Authors: Malte Dreyer, Martina Benz, Maike Neufend and Theresa Bärwolff
Open Access is developing in an area of tension between institutional and funder policies, the economics of publishing and last but not least the communication practices of research disciplines. In a comparison across European countries, very dynamic and diverse approaches and developments can be observed. Furthermore, this international and comparative perspective helps us to assess the state of open access and open science in Germany. In this series of Open4DE project blog posts, we will summarize what we have learned in our in-depth conversations with experts on developing and implementing nationwide Open Access strategies.
After we focused on our neighboring country Austria in our last article, we now turn our attention to another DACH neighbor in the Alpine region: Switzerland. Open Access in Switzerland is a complex field. On the one hand, Switzerland impresses with measures, such as generously funding rates from monograph funds. There exist multiple exemplary pilot projects in the field of Open Access and Open Science, as several presentations by our Swiss colleagues at the recent Open Access Days in Bern showed. On the other hand, however, there are numerous unresolved topics, such as the missed revision of the copyright law or the failure to achieve the ambitious policy goal of 100% Open Access by 2024 for publicly funded research. However, Open Access in Switzerland comprises multiple facets, and a look at the historical development of Open Access in Switzerland makes it particularly clear how they belong together. That is why we have taken a closer look and, in addition to the current situation, also included its historical development more intensively in our investigation than we have done in other blog posts.
We were able to get Prof. Dr. Ingrid Kissling-Näf, who will contribute to the first part of this article, to answer our questions about the history of Open Access policy-making in Switzerland. André Hoffmann, who we will introduce in the second part of this article, was available to answer questions about current problems and challenges.
Our expert on Open Access policy-making in the 10s.
To learn more about the winding road to Swiss Open Access-policy, we meet Prof. Dr. Ingrid Kissling-Näf, political scientist and economist. After an assistant professorship at the ETH Zürich, she led the Humanities and Social Sciences Division at the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), probably the most important research funder in Switzerland, from 2013-2017. The Open Access-funding policy at the SNSF was completely transformed during this period, and Prof. Dr. Ingrid Kissling-Näf played a leading role in this policy process. For the last 5 years, she has led the Business School at the Bern University of Applied Sciences, where she continues to be engaged in Open Access, for example by motivating staff to publish Open Access and engage in Open Science research projects. Her involvement in shaping the Swiss Open Access ecosystem makes her an ideal contact for us, especially for questions related to the design of the publication system in the 10s.
The beginnings of nationwide Open Access in Switzerland
The development began at the latest in 2003, when numerous important scientific actors in Switzerland, including the SNSF, the Rectors‘ Conference of the Swiss Universities of Applied Sciences and Universities, and the Swiss Academy of Sciences, signed the Berlin Declaration. Five years later, in 2008, the SNSF committed funded scientists to self-archive their publications. „However, compliance with this commitment was insufficiently monitored“ admits Ingrid Kissling-Näf. Then, in 2013, the Open Access policy became more concrete: the SNSF adopted guidelines that required research results from funded projects to be published without embargo – a clear gold Open Access-policy. Ingrid Kissling-Näf remembers the shift of attention that occurred at that time:
The National Fund (NF) was still very traditional, the whole book promotion was classically oriented on the distribution of physical copies. But then it was realized that we had to move with the times. Personal factors were deciding: the president at the time pushed Open Access. Pioneers were also the natural sciences, which had already developed Open Access further and were more familiar with the idea of openness.
As in many other Open Access-ecosystems, for example in Sweden, it were individuals, Open Access enthusiasts, who played a significant role in starting the policy processes. And in Switzerland, too, these advocates of an open publication culture quickly reached their limits:
Barriers and resistance to policies for an open publication culture
In the following years, discussions were first held within the National Research Council (Humanities and Social Sciences), the governance body for application evaluations and funding decisions in humanities and social sciences of the SNSF, which only adopted the development of a digitization strategy after long discussions, Ingrid Kissling-Näf tells us. This practice illustrates in line with current developments in Germany that the policy cycle in reality begins with the distribution of responsibilities. The decision to place the policy process in the hands of an organizational unit closely linked to the scientific community (via the National Research Council) was extremely wise in this phase. After all, significant doubts about Open Access were expressed in the scientific community:
One frequently presented argument against Open Access was that it was not compatible with traditional career paths. In many scientific disciplines, career paths were still very traditional. The doctorate was followed by a few peer-reviewed articles in closed-access in high-ranked journals, and then the professorship followed. There was no room for Open Access.
So something had to be done. To cover APCs, the SNSF set up a fund that granted up to 3000 sfr per published article. The Open Access policy was to be extended to monographs in 2014. These were supposed to be freely accessible after 24 months, for example via an Open Access publication on a repository. In principle, funding was only to be available for monographs that were available in a digital version. This guideline in particular caused concern among publishers. They feared negative effects on their book sales and protested loudly.
The publishers said that the cultural good of the book was being attacked by our Open Access strategy, that a tradition was being threatened. We then had discussions with publishing houses in Switzerland and especially with the legal sciences, where lucrative commentaries on laws are written. Our argument for Open Access was that these commentaries are publicly funded, therefore they should be publicly visible.
Policy processes are only linear in theory: however, because of the headwinds from publishers, the policy measures mentioned above had to be discussed again. The benefit of this confrontation was the understanding of the necessity of a dialogue with the most important interest groups. Thus, regular talks with the publishers were now also scheduled.
Winning over doubters, distributing responsibilities: A policy process is forming
First of all, it was agreed to analyse the impact of Open Access on traditional publishing structures. To this end, the SNSF launched a pilot project in 2014 based on the Dutch and British model, in particular to satisfy the publishers: In the OAPEN-CH project, a research team with German and Swiss publishers in the humanities and social sciences investigated what effects the publication of books in Open Access would have. The results confirmed the findings from England and the Netherlands that an edition that is freely available digitally on the internet increases visibility, findability and usability. Open Access has no negative impact on the sale of the printed book. In addition, a financial flow analysis was to be done to find out what sums were flowing into the publication system in Switzerland at the time. Here, too, a particular challenge was to name responsible parties:
The National Science Foundation criticised that it should do the financial study because it did not see any responsibility in monitoring the development of Open Access and translating results into policy measures. Therefore, we then went to Swissuniversities [the rectorate conference of the Swiss universities] and won them for the project.
In addition, other actors were won over for the project of an overarching Open Access strategy. According to Ingrid Kissling-Näf, the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation was persuaded in numerous talks to commit to the project. A welcome side effect was that from then on it could count itself as one of the drivers of Open Access. In 2015, the State Secretariat finally mandated the development of a national Open Access strategy.
During this time, a working group of swissuniversites together with SNSF was in close contact with the State Secretariat. We had regular discussions about which priorities we wanted to set. Maybe that was a format with similarities to the Alliance Initiative in Germany.
The circle of participants had grown significantly as a result. In addition to political representation, the Rector’s Conference now also involved the academic and higher education policy levels. The parallel to the Alliance Initiative in Germany that Ingrid Kissling-Näf draws here is also exciting with regard to the search for actors who could lead a nationwide policy process in Germany. In Switzerland, the attempt to place the policy process in the hands of a group consisting of political actors, research funders and universities was successful. This was achieved mainly through numerous informal contact initiations.
Adoption and implementation of the nationwide policy
In 2017/18, after forceful engagement, a first nationwide binding paper was adopted in the plenary assembly of swissuniversities. The objective of this policy was, among other things, to achieve 100% Open Access for all publicly funded research by 2024, while maintaining the autonomy of the universities. Measures to change the publication landscape were concretised in an action plan, which included the pooling of resources, the support of alternative publication formats and a reform of research evaluation. The SNSF was to play a pioneering role in the implementation of Open Access-policies in association with the universities. As in Germany, research funding bodies in Switzerland had a key function: „The SNSF’s guidelines were still decisive, because every university wants to receive the SNSF’s money and therefore has to accept its conditions. The SNSF’s conditions carry science policy.”
The process that Ingrid Kissling-Näf describes to us here has similarities in many respects to the challenges that Open4DE identifies in Germany with regard to the possible paths to a nationwide Open Access-strategy. For example, the beginning was characterised by efforts to pick up doubters and motivate relevant actors to take responsibility: Activities that we have to address if we want to succeed with a nationwide strategy process in Germany as well.
Critical perspectives on the Swiss Open Access Policy of 2017
Despite all the successes in formulating the policy, Ingrid Kissling-Näf also still sees a need for regulation. She too recognises the steadily increasing APCs as a crucial problem. The question of whether science-led publishing, for example through the publication of journals by universities, is a solution here, is hard to answer:
As yet, the National Fund does not or cannot finance this. That can be seen as a problem. And when universities act as publishers, quality assurance measures such as peer review must be guaranteed.
We would like to look more closely at the current challenges in Switzerland and ask André Hoffmann about this. André Hoffmann studied sociology and politics in Konstanz. Following his studies, he worked in the social science archive on the founding documents of the German Sociological Association. Already during this work, he noticed how beneficial Open Access to research data can be for producing results. After the opportunity to work in the field of Open Access, André Hoffmann arrived at the library of the University of Zurich after various stations and works there on the implementation of Open Access guidelines, is responsible for the Open Access Repository and informs students about the advantages of Open Access. André Hoffmann is also co-president of the AKOA (Arbeitskreis Open Access) – a committee of Swiss research libraries. His view on the Open Access landscape in Switzerland is very differentiated: In addition to the progress made in recent decades, he also sees the mistakes that have been made and names numerous challenges for the future. „The development of OA in Switzerland has not always been straightforward. Phases of progress alternated with phases in which developments stagnated“ André Hoffmann tells us right at the beginning of our conversation, confirming our impressions from the meeting with Ms. Kissling-Näf. Looking at the period up to 2016, he adds: „Especially the route on the green path generated strong binding forces“.
According to his observation, the publication of the strategy in 2017 was also in response to international developments. There, it became apparent that many funds flew into the Read and Publish Contracts that had been concluded between state institutions and large publishers. However, according to André Hoffmann, the strategy in Switzerland also focuses on these contracts. But the fact that many goals of this policy have not been achieved is, according to Hoffmann, because implementation is not centrally coordinated, but left to individual stakeholders.
Funding programs are also important. Swissuniversites has set up such a funding program, with which it was possible to launch an OJS at the University of Zurich, among others. Projects in this program must be 50% funded by the applying institution, usually a cantonal university, with the other half funded by the federal government.
But such a form of equal funding can lead to questions of responsibility: „On the one hand, Swissuniversities is pushing for implementation, on the other hand, the universities are doing their own thing,“ André Hoffmann describes the situation. Another consequence of involving individual institutions is that the services and products often only benefit the members of the funding institutions. According to André Hoffmann, it is also not possible to purchase project-products because of legal reasons. Finally, he has doubts on project-based financing because of the funding strategy of Swissuniversities: „The major funding lines dominate, but often smaller projects outside of these funding lines are not financed,“ he points out. In addition, there are often no financing concepts for the follow-up use of the project results after the end of the funding period: services and products that were once developed with commitment can’t be continued. This is a problem that we also know from Germany.
Particularism in strategy processes
“Single institutions such as ETH Zurich could be a driving force, but ETH is holding back, perhaps because of the many contracts with smaller publishers,” he suspects. In addition, the commitment of an institution always depends on the position of the management.
Particularism in strategy processes seems to be a widespread problem, according to Hoffmann. He mentions the different types of institutions as another example for this problem. “The universities of applied sciences, for example, have maintained repositories for years, but the small universities have not, which results in differences in publication monitoring.” Because of this and similar inconsistencies, consultations about strategies often end up in discussions about particular interests. According to Hoffmann, good moderation would be needed to mediate the different levels and interests. But various small discussions between libraries, researchers, divided into the numerous disciplines, and the universities, among others, affect everyday life: „communication across disciplinary and institutional boundaries often proved difficult,“ André Hoffmann summarises his impression. Moderation by a major player would help here.
Copyright law, publishers and book funding
Another obstacle is the lack of reform of the Act on Copyright and Related Rights (UHG). Its reform has already been discussed in the Swiss parliament, but no vote was taken.“This could have failed due to the lobby of the Swiss small publishers, who were not included in the Read and Publish agreements and ran parallel to the Open Access process for a long time, which then turned out to be a problem“ suspects André Hoffmann.
The generous funding for book publications, which can be up to 35,000 Swiss francs, is only rarely taken up because the requirements associated with it are difficult to realise.
Alternatives to the traditional publishing landscape are offered by the growing Open Access publishing scene in Switzerland. In André Hoffmann’s opinion, however, the SNSF is very hesitant in funding this sector. Although the funding of alternative publication formats is mentioned in the national strategy, this funding activity has practically stagnated. However, this is also because the editors hesitate to accept this funding line. „Probably also because of a lack of sustainability. Even the hosting of independent journals is often connected to jobs that are time-limited.“ At this point, André Hoffmann sees potential for savings in the Read an Publish contracts: „Freed-up funds could then flow into funding programs that support such publication and infrastructure projects,“ he suggests.
Such cross-financing of science-driven publishing is being discussed in Germany. And approaches in this direction also exist in Switzerland. In the PLATO project, for example, members of the Diamond Scene are being asked about the conditions that must be met for long-term activities. The aim is to get an overview of the needs in order to support the scene.
Europe, a driving force
Impulses for the progress of the transformation also come from the European context. For example, the University of Zurich is a member of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), an association with strict admission criteria, as André Hoffmann reports. „In this association, there is a separate working group on Open Science and guidelines are discussed to achieve a cultural change at the universities. This association is putting pressure for Open Access to be realised.“
Another European driver is the cOAlition S, which is also in contact with LERU. „Impulses from the European side have also led to the nomination of Open Science officers at the institutions.“ Since then, Zurich has also had an Open Science office, a Centre for Reproducible Science and a Citizen Science project centre. „Wild ideas were sometimes discussed in this environment,“ André Hoffmann informs us. „For example, the idea of uploading a version of records or publisher-PDFs to the repos so that legal certainty can be brought about in court proceedings.“ Presumably we all, not only our colleagues in Switzerland, need the courage now to discuss such „wild ideas“ again.
On the situation:
André Hoffmann is convinced that some progress will be achieved by 2024, but is sceptical about the ambitious 100% target. As can be seen in Germany, even a consortial large-scale contract like DEAL is not sufficient to come close to this mark. Hoffmann sees an additional strategic weakness in Switzerland in the rather soft structure of the second publication right. Other measures are being taken to remedy this. The SNSF already requires all authors to negotiate with publishers on how a second publication can be made possible.
Cooperative projects have a very difficult time due to the federal structure in Switzerland, André Hoffmann summarises his impressions. „Cantonal universities have to spend a long time agreeing on joint financing structures.“ He cites Switzerland’s failure to establish an ORCID consortium as an example (renewed negotiations in 2022 have meanwhile once again failed). In Switzerland, single universities would first have to finance the jobs on their own and then bill other participating institutions in a time-consuming procedure for compensation. This is probably the reason for the „tendency to isolate oneself and cultivate one’s own little garden“. In general, cooperation projects are difficult but necessary.
What can we learn from Switzerland?
In conclusion, if we take stock of the two conversations we had, we notice numerous parallels to the German situation:
Federalism: challenge for policy processes and central infrastructures: In terms of funding structure, German federalism creates similar problems to those in Switzerland. Here, too, major federal funding lines decide on the direction of the transformation, as for example in the 2021 BMBF’s funding program for the transformation to Open Access.
And here, too, the question arises how to sustainably finance infrastructures after the funding ends. Cross-state funding of central publication services is also difficult in Germany due to the federal structure. The example of Switzerland thus shows well that sufficient capitalisation of the publication sector does not solve the problems as long as the federal structure does not allow for the implementation of a nationwide and sustainable strategy towards Open Access. That federal structures can be complex in the design of policy processes through including numerous stakeholders ranging from politicians via funding representatives up to university rectors was made clear to us by Ms Kissling-Näf in her description of the creation of the 2017 policy. This period seemed to be particularly characterised by the distribution of responsibilities to the relevant actors. This is a problem that we are also currently facing in the Open4DE project.
Libraries stay among themselves: Other similarities are noticeable: in fact, libraries in Switzerland are also active in shaping the transformation. However, they not only set the conditions for funding programs, but are also the first to apply for their own programs. Thus, libraries as infrastructure providers mostly remain among themselves. More intensive involvement of researchers would be necessary here as well as there. „Discussion about Open Access and Open Science with researchers only takes place in the committees. But the researchers working there have often been more involved in administration for years,“ Hoffmann remarks on this. From the perspective of historical hindsight, too, much could have been done better here: Ms Kissling-Näf admits that there were consultations between 2014 and 2016, one „went around and presented everything. The research councils were also consulted and proposals were developed with them“. But „the people“ were not consulted.
There was no discourse across the board. There was no discussion with the research itself, only with the councils and the publishing houses. If you did that today, you would do it differently. But the disciplines are very different and that should be taken into account.
Ingrid Kissling-Näf’s comment shows once again that well-resourced universities and funding lines cannot replace efforts to get in touch with researchers and to find suitable forums and formats that bring about a change in the publication culture.
Future prospects: The function of libraries as research service providers is different today than it was then. At present, they offer a much greater number of services related to technical infrastructures. It would certainly be to the advantage of the transformation if libraries in both Germany and Switzerland were not only experts in technical publication infrastructures, but could also provide social and political transformation infrastructures. For example, by bringing together different stakeholders. This also includes planning for future change processes: In this regard, Ingrid Kissling-Näf points out that we should design policies in such a way that they can be easily expanded, supplemented or changed: change should already be taken into account as a constant factor in policy formulation.
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