Investing in the future at a 484-year-old press
Hearing Cambridge and R&D uttered in the same sentence is likely to bring to mind images of the “Cambridge Cluster” of technology companies near the University or researchers going into the private sector to apply the solutions discovered in research to industry challenges. Yet down the road, is a different type of R&D team—one focused on the opportunities and challenges within scholarly communications. R&D is so important to innovation and, when done right, is an investment in the future. The difference between R&D at a large technology company compared to a 484-year-old university press is that we view it as our job to ensure that our investments–from Open Research infrastructure to authoring tools–bring benefits back to the research communities, not just the Press.
We are now passing the 1-year mark for a new approach to research and development via the creation of a new Scholarly Communications R&D team. Our team is responsible for activities that build on insight from the higher education ecosystem, including our parent institution, to explore and pilot new opportunities for global scholarly communications. The team pulls together work in Open Research, author & researcher services, and research integrity. As a not-for-profit publisher we are part of, and are led by, the research community. Not only are we investing in R&D for the benefit of research communities, but the Press also returns money to the University of Cambridge for funding teaching and research.
One of the shifts heavily influencing the future of scholarly communications and impacting researchers is the Open Research movement. At Cambridge University Press, we recognize that the central promise of the Open movement—that an open scholarly ecosystem will accelerate the ability of research to solve problems—is of the highest importance to our communities, our publishing partners, and society in general. Our vision at the Press is to unlock the potential of high-quality research and work towards a more impactful, community-led, efficient, and diverse Open future. We’ve found the goals of the Open movement to be invigorating, as they dovetail in many ways with the Press’ mission and gives us a chance to support our research communities through a period of intense change. We see our work with Open Access as a critical first piece in a longer journey to increase the Open Research capabilities available to our authors. There are those who argue publishers are increasingly unnecessary and that they unfairly profit by putting themselves between researchers and their readers in an Open world. We believe it is essential that we use the unique position that we have to engage as honest advisors and partners, investing in innovative solutions and extending the accessibility and impact of research.
Despite the many benefits of a more Open world, there are new forms of inequities to be tackled. Researchers in well-funded fields and/or countries have advantages in the current OA business models. As a global publisher of both HSS and STM content, we’re very interested in supporting quality and impact in ways that acknowledge these challenges. Two recent examples of R&D projects illustrate this. In 2017, we became the first university press to build an article sharing service, Cambridge Core Share, on its own platform. Cambridge Core Share gives authors a tool to be able to share the final, read-only version of their article with other researchers and on social media and does this in a way that enables an author or institutional customer to still be able to get a comprehensive view of usage metrics and impact. With tens of thousands of views per month, the investment in this tool has furthered our mission to disseminate research as widely as possible, including those disciplines that aren’t well-funded enough to pay for Gold APCs. We’ve also reached an agreement with ResearchGate to support authors in social sharing through a more sustainable approach.
Another key activity for our R&D team is exploring how new technologies could improve access to, or the quality of, published research. We recently joined the Blockchain and Peer Review Initiative as a founding partner to investigate whether storing and sharing information around peer review activities using blockchain technology will provide a new solution to challenges to peer review such as fraud and reviewer recognition. This a collaborative, joint-effort with other publishers (Springer Nature and Taylor & Francis), as well as Digital Science, ORCID, Editorial Manager, and Scholar One. By collaborating, the publishers involved hope to be able to employ existing peer review management systems used across publishers to extend the peer review infrastructure into something decentralized and trusted.
There is no denying that Open movement has brought disruption for publishing and publishers. However, disruption can lead to innovation and at the Press we believe that greater openness across the research lifecycle will improve accessibility, collaboration and efficiency. Realising the full benefits of the Open movement requires adaptation to our technologies, policies, and processes. The creation of our Scholarly Communications R&D team is just one of many ways in which we at the Press are carving out space for thinking about what that long-term transformation is, and kicking off more work that will support sustainability and innovation.