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Five years of Plan S: a journey towards full and immediate Open Access


From inception to global impact

In September 2018, a group of national research funding organizations, with the support of the European Commission, rallied behind an initiative to make research publications openly accessible to all:  Plan S. These visionary organizations came together as cOAlition S, and adopted a set of 10 principles that were intended to function as a catalyst for the accelerated transition to full and immediate Open Access. For most cOAlition S members, the policies and tools that support the implementation of Plan S came into effect in 2021. 

Although the full impact of these policies will still take several years to unfold, it is a good moment to reflect on what has been achieved so far. I joined cOAlition S exactly one year after its inception, as its Executive Director, and have therefore been privileged to participate in the journey that the cOAlition S community – Experts, Leaders, Ambassadors, Supporters, and Office –  have undertaken, and the remarkable progress we have achieved together.

In five years, cOAlition S has grown from a dozen to a network of 28 funders. What is remarkable is that this reach extends beyond Europe, encompassing agencies from the US, Australia and South Africa. This expansion has sparked a ripple effect, with even non-cOAlition S funders developing policies that are largely aligned with Plan S. This is evident in the US with the August 2022 Nelson memo, Canada, India, Germany and elsewhere. Governments in Europe and beyond have also become more vocal about Open Access to research results, as evidenced in the European Council Conclusions and the G7 Science and Technology Ministers declaration of last May. Plan S and cOAlition S have certainly contributed to a consensus among research funding agencies worldwide that Open Access to research results is a priority that requires international alignment.

During those five years, publishers have changed tack as well. They seem to increasingly recognise that it is no longer about whether they should flip to Open Access, but how they should flip to Open Access. Some of them have made changes to their policies to comply with Plan S principles, or they are exploring new models such as Subscribe to Open, Diamond Open Access, and other non-APC models.

Navigating the Open Access landscape: routes and tools

From the start, Plan S adopted an agnostic approach to Open Access routes. Whether it is via publication in full Open Access journals, or titles made available under a Transformative Arrangement, or making the Accepted Manuscript available through a repository, cOAlition S accommodates diverse routes to compliance

To help authors choose publishing options that are supported by their funder’s Open Access policy, cOAlition S developed the Journal Checker Tool (JCT), a trusted resource now serving 3000 users per month. In support of the Repository Route, we developed the Rights Retention strategy; a strategy that was enthusiastically adopted by many universities and institutions.

Responding to the library community’s calls for price transparency of the publishing services they procure, cOAlition S designed and developed the Journal Comparison Service (JCS), an online platform helping users to determine if prices for publishing services are fair and reasonable.

Towards more equity in Open Access

As the Open Access landscape evolves, cOAlition S evolves with it. Based on progress reports and the very low Open Access transformation rate of Transformative Journals, cOAlition S decided to end its financial support for Transformative Arrangements. Instead, it will direct its efforts to more innovative and community-driven Open Access publishing initiatives.

In collaboration with various international organizations, cOAlition S also pursues work for more equity in Open Access, via a series of workshops, a study exploring if Purchasing Power Parity could improve APC inequity, and a working group exploring new, non-APC-based business models. 

In addition, cOAlition S acknowledges the growing need for alternative, not-for profit publishing models, and is actively involved in European and global efforts for Diamond OA: the EC-funded DIAMAS and CRAFT-OA projects, the Action Plan for Diamond Open Access, and the Global Diamond Open Access Summit

Finally, cOAlition S is contributing to improving research assessment by joining the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment (CoARA), specifically to encourage those who undertake research assessment exercises, to move away from journal metrics and to better value Open Access publishing by authors. 

A collaborative journey

This is also a good time to thank everyone who was involved in the cOAlition S community. First and foremost, the Experts who represented their funding organizations in the Expert group. They managed to build an online collaborative Expert community that co-created the backbone of our joint policies, and consult each other regularly about policy implementation and challenges. This group is without any doubt cOAlition S’s strongest secret weapon. The Leaders group should be thanked for the confidence they have shown in the Plan S principles and implementation. Thanks are also due to the cOAlition S Executive Steering Group, who meet fortnightly to advise and make decisions on policy matters. Finally, I would like to thank the European Science Foundation – Science Connect for hosting the cOAlition S Office, and diligently managing the human resources and financial aspects of our operations.

Looking forward: a path to Responsible Publishing

The Plan S mission is certainly not accomplished yet. Looking to the future, we believe there is room for accelerating Open Access even more and making it more equitable. For this, we are working on a “Towards Responsible Publishing” proposal, which aims to foster a community-based communication system for open science in the 21st century. This proposal,  set to be released within two months, will be followed by a large-scale consultation with the research community. Additionally, we will be commissioning an independent review of the contribution Plan S has made to the Open Access publishing landscape.

To mark the 5th anniversary of Plan S, we are organizing a webinar on Thursday 2nd November 2023, between 17.00 – 19.00 CET. The event will explore how Plan S has developed since its launch as well as what lies ahead for the future of scholarly communication. We are looking forward to seeing you there!

Johan Rooryck

Johan Rooryck is Executive Director of cOAlition S and a linguistics professor at Leiden University. He is the editor-in-chief of the Fair Open Access journal Glossa: a journal of general linguistics since 2016. From 1999 to 2015, he was the executive editor of Lingua (Elsevier), when its Editorial Team and Board, as well as its reader and author community, decided to leave Lingua to found Glossa. He also is a founding member and president of the Fair Open Access Alliance (FOAA) and Linguistics in Open Access (LingOA). He is a Member of the Academia Europaea.