Building a quality-proof open-access publishing platform

Many academic libraries are looking for help and support when building a quality-assured open access (OA) publishing platform. Anyone thinking of setting up such a platform will go through the same key Open Access logo PLoS white greenquestions: “What are the key points to consider when establishing a publishing platform?”, “What resources are available to set it up?” and “How can I show that our platform is trustworthy and meets the required quality standards?” Here are some of the key aspects you need to consider.

Key factor Nr 1: Project management

The first thing to remember is that you need to apply the principles of project management just as you would with any other project. The first step is to develop a clear concept for the platform in order to define its purpose. Equally important is a project schedule.

  • Choosing the content: The first question to ask yourself is whether your institution wishes to support so-called “green” OA or enable users to pursue the “gold” OA route. “Green” OA, or self-archiving, means making a version of a previously published work available through a repository, while “gold” OA means that the published work is available for anyone to access immediately upon publication. Various other questions need to be addressed. For example, will you also allow users to publish research data? Might there be reasons for not immediately making everything freely available in open access? Should you offer an embargo function in such cases to ensure articles are made freely accessible after a set embargo period? How long should this embargo period be? You also need to decide which types of publication the platform will accept. Will the focus be on journals, books or congresses? And what impact will this have on how the publishing process is structured? For example, review procedures typically differ from one discipline to the next. The question of licensing (e.g. Creative Commons) should also be clarified as early as possible. To make sure everyone involved has a clear and transparent overview of their rights and obligations, these points should be summarised in a publicly accessible policy.
  • Tackling the technology: Once you have decided on the content, you can find the best technical infrastructure for your platform by asking another series of questions: Which is the most suitable system for the concept you have chosen? Should it be an open-source system? Is there any reason why buying a system might be better? What technical resources do you already have in place? This includes issues such as system stability and performance; for example, do you expect your publishing operations to expand in a way that might require a scalable server? Storage capacity is another point to consider: if you are only planning to publish one journal, or perhaps only text, you will need less capacity than if you are planning to publish multiple journals or to allow authors to publish their research data. Digital preservation is equally important. Do you already have in-house solutions to ensure the long-term preservation of publications on the platform? What interfaces will the platform need to link to these solutions? Do not forget that accessibility issues and data protection regulations need to be taken into account right from the start!
  • Setting a schedule: The more accurately you can plan your project schedule, the easier it will be to calculate the resources needed, human or otherwise. Many of the stages in the project will be interlinked, but a good project management system will bundle these together and support you in keeping tabs on progress. What are the deadlines for completing the platform’s various technical development milestones? When do you expect to publish the first items on the platform? When is the best time to begin marketing the platform and acquiring publications? Who should be kept updated about the platform and its development? When should they be informed? Will you need to schedule workshops on how to use the platform?

Remember: Development projects often take longer than planned, so make sure to include plenty of extra time in your calculations to give yourself a buffer.

Key factor Nr 2: Resources

Financial resources are another of course paramount. Check which ones are already available and what additional resources may be required. Then calculate all the costs as precisely as possible, including the cost of materials as well as labour.

  • Human resources: The human resources required will depend on the concept chosen for your platform. For example, do you intend to provide the infrastructure required for publishing? Even if you provide nothing else apart from the technical system, you will still need to budget for time spent on technical support. If you intend to offer additional services on the non-technical side – such as an editorial team to proofread, edit and potentially manage the whole review process – you will need to add on the cost of the staff required to do this. On top of these services, you may also wish to offer advice on the publishing process and copyright issues in order to establish closer ties with researchers. This will require a publishing manager who can take care of tracking the publishing workflow and acquiring new publications. You should also budget for a project manager during the development of the publishing platform. Their job is to monitor the development of the platform and bring together everyone involved to ensure rapid action is taken in the event of any problems. When planning these roles, make sure to clearly specify the skills and knowledge – technical or otherwise – that each candidate will need to have. Will you be able to recruit staff from your existing workforce who would happily take on these new tasks? Perhaps after receiving further training or additional qualifications? Or will you need to recruit new candidates and prepare the corresponding job descriptions?
  • Material costs: The cost of building a publishing platform infrastructure should not be underestimated. Even if you opt for an open-source solution, you will still need to carry out minor development tweaks to customise the platform. You will also need to find the best solutions for maintaining and hosting the platform. How many servers, virtual machines and licences will you need to budget for? And how will you solve the minor yet important issues such as website security certificates?

Ultimately, the cost of these resources will depend on whether you award a contract to a third-party development company following a corresponding tendering process, or whether you can rely on dedicated in-house expertise that can be invoiced internally.

Remember: There may be research organisations in your country that offer funding for developing this kind of infrastructure.

Key Factor Nr 3: Quality

Whether you choose the “gold” or “green” route of open access publishing, quality assurance is another important factor you need to take into account. You can find useful tips on how to tackle this aspect by consulting the guidelines and recommendations published by the German Initiative for Network Information (DINI e.V.; https://doi.org/10.18452/21759), for example. These guidelines can even be used as a basis for getting your platform certified. One of the best-known international developers of quality criteria and the corresponding standards is the Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association (OASPA; https://oaspa.org/). Organisations that fulfil OASPA’s criteria are eligible to become members. This effectively turns OASPA membership into a ‘seal of quality’. One of the key initiatives in the field of publishing ethics is the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE; https://publicationethics.org/). We recommend referring to their criteria at least on the website or in your publishing policies. Other important initiatives include OpenAIRE (https://www.openaire.eu/) and Plan S (https://www.coalition-s.org/ ), both of which define quality criteria that platforms must comply with if they wish to include publications that were funded by the partners.

Evaluation criteria generally include the platform’s accessibility and visibility, the availability of interfaces and statistics, and compliance with legal provisions, digital preservation guidelines and sustainability requirements. Platforms that meet these requirements are regarded as meeting the highest quality criteria and standards and are therefore perceived as trustworthy by both editors and authors.

In a nutshell:

Before making the decision to set up a publishing platform, bear in mind that it requires considerable resources. On the plus side, your researchers will be able to enjoy a trustworthy, quality-assured publishing platform. In the meantime, however, there are also many partners in the public sector that offer open-source systems as cooperative solutions while handling all the hosting and maintenance tasks. These include the Open Journal System (OJS; https://ojs-de.net/start), as well as the PUBLISSO system (https://www.publisso.de/en/publishing/publisso-system/) run by ZB MED.

Designing a concept for your publishing platform is a complex task, so it can be helpful to discuss and share your ideas with others. Support in this area is available from multiple sources, including members of the working group of German‐language university presses (AG Universitätsverlage) and the DINI Electronic Publishing working group (DINI e-Pub), who have many years of experience working in this field.

Further reading:

[1] The guide was developed as part of the SynOA-Pub project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). It is based on interviews with software developers who have worked on publishing platforms as well as on ZB MED’s own experience in setting up the PUBLISSO gold OA publishing platform and the PUBLISSO Repository for Life Sciences. The guide takes into account the established standards required to obtain a DINI certificate and to meet the requirements stipulated for Plan S compliance.
Cf. Beringer C, Arning U (2020), Guide for establishing Gold and Green Open Access Publishing Platforms, DOI: 10.4126/FRL01-006421133.

Ursula Arning

ZB MED – Information Centre for Life Sciences

Email: arning@zbmed.de

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