Creating long-term sustainability is a challenge for many open science and open access infrastructures and building longer-term partnerships is key.
Creating long-term sustainability is a challenge for many open science and open access infrastructures. They often rely on time-limited grant funding for both development and operations, rather than structural support from research organisations and research funders. SCOSS is functioning as a framework for organising this more structured funding, by presenting a carefully vetted selection of critical infrastructures to the global community of OA/OS stakeholders with an appeal for monetary support. When liaising with academic libraries, SCOSS tries to focus on their consortia to improve efficiency and reduce the administrative burden for both research organisations and infrastructures. Some research funders have started to pledge as well.
As part of the SCOSS pledging campaigns, organisations from across the globe financially contribute for a period of one to three years in the first instance, to provide the infrastructures with mid-term support needed to meet their specific goals for SCOSS funding and to support their operations. The hope is that this will also lead to longer-term relationships between infrastructures and their funders and users, e.g. through governance models that include representation from supporting organisations.
Strength in numbers
The diverse group of over 10 infrastructures constitute the SCOSS Family. This small community of practice provides valuable opportunities for exchanging experiences, challenges and best practices, especially since they are at different stages of their own ‘life cycle’ as well as of the SCOSS funding cycle. Each SCOSS infrastructure differs in how it builds relationships with its users and with potential supporters.
Some, like arXiv and DOAJ, are long-established infrastructures who are nonetheless often actively (re)thinking their membership and governance models, while others are more recently established and are starting up funding models and processes to support themselves going forward. Other members of the SCOSS Family, like PKP and OpenCitations, are nearing the end of their 3-year SCOSS funding cycle and are therefore actively thinking about maintaining long-term relationships with the institutions that have supported them so far since their work is by no means done.
To make use of these diverse perspectives and experiences, and to strengthen the connection between the SCOSS infrastructures, two online SCOSS Family working meetings were held in 2023 to discuss strategies for longer-term funding. A number of challenges were identified at these meetings, as well as some ideas of potential approaches to meet these challenges, either collectively or by each infrastructure.
The group identified common challenges which centred around the effort required in reaching (new) pledging organisations or consortia, limited success in getting organisations to renew their financial support, and the expanding landscape of infrastructures looking for support.
For many infrastructures, promotional efforts require significant time investment, which often means balancing operational resources with those needed for promotion and outreach. In addition to trying to reach new potential supporters, keeping organisations engaged in the mid to long term often proves challenging – both in terms of pure administrative workload (with changes in staff on both sides, uncertainty as to when is the optimal time for outreach) as well as difficulties in securing longer-term funding in times of shrinking budgets and increasing demands for support to open initiatives. Where infrastructures are successful in broadening their support base, this often requires rethinking membership models and ways of engagement, i.e. the need for strategic scaling.
SCOSS Family members pointed out that SCOSS plays an important role in providing visibility to key or core infrastructure through its campaigns, and SCOSS makes essential connections to important stakeholders during the three-year funding cycle. Once the three years come to an end or if SCOSS infrastructures have reached their targets, it is not always clear to pledging organisations that financial support is still needed to continue essential work. An additional challenge is that organisations sometimes assume that their contribution through SCOSS campaigns automatically supports all SCOSS infrastructures, which is not the case.
A final common challenge noted was the growing number of infrastructures requesting support, both for research organisations who have to make choices on how to spend limited budgets, as well as for the infrastructures who find themselves competing against each other for funds. In recent years, a number of models and initiatives have emerged to organise support for open science infrastructures, which can be both beneficial and potentially confusing, especially for research organisations who need to make informed choices.
When addressing challenges, the SCOSS infrastructures identified a number of opportunities. The SCOSS Family provides a community to exchange strategies and best practices in reaching out to organisations. Another opportunity lies in looking at collective advocacy, e.g. by developing arguments on the importance of open infrastructures (another topic the SCOSS family has been working on in 2023).
While actively promoting the SCOSS infrastructures participating in current funding cycles, SCOSS also continues to highlight the infrastructures that were part of previous cycles as part of the SCOSS Family. Infrastructures can use the SCOSS branding to signal the fact that they have been vetted by SCOSS both during and after the three-year cycle.
It has also been suggested for SCOSS to pursue a model in which the SCOSS infrastructures represent a core set that could be funded collectively instead of merely promoting them individually. The advantage of this model is that a suite of important services might be funded as one collective, where no one infrastructure is preferred over another and so all benefit from funding. However, the downside of this is that other infrastructures not part of the SCOSS Family might be considered of lesser importance since they are not part of that suite, possibly to the detriment of the larger ecosystem. The SCOSS Family constitutes part of that larger ecosystem; it is therefore important to highlight the ways the SCOSS infrastructures connect (also across regions). In addition to the SCOSS cycle campaigns and the new suite of services idea, SCOSS will also explore regrouping infrastructures around themes to match funder priorities, e.g. repository-related infrastructure, diamond publishing or registries, as a way of making funding multiple infrastructures more attractive to funders.
Finally, and again related to collective advocacy, there are opportunities to both broaden the funder base by targeting research funders more specifically, as well as to actively promote discussions around shifting budgets from supporting commercial, closed infrastructures to non-profit, open alternatives. There is also a clear opportunity here to work together with other organisations and initiatives in this space like Invest in Open Infrastructure, the Open Book Collective, POSI and the Action Plan for Diamond Open Access.
Ultimately, rather than open infrastructures individually competing for limited budgets, an increased focus on the collective benefits of a sustainable open infrastructure ecosystem, accompanied by a shift in budget allocation, will strengthen the open science ecosystem as a whole. SCOSS is looking forward to continuing their work with the infrastructures in the SCOSS family to make this a reality.
Two infrastructures that need your help now: PKP and OpenCitations
With the infrastructures from the SCOSS 2nd funding cycle nearing the end of their active fundraising period through SCOSS, we would like to highlight their need for continued support. All three infrastructures (DOAB/OAPEN, PKP and OpenCitations) are actively pursuing long-term funding strategies and fostering connections with existing and future supporting organisations. Their work continues, and has accelerated over the years, and we need them as part of a healthy Open Science ecosystem.
While DOAB/OAPEN has already reached its SCOSS funding target, both PKP and OpenCitations still need additional financial support to help reach their funding target before the end of this year. We strongly encourage you to help them as this funding ultimately helps the wider OS community.
It’s best to hear it from PKP and OpenCitations themselves: please read their stories here: https://pkp.sfu.ca/2023/10/17/financial-contributor-pathway and here: https://opencitations.hypotheses.org/3488.