The Future Of Open Research In India - A Publishers Perspective

Nitasha is two-term President of Association of Publishers in India, the trade body for international publishers. A publishing professional of 28 years and an active commentator on Indian publishing.

Evolution of an Open Research Environment
The last decade has been one of evolution and change for research and academic education globally. Interest in the ways in which research is published, consumed, circulated, and communicated has greatly evolved ever since the world has seen the relevance of research in solving global outbreaks and common crises like climate change or the COVID-19 pandemic. The need for FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reproducible) data has become the new driving principle and has made a swift shift towards an open sharing model. Governments, policymakers, institutions, and education providers are also embracing and are adapting at different paces to these growing needs for research to be accessible along with being reproducible.

As the geography of research shifts to Asia, China and India are leading in growth of high-quality peer reviewed research, according to the Web of Science. Indian scientific research is growing at a CAGR of 13.9 per cent, in contrast to a global average of less than 4 per cent (including the UK and the US), and the potential for growth is seemingly endless. India’s rank at The World Intellectual Property Organization’s Global Innovation Index has also moved from 66 in 2016 to 40 in 2022, and the country ranks first among the 10 economies in Central and Southern Asia. As India’s position strengthens in the research space and we see an increase in digitization of content, there has been a need to innovate both government policy and traditional publishing processes.

This has brought momentum to the open science movement, that has already spread in Europe and elsewhere, especially after the need to disseminate research faster and open up the underlying data and metadata during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to UNESCO, “Accessibility, sharing, transparency, reuse, and an interaction with society are all values championed by open science. The Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP) and within it the One Nation One Subscription (ONOS)policies of the Government of India are key attempts to keep pace with these trends and provide a national platform for researchers at all levels to access relevant content via a common national license obtained by the government.

Open Research is about 'extending the principles of openness to the whole research cycle fostering sharing and collaboration as early as possible thus entailing a systemic change to the way science and research is done

Researchers from the Global South & Open Research
If you are a researcher in a country like India, you need accessible, fair and timely options to publish your research output to build your career, reputation and network. This is of course true for researchers everywhere, but the traditional publishing systems have been geared towards western scholars and research; biases, conscious and unconscious, are not uncommon. If you are South Asian and female the system can be even more fraught. Challenges can take the form of inadequate reviews, lack of openness to diversity in subject/themes, biases based on geographies, gender, etc. Open Research and within that Open Access provides solutions and options to this traditional system.

Open Research is about “extending the principles of openness to the whole research cycle fostering sharing and collaboration as early as possible thus entailing a systemic change to the way science and research is done ( Open Access falls under the gamut of Open Research and it is a publishing model for scholarly communication that makes research information available to readers at no cost i.e., there are no financial, legal, or technical barriers to accessing it. Additionally, any reader can download, copy, distribute, print, and build upon open access research. The costs involved in publication of these articles (or Article Processing Charges) are usually borne by institutions to which the authors are affiliated or funders both private (e.g. the Bill & Milinda Gates Foundation)and governments (e.g. in India the Department of Science & Technology is the biggest funder).

Role of Publishers
Despite this movement, there are still gaps in the research landscape in India. Awareness of options, publishing norms, methodologies and structures across disciplines, research and publishing ethics and even how to choose the right journal to publish in and post-publication dissemination, are segmented and often inadequate. Increasingly, publishers catering to this segment are providing guidance in the form of author workshops and training modules as well as free individual and cross-publisher resources to support researchers in their publishing journey.

Publishers like Taylor and Francis are driven and committed to support the academic community as they navigate through the open research landscape. Our initiatives, services and products offer options and choices to researchers in India in every stage of their journey, be it early career or later, both for publication and for amplification and impact. A good example of this is our F1000 imprint that understands and responds to pain points including speed of publication, choice of journal, restriction on article types and research waste, reproducibility and collaborations, by offering a cutting-edge open access scholarly publishing venue. Their unique open research publishing model responds to these pressing needs by prioritizing transparency, reproducibility, and editorial rigor.

Alongside researchers and funders, the role of publishers in aiding both collaboration and research communication will continue to be vital, especially for those based in developing countries. The issues of research quality and integrity, that plague the research ecosystem in our country, continue to rely on publishers’ ability to detect fraud, malpractice, or mistakes based on the information available in a submitted manuscript. In a more open system, publishers bringing in the best of global practices and technology can be supported throughout the ecosystem to build an open, verifiable and robust research environment.

The Future Holds Challenges & Promise
Beyond the researcher experience, there are clear gaps in open research solutions for others take holders including libraries, universities, and publishers. There is an opportunity here to solve problems in metadata and indexing, collections management, impact assessment, and other shared needs. While we need to keep the researcher perspective at the center of our conversations, the end-user cannot move the open research needle alone as researchers operate within an institutional and funding ecosystem and are influenced by incentive and reward structures (tenure, citations, etc.) that involve a number of players. Technology also plays a significant and ongoing role in all this and the parallels between open source technology and open research are many.

The need for open protocols and open methods alongside open peer reviews and data protocols is clear. We tend to imagine that there will be technology barriers to open research but many of these technologies are already being applied in Indian language publishing and translations of technical texts in India. Rather the challenges are those of mindsets and academic practices that incentivize quantity over quality of research, employ ability and real-world application. The challenges for publishers and researchers as well as for other stakeholders like librarians and institutions of higher education and research will continue and evolve. However, if mindsets and cultures of research and learning match advances in technology and advancing choices for end users, the future of research and researchers and consequently the skilling and soft power potential of India will live up to its demographic promise.