Open Access publishing ensures that research is quickly and easily accessible. During the coronavirus pandemic, the importance of that has become clearer than ever before. For example, doctors and patients search for information about the treatment of COVID-19. To increase the impact of knowledge, ZonMw will tighten the guidelines for Open Access with effect from 1 January 2021. What will change?

Better research and more impact through Open Access

Sharing publications and data in a quick and accessible manner (Open Access) helps science, healthcare and education to progress. Doctors, patients, policymakers and professional practitioners can immediately make use of the most recent insights and data. The quality of research and data improves because colleagues can immediately examine the results published and can reproduce experiments in their own lab. It also improves national and international collaboration between researchers. Furthermore, It becomes clear at an earlier stage if something does not work, which means that research can then be adjusted or stopped. For example, it was mainly thanks to Open Access publications that the efficacy and safety of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 patients was quickly shown to be inadequate. Jeroen Geurts, chair of the board of ZonMw: ‘The coronavirus pandemic has very clearly underlined the importance of Open Access publishing’.

Implementation of Plan S

Since 2013, ZonMw has required researchers to make all publications that emerge from research that is partially or entirely funded by ZonMw available in Open Access form. A study by the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) reveals that in 2018 that was already the case for 60% of publications. ZonMw wants to accelerate this positive development. In mid-2019, ZonMw endorsed Plan S for Open Access. This plan has been drawn up by cOAlition S, an international collaboration of research councils, with the aim of realising 100% Open Access. Just like NWO, ZonMw will implement the guidelines from Plan S this year.

Direct 100% Open Access from 1 January 2021 onwards

The principles of Plan S apply to all call proposals that ZonMw publishes with effect from 1 January 2021. Therefore, compared to 2020, ZonMw will further tighten the guidelines. In practice, this means, for example, that there is free access to the publications and no embargo period between the date of publication in a journal and the publication being freely accessible online. Publication will also be under a Creative Commons licence, enabling sharing/reuse of results. Also retainment of copyright by authors or institutes will be aimed for.

Obstacles to overcome

Many researchers already publish in Open Access form but not in all cases and not always directly. The implementation of Plan S will therefore provide researchers from ZonMw projects opportunities but also obstacles that need to be overcome. For example, researchers experience that large sums sometimes have to be paid for Open Access publishing. That problem is currently being worked on, for example through national agreements between universities and publishers. ZonMw will also examine possible solutions to this problem. Rob Diemel, ZonMw coordinator Open Science: ‘ZonMw wants encourage Open Access via several routes so the project leaders can make their own choices. For example, in new funding rounds from 2021 onwards, applicants can include a post in the project budget for publication via the so-called full golden route (publications that are immediately free and accessible for everybody ). We will also facilitate the green route by offering researchers access to a repository that is frequently used worldwide. This will lead to the more rapid spread of research results and will offer researchers greater visibility.’

Open Access to utilise knowledge in society

Even though the transition from publishing behind paywalls to Open Access is a difficult process, Jeroen Geurts also sees that researchers are increasingly embracing Open Access: ‘Of course, researchers also feel the need to allow their findings to be used by society. In the case of COVID-19 research programmes, you can see that there is a considerable amount of expertise in the Netherlands to counteract the medical and non-medical negative effects of COVID-19. Rapid access to each other’s research and being able to make use of each other’s research is vitally important for researchers, especially if they are working in a race against the clock.’

Recognising and rewarding researchers

Open Access also requires a different way of recognising and rewarding researchers. Open Access publications are easy to find, are cited more often and have a greater reach. It is important that researchers are rewarded for the quality of their research and its importance for science and/or society, and not for controversial indicators such as the journal impact factor and H-index. Therefore, from 2021 onwards, the DORA (Declaration on Research Assessment) principles will be used in the assessment and selection of ZonMw funding proposals. Amongst other things, that should lead to another way of recognising and rewarding researchers.

Requiring but also informing and facilitating

During the course of 2020, ZonMw will mainly focus on implementing the guidelines from Plan S and informing and advising researchers and project teams about the Open Access publication of their research. The ZonMw Open Access team will also facilitate this implementation by including the guidelines and the processes and thoroughly preparing ZonMw employees for these changes so that they can help applicants. All of the information can be found on the ZonMw website and, of course, if you have any questions, you can contact the employees of the Open Access team.

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