our tools and services.

OpenCitations: We need manpower to manage the technical infrastructure, such as the server, and also developers who maintain and develop new services, e.g. to allow for new data queries via the REST API. We need people to work on that, to make these services a reality and make sure they are used by the Open Science community.

DOAB & OAPEN: We’re not publicly funded, or part of an institution. So if we cannot fund our activities we are faced with the risk that we may have to shut down. So we do rely on support from the community to provide our services.

 

SCOSS: Has your not-for-profit status made any difference compared to the commercial players with your users, members or clients?

PKP: our independence has really allowed us to be led by the community and not by shareholders. It has allowed us to translate our software into 40 languages, and give away the software and everything around it for free in multiple languages. Enabling those around the world to really make use of the software.

OpenCitations: Our independence allowed us to serve the community without an ulterior motive. We follow Open Science principles, our data is completely freely available. Since there is no commercial interest, we can make everything available without limiting users to earn revenue.

DOAB/OAPEN: The mission is essential to what we do. Commercial considerations would have probably prevented us from starting such an infrastructure at all.

 

Questions from the floor

 

Do you have any efforts underway to reach beyond libraries to reach richer funders to support these wonderful services? As libraries are, especially in these times, under budget pressure and our coffers are slim.

 

SCOSS: SCOSS is starting to talk to funders but at the same time we are talking to libraries and with COVID this is particularly challenging. However, even if it is just 500 dollars that can be contributed, or a similar small amount, this all contributes to the greater good of open infrastructure. After all, the consequences of not supporting these infrastructures might lead to these infrastructures disappearing, and as a consequence this might mean that you face having to develop and offer this service at a higher cost yourself or alternatively a commercial party takes over with a prospect of vendor locked in.

 

DOAJ: In DOAJ we have more or less a policy not to apply for grant funding. So far we have managed. To rely on crowd-funding from many individual institutions has brought us a lot of good things, it is as well a channel to listen and learn from the community. While COVID has brought many bad things, as a former Librarian, it has also meant less traveling and conferences saving some budgets, and this might be an option, though perhaps not for all. But we have to be creative these days and small contributions help us a lot.

 

PKP: We’ve also been able to count on some additional areas of funding, such as paid services on top of our free offerings. Everything we do we give away for free. Now if a library wants to use our software but doesn’t have the technical ability to host it themselves they can pay us to host these services. So I think all of these projects we are all looking at innovative ways to sustain ourselves in addition to the crowd-funding, but the crowd-funding has proven extremely helpful because it allows us to focus and spend directly on our operations. Grants often have strings attached, but typically don’t pay the day-to-day operations.

 

One of the big things that libraries have justifying to University administration is investing in crowd-funding initiatives that are freely available. What is the return on investment for that crowd-funding investment? And also, how do we choose between different investment opportunities?

 

SCOSS: SCOSS helps take the pain out of the infrastructure funding selection process since we vet infrastructure in need of immediate funding on an annual basis on your behalf; recommending 2-3 infrastructure (after rigorous evaluation) in need of funding on an annual basis.

 

PKP: I think this is the core question. Part of it is having this conversation about the values of these projects and what are some of the problems library budgets have found themselves in because of the commercial dominance within traditional publishing. We’ve seen the cost of publishing gone up and up.  And then there are some infrastructures here, some communities and some librarians that got together and are showing an alternative way. Though it is still early days, things are changing and we can think about how we want to be part of this change. I think all of the projects here offer benefits so it is not just writing a check.

 

How does membership and support of these excellent organizations translate into annual communication about annual achievements so we can use these to convince the others?

SCOSS: For all the SCOSS infrastructures on the call today, they have completed the thorough application process including what their plans are and what they plan to do with their fundraising target. The infrastructures also have to enter into a contract with SCOSS which includes obligation to report what they have achieved from the work plan at the end of the year. SCOSS also publishes these reports , so you, as a contributor, know where the funding is going.

 

End of part 2.

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