Greater impact through a united Europe

A strong European lobby helps bring open access one step closer to reality, says Robert van der Vooren, open access project leader at the VSNU. It’s precisely what he’s worked hard to champion in the recent period. And his efforts have already borne fruit.

Why do we need a European mission aimed at open access?

‘Over a year ago, the VSNU realised that in working towards the goal of open access, we needed to start with ourselves – with the Netherlands. That led to various deals with large publishing houses. But publishers operate at a global level. Whatever else you do, the logical next step is to join forces across Europe. I’ve put a great deal of energy into making that happen over these last few months.’


What approach did you take?

‘I spoke with negotiating teams from other countries, with universities and with politicians and administrators. I visited every single one of the Scandinavian nations and had a great deal of contact with the British; I'm seeing an increasing amount of interest in the topic coming from countries in southern Europe as well. When countries were already taking concrete action through negotiating teams, I looked for ways to harmonise the process wherever possible. Each time, I made sure to tell them about our Dutch approach.’


Did you observe anything interesting in your travels across Europe?

‘First of all, that all universities want open access. It’s just that their paths to get there can be rather different at times. I’ve also observed that people in other countries aren’t necessarily familiar with how we’ve handled this – quite successfully – in the Netherlands. To fix this, we’ll need to intensify all the positive contact within the network.’


In telling your story abroad, what kind of reaction did you get?

‘People find the Dutch story inspiring. It’s helping to vastly increase and improve the amount of information – on how to negotiate open access – that’s out there. In fact: various negotiating teams from other countries are already adopting aspects that contributed to the success of our approach. At the time, for instance, we made a conscious choice to take the negotiations to the highest administrative level. Today, that decision is being imitated throughout Europe.’


And have you been inspired by events in countries surrounding the Netherlands as well?

‘Absolutely. In Germany, for example, an important change took place in a very short space of time. Two years ago, it seemed impossible to conduct negotiations at a national level in Germany. Today, the country has a consortium that is doing just that. That is an immense achievement, if you ask me.’


Where do we go from here?

‘First and foremost, the VSNU will continue its mission abroad. To inspire others, but also to monitor other countries’ current efforts. What’s more, the mission allows us to determine the direction of the market. We will additionally be focusing more attention on the smaller publishers from now on. Without them, there’s no way to reach one hundred per cent open access by 2020. This will require a creative approach on our part – and we already have a few ideas up our sleeve.’


So, what is the bright light beckoning on the distant horizon?

‘That would be open science, in which we not only publish open access but also make data freely available to all. That is good for the scientific community, and for citizen science as well. One inspiring recent example was Obama’s decision to make all NASA material accessible to the public. The expectation is that doing so will allow larger numbers of people to come up with good ideas about how to apply that wealth of data.

As far as open access publishing of articles is concerned, my predictions for the future have taken on a positive tinge as a result of the inspiring stories of people like Daniel Miller. He is a social scientist who published the results of his research project “How the World Changed Social Media” in both print and open access form. In the past, the print publication would have been considered a success if some 400 copies were sold. Through open access, however, Miller’s study racked up 15,000 unique downloads in 145 countries within a few short months. In the end, this kind of development will act to strengthen science itself while increasing the impact it has on society as a whole.’




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Imagery: Shutterstock, portraits VSNU and universities


January 2017