With the Plan S 2020 deadline now less than 10 months away, there is much conjecture around how its ambitious objective to make “full and immediate Open Access a reality” can be achieved.

Just this month, Digital Science brought together a unique panel of speakers from across the industry for a webinar – Gaining perspective on Plan S. During the hour-long event, the 450+ attendees heard first-hand about progress to date, as well as some of the hurdles stakeholders are encountering along the path.

Presenters included representatives from a cOAlition S funder, two publishers, a data consultant, and Digital Science. The webinar made it clear that Plan S is likely to bring big change to the research ecosystem and while many broadly support its aims, concerns remain around its potential impact on researchers and publishers. It also highlighted the need for collaboration, flexibility, and a willingness to listen if immediate Open Access (OA) is to achieve the kind of widespread adoption the plan is advocating.

Plan S – a brief history

In September 2018, a group of national research funding organizations, with the support of the European Commission and the European Research Council (ERC), launched cOAlition S, an initiative to make “full and immediate Open Access to research publications a reality”.

To achieve that goal, the coalition created Plan S, containing one key target: “After 1 January 2020 scientific publications on the results from research funded by public grants provided by national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.” In other words, any publications arising from grants awarded by signatory organizations in 2020 and thereafter, must be made immediately OA. Data drawn from the Digital Science Dimensions database suggests the average period between a grant being awarded and the first publication is typically two years. That means it is likely to be 2022 before the first Plan S-compliant publications appear.

The Plan S target is supported by 10 principles that outline the coalition’s position on topics such as APCs (they should be standardized and capped), OA licences (preferably CC BY), and hybrid journals (they should be phased out).

To date, Plan S has won the support of 14 national research funding organizations and four charitable foundations from 14 countries. The full list of signatories is available on the Science Europe website. While the plan has won general support in the academic community, some publishers and researchers have expressed reservations; these center on the lack of clarity around how the transition will be achieved, and the perceived “one size fits all” approach. And, to date, more than 1,700 academics around the globe have signed an open letter expressing their belief that the current plan goes “too far, is unfair for the scientists involved and is too risky for science in general.”

cOAlition S has responded by saying it views Plan S as a starting point for discussion and is keen to work with the community to find solutions to the concerns they’ve raised. It has already initiated the process of gathering and reviewing feedback.

As webinar host, Digital Science’s Director of Global Publisher Business Development, Cathy Holland, acknowledged: “We do realize this is a sensitive and complex topic. We serve the entire research community and by bringing that community together, our hope is that we can increase understanding about what each stakeholder group is trying to achieve. When someone reaches across the table with empathy and a mission to understand the other side, it often leads to new ideas and ways to solve a challenge.”

Speaker David Sweeney, Executive Chair of funder UK Research and Innovation, confirmed that, for cOAlition S, working in partnership with the wider research community to understand their concerns is a key objective. “This is meant to be a collaboration and cooperation. We want to recognize the interests of all, not just funders and authors, but publishers too. We are not laying down the law. We recognize the need to listen and amend some of our details.”

He added: “To date, the tale of success in delivering OA is pretty sad. What we want is to push that forward. We don’t expect every publication to be Open Access after 1st Jan; we expect most funders will apply [Plan S] to new grants, so that gives a couple of years’ breathing space before articles are published from the 2020 funded grants. Let’s pull together and get a transition plan in place. Let’s get there in a timely fashion and recognize there are different challenges for different parties.”

His message of collaboration was echoed by the findings of a recent Digital Science report, The Ascent of Open Access, which used Dimensions data to explore how the Open Access (OA) landscape has changed since the turn of the millennium. Talking during the webinar, one of the report authors, Digital Science CEO Daniel Hook, commented: “What we found is that attitudes to Open Science are changing and international collaboration has played a role in sparking that change. Collaboration is one of the watchwords when it comes to pushing Open Science forward. We need continued, coordinated initiatives (funder, policy etc.) to keep the momentum going.”

The report also found that collaborations, particularly international partnerships, have a positive impact on citations when linked to Open Access; on average, Open Access, funded, internationally-collaborative work is cited around 6 times more than non-OA, unfunded, domestically-collaborative work.


Dimensions – providing new insights and perspectives

An increasing number of publishers are turning to the forward-looking grant data in Digital Science’s Dimensions to help them prepare for Plan S. For some, the goal is to swiftly identify the data points that will help them understand how Plan S is likely to affect their business. For others, Dimensions data are providing them with the insights they need to enter into meaningful discussions with cOAlition S, and other national level OA related agreements.

Dimensions contains up-to-date information on more than 4 million funded grants, linking them to other sources such as publications, patents, and policy documents. Unlike other platforms, Dimensions isn’t confined to historic grant data – it covers active research projects as well as those in the pipeline (projects where funding has been awarded but research has yet to begin). This provides long-term visibility of grant activity.

The advanced Dimensions’ filters allow users to refine searches based on research institution, country, funder, researcher or publisher – or combinations of these. They can also filter articles by Open Access type, e.g. bronze, green or gold. More information on these options is available in our recent blog post on the topic.

Importantly, these filters make it possible to select the group of funders behind cOAlition S (a list that users can customize to meet their needs). When this is applied in connection with other filters, such as Open Access type and publisher name, organizations can quickly and simply gain an overview of what Plan S might mean for them. For example, the screenshot below captures the publications from the University of Oxford in 2018, which acknowledge funding from cOAlition S funders in the different OA categories per publisher (including ‘closed’ for articles behind a paywall).


Fig 1. Dimensions Analytics view filtered by publication year, funder group, institution, publisher, and showing the number of Open Access publications per publisher for publications from the University of Oxford, acknowledging cOAlition S funding.


In addition, users can view the Open Access status of all 99 million publications stored in Dimensions, as well as data from Open Access database Unpaywall, showing how OA content has been used. All this data is also available in the Dimensions API, allowing organizations to automatically populate dashboards or other internal systems with relevant data around Plan S.

Publishers are also working with the Dimensions Consultancy team on custom reports that highlight valuable data points for their organization, including:

  • The number (and percentage) of current publications funded by the organizations supporting Plan S.
  • How many of those publications match the top 10 fields of research that Plan S signatories have pledged to fund through 2025.
  • Active grants (by field) awarded by cOAlition S funders.
  • How much published research was conducted in the 10 key countries that Plan S funders have pledged to support projects in through 2025.
  • The top funders based on publication count – helping them identify which Plan S funders already feature heavily on the list, and assess the potential impact of other funders joining the coalition.

If you’re interested in finding out how Dimensions Analytics or our custom reports can support your organization as you prepare for Plan S, please contact us.