OA Switchboard: A central information exchange hub

[Editor's Note: If you heard Yvonne Campfens' inspiring keynote talk at Internet Librarian International 2019 all about creating, innovating, collaborating and what we can learn from startups, you won't be surprised to hear that she has taken her own advice and joined startup OA Switchboard as its executive director. I asked her to tell us about this new venture.]

Open Access (OA) output is growing year-on-year, primarily due to the widespread belief that research will function better if results are made openly available to the community. For a breakthrough in the transformation of the market to make OA the predominant model of publication, we must address the challenge posed by the complexity involved in implementing multi-lateral OA publication-level arrangements.

To address challenging topics around communication and data across different stakeholder groups, and to implement a cost-effective collaborative infrastructure solution, transparency is key, and an independent neutral intermediary is indispensable.

The OA Switchboard contributes to the solution as a central information exchange hub, providing shared infrastructure, standards and back office services for funders, institutions and publishers. It is taking charge as an independent intermediary, connecting parties and systems, streamlining communication and the neutral exchange of OA related publication-level information, and ensuring practical financial settlements. The OA Switchboard initiative is a not-for-profit collaboration among funders, research institutions and academic publishers. 

Throughout 2020, a project to prepare for the OA Switchboard to go live was overseen by OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association). The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) was developed as an open source solution in close collaboration with representatives of all stakeholder groups. The OA Switchboard moved to the operational stage on 1 January 2021, and is now run from the new Stichting OA Switchboard (a collaboratively governed not-for-profit foundation), founded by OASPA in October 2020.  

OA Business Models

With the growth in OA output, OA business models are becoming more and more diverse, some with or without individual publication fees, some through agreements with publishers, some through sponsorship models. Increasingly, funders and institutions are paying for OA centrally, plus they are expanding the requirements about how various research outputs should be published. For a specific (pre)publication there may be multiple authors involved, each with multiple institutional affiliations and funder arrangements (so-called ‘multi-lateral publication level arrangements’).

Managing the increasingly complex network of agreements between publishers and institutions, along with the rise in number of policies associated with open access publications by academic institutions and funders, poses serious implementation challenges. These challenges lie in the myriad of systems and process, the many-to-many relationships to be maintained among the multitude of stakeholder groups, the inconsistent terminology and not using persistent identifiers, and the lack of oversight and real-time monitoring. Hence the difficulty in detailed billing and in tracking spend and committed funds.

As a consequence, policies are not always effectively implemented and agreements not realised to the full. The complexity, and the current administrative burden on institutions, funders and publishers, has also hindered progress in developing new business models to support a broader move to OA. From a researcher's perspective, this landscape is at best confusing, and at worst impenetrable.

Global Transition

 The OA Switchboard is helping the global transition to OA by providing working solutions. It aims to reduce complexity and the administrative burden for all stakeholders (including, indirectly, the researcher) by streamlining the communication among funders, institutions and publishers, using authoritative data. Other industries have tackled similar problems successfully a long time ago (think of the SWIFT messaging solution in banking).

In the scholarly communications ecosystem, the OA Switchboard specifically enables funders, institutions and publishers to send and receive (via API, User Interface or email) a pre-defined set of standardised messages (automated, integrated, scalable), if applicable via their dedicated partner’s system. The OA Switchboard takes care of validation of the messages and routing to the correct participant, delivered in the way these recipients desire. Standardised reporting on data in messages exchanged between specific participants, in both Excel and JSON format, is included. On the receiving end, participants can, via the API, have messages directly fed into their systems, or their dedicated partner system.

The 2020 MVP enables two messages types, that both initiate from publishers and are sent to funders and institutions. The recipients can answer through matching standard response messages. These first two types are the so-called Eligibility Enquiry (the ‘E’ messages) and the Publication/Payment Settlement Notification (the ‘P’ messages).

Launch Phase

2021/2022 is regarded as a ‘launch phase’ to achieve wide adoption and widespread usage and to allow time for (technical) integration and implementation. A priority is to further develop and improve the OA Switchboard, with special focus on new scenarios like messages initiating from funders and institutions, and sent to publishers. As a not-for-profit intermediary, it will all work best if ‘everybody’ participates, so optimal ‘matches’ can be made and our cost base can be spread over many parties to keep each parties’ contribution as low as possible.

There is already an impressive list of organisations that have confirmed their support as early adopters, launching customers or founding partners. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), Wellcome Trust and Jisc announced on 3 December 2020 their collaboration with the OA Switchboard to accelerate global OA.

The OA Switchboard provides direct, indirect and community benefits such as simplicity and transparency, collaboration and inter-operability, efficiency and cost-effectiveness. It is for these primary stakeholders:

* For funders that want to implement OA policies on a publication-level and demonstrate impact of their research funding.

* For research institutions that want publication-level delivery on their OA strategies and monitor/manage their OA funds/budgets.

* For academic publishers that want to reduce administrative complexity around publication-level fulfilment of policies and/or agreements and provide easy reporting.

In a collaborative effort, the OA Switchboard strives for the ecosystem can work better for everyone, and can learn, adjust and progress.