Imagining a world without open infrastructures


Imagine a world where thousands of peer-reviewed journals, books, datasets, and other research output are no longer available online, a world without persistent identifiers, registries, and standards for data exchange, where technical development priorities are not in alignment with community values, and where the creation of standards is not community-driven.

This is a world without open infrastructures. They are not simply “nice to haves” or alternatives to commercial offerings–they are essential tools and services that support research creation and publication designed for the public good.

We need funders of all shapes and sizes to imagine what a world without open infrastructures could look like and, instead, to help create a vibrant ecosystem where open science thrives on open infrastructures. Research findings are accelerated because there is the broadest possible participation in publishing research and access to research output, with robust open infrastructure tools throughout the research lifecycle making this vision possible.

Puzzle pieces that link the four advocacy points togetherOpen Infrastructure: What and Why

Open infrastructures are scholarly communication resources and services provided by non-commercial organisations that enable the scientific and academic community to collect, store, organise, access, share, and assess research.

Open infrastructures aim to provide trustworthy assurances of openness, community accountability, stability, transparency, and reliability. Read more.

Why support open infrastructures
Open infrastructures add balance to a system often dominated by commercial actors
Open infrastructures can interoperate, building a network of open information
Open infrastructures are accountable to the community, not to shareholders
Open Infrastructures are more transparent in terms of their finances and governance

Navigating Uncertainty: The Financial Realities of Open Infrastructures

The financial foundation of the open science infrastructure ecosystem could be more stable. These are the tools and services that researchers, students, citizen scientists, and the general public rely on; many are at risk.

Despite being well-managed and highly used, they face financial challenges. As not-for-profit organisations, they do not have access to capital investment funds available to commercial ventures. By their very nature, they need robust ongoing revenue models because they offer data and services for free (or at a very low cost). Also, most of these organisations lack sufficient staff resources to execute marketing campaigns to attract much-needed funding.

Even organisations not at immediate risk can find themselves struggling to fund ongoing maintenance. Unpredictable revenue streams make long-term planning and development uncertain.

A Way Forward

A shift in priorities and practices for all stakeholders is needed to address the widespread financial challenges. Libraries, research funders, public and private funders, and service providers who depend on open infrastructure must collectively fund open infrastructure to ensure a more equitable, interoperable Open Science ecosystem. Infrastructures and their users and advocates need to help raise awareness of the fundamental importance of open infrastructure to learning and research.

From projects to operations
Some research funders are modifying their funding strategies to support open infrastructure. Others, while recognising the need for change, are still determining how to shift to best address the evolving open infrastructure landscape. A disconnect remains between the project-based opportunities that research funders offer and the ongoing operational needs of open infrastructures. We ask funders to make deliberate investments that extend beyond project delivery and focus also on supporting organisations’ operational frameworks.

Invisible infrastructure
Seamless interoperability of open infrastructure can make it “invisible”, so its value is not always immediately acknowledged. For example, the effort to create and maintain persistent identifiers is “invisible” to users who greatly benefit from this essential infrastructure. We need to shed light on all vital open science infrastructures.

Collective responsibility
Raising awareness of the significant costs of developing and maintaining a complex infrastructure is essential. All resourced organisations that benefit from open infrastructure should contribute; otherwise, a few will bear the burden disproportionately for the many. We can all share the responsibility to cultivate a healthy non-profit Open Science/Scholarship ecosystem.

Invest wisely
Open infrastructure represents a viable alternative to purchasing/licensing commercial products or building your own. We must make financial decision-makers aware of the cost savings they realise by using open infrastructure. Investing our scarce resources in open infrastructure means investing in long-term solutions committed to our open, equitable access and preservation values.

SCOSS Call to Action

SCOSS has a unique perspective, given our close work with various global open infrastructures. SCOSS evaluates open infrastructures that require funding and recommends them to potential supporters. The SCOSS Family of 15 infrastructures represents a microcosm of the larger open infrastructure ecosystem. This microcosm includes large established infrastructures alongside those more recently launched. Among the infrastructures in the SCOSS Family are registries, publishing platforms, repositories, and more.

SCOSS has embarked on a strategy to raise awareness of the value of infrastructures by promoting those
essential and at risk. The financial challenges they face are not abstract ideas but ones that we see first-hand. We have raised well over 6 million Euros for open science infrastructure through a proven framework for funding that recognises that supporting solid and sustainable open infrastructure is a shared responsibility. We all need to engage and amplify the following critical message:

Without collective action, we may have to say goodbye to an
open infrastructure ecosystem that all stakeholders (including commercial services) trust and have come to depend upon.

There is no one solution for this wide and varied field of infrastructures, but we can find solutions together by collaborating with all stakeholders.

We can do practical things now:

  1. SCOSS, open infrastructures, and institutions can campaign for a trusted, interconnected open infrastructure for a strong, diverse, and resilient ecosystem. Through collective outreach efforts, we can increase the visibility of infrastructures.
  2. Governments and funders can adapt current systems and create new ones that make it simpler to contribute financially – e.g., establishing (a) centrally administered fund/s to collect and distribute contributions, reducing overheads and administration for funders and infrastructures.
  3. SCOSS and open infrastructure ideally collaborate with existing networks, such as consortia, to get the best value for our efforts.
  4. Let’s all rethink what we fund and why: if we directly benefit from open science infrastructure or if others do, then we should contribute financially or in kind to support them.