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Principles of Open Scholarly Infrastructure (POSI) version 1.1: Reflections from adopters

Adopters of the POSI principles have met several times over the last few years to discuss the challenges and the improvements they’ve made in the transparency and longevity of their operations and governance. Hear from those involved in introducing the latest version - v1.1.

Photo by Jason Leung / Unsplash

The Upstream platform was created in order to discuss all things open. Open scholarly infrastructure and the need for the community to assess such infrastructures are surely at the heart of enabling the open research movement. The Principles of Open Scholarly Infrastructure (POSI) has proven to be an effective way to help organisations that underpin research communications demonstrate their move towards a more open and accessible ecosystem of support for scientific endeavours.

As long-time supporters and contributors to many global open scholarly infrastructure initiatives and organisations, the editors of Upstream are delighted that POSI has recently been updated to reflect the real-world experience of—and application by—the 15 adopting organisations (one of whom I work for but whose perspective isn't included here).

POSI version 1.1 includes changes for clarity rather than changes to the spirit of any principle. While the group has lots of ideas for adding some additional principles in the future, these minor revisions were deemed important by the adopters in order to bring the principles up-to-date with not just current thinking but also with current practice.

The POSI website reveals the new version, has an archive of the original, and a marked-up PDF that shares the rationale for each change point-by-point.

Representatives from the 15 POSI adopters (the POSI “posse”) have met several times over the last two years to discuss the challenges and misperceptions with POSI, as well as the benefits that they’ve seen and the improvements they’ve been able to make in the transparency and longevity of their operations and governance.

Here, several of those involved in writing and reviewing the revisions give their perspective on POSI adoption in real life, working with the group overall, what they see for their futures, and how they'd advise other organisations that might consider striving to meet POSI.

What have been the positive outcomes for you in adopting POSI? Has anything changed since your first self-assessment?

Sticky note session on positive effects from the initial meeting between POSI adopters in March 2022
Sticky note session on positive effects from the initial meeting between POSI adopters in March 2022

Melissa Harrison, EuropePMC: Europe PMC has always been a big promoter of Open Science, and we’ve added a renewed focus on open engineering practices. We’ve open-sourced some legacy code this year, and we’re introducing an open-first approach for new software. We found that POSI gave us the language to help in our journey and communicate our goals, challenges, and successes more clearly.

Chris Hartgerink, Liberate Science: POSI helps ground ourselves in something bigger than just our project's mission. The excitement of the POSI posse when a new group joins helps to also engage in critical discussion of the way we collectively self-evaluate, evolving what it means. For example, the stoplight system is now applied by several members even though it is not formally a part of POSI. This informal discussion is an encouraging way to learn from each other and to improve the POSI principles further, all together.

Dan Katz, JOSS: The main positive for JOSS is the fact that POSI is a public statement of values, referred to in the POSI adopters meeting as "public commitment & clarity of communication." To some extent, we also believe in POSI as a "framework for strategic decision-making," though we mostly think this is what we would be doing without POSI as well, making POSI more a reminder than a change.

Yvonne Campfens, OA Switchboard: POSI doesn't only give guidance on areas to address, but it is also a leading example of garnering the trust of the broader scholarly community.

Natalia Manola, OpenAIRE: We have gained a deeper understanding of the non-technical aspects of an open infrastructure, including how to conceptualise its components and their interconnections, and how to communicate with our member organisations to convey the benefits of openness while also emphasising the necessity of a quality seal that is intuitive, immediately visible and globally comprehensible, signifying our identity and the work we do for the community.

Giorgio Sironi, eLife/Sciety: Sciety was a product born into POSI after it had already been well-known at eLife. As a result, we were able to take on many enabling constraints, such as open source and open data, to make it easier to make design decisions. Time wasn't wasted considering how to protect programmatic access to underlying data, such as the public peer reviews we aggregate. The transparency and documentation needs for the software and its infrastructure were a helpful nudge in the direction of making it easier for new team members to be onboarded and an additional push to keep the cloud or software infrastructure reproducible and auditable rather than taking shortcuts.

Niels Stern, OAPEN & DOAB: The process of adopting POSI was in itself a positive outcome. It gave us the opportunity for reflection on our own practices within a common framework. Through conversations with colleagues and our Boards, we have performed some deep reflections on our day-to-day work that have helped us become more articulate about principles that have always been important to us and leading our work.

Adopting POSI has also been valuable to our external relations. Over the years, we have experienced that it has become increasingly important to those public institutions who fund us that we are transparent about our operations, finances, and governance. Performing the POSI self-audit has given us a structured way of sharing how we work.

On a more practical level, our POSI self-audit also prompted us to write the blog post A guarantee of OAPEN’s independence: we cannot be sold or acquired. This was something we would often explain verbally, but it’s even better to have a written version to point people to (and that they might discover independently).

Maria Gould, ROR: POSI has helped ROR align with community best practices for open infrastructure, identify areas where these practices might be improved, and provide a framework for developing a sustainability model.

Joanna Ball, DOAJ: Adopting POSI provided the opportunity for the DOAJ Board and Team to discuss whether our infrastructure, governance and organisation reflected the values that we share as a mission-driven organisation. It informed our strategic planning process and has ensured that we have prioritised work around governance and transparency over the last year, including publishing our support model for publishers on our website for the first time. In the busy day-to-day, it’s all too easy to focus on what’s urgent rather than what’s important, but POSI works as a guiding star for everything we do.

We also know that our community are becoming increasingly aware of POSI, and some organisations are starting to use it to inform decisions about investment or partnership. Adopting POSI signals our commitment to the world that we will remain open and community-led, and that we are thinking carefully about our own sustainability.

What have been the challenges for you in adopting POSI? Have any been overcome, or have new issues emerged?

Sticky note session on challenges from the initial meeting between POSI adopters in March 2022
Sticky note session on challenges from the initial meeting between POSI adopters in March 2022

Melissa Harrison, EuropePMC: Some of the phrasing and terminology in the original POSI version didn’t quite suit Europe PMC at first glance; for example, we’re not a membership organisation, and we do depend on grant funding for some operational activities. However, POSI is a set of principles, and principles involve a level of interpretation. We found the process of challenging ourselves to see our operations through others’ eyes very rewarding. I have to thank Michele Ide-Smith here, who was instrumental in drafting POSI v1.1 to better include diverse types of initiatives.

Chris Hartgerink, Liberate Science: POSI is an important but never urgent part of the everyday life of projects. How do we keep it a part of organizations as they mature, and interweave it with the project plan beyond those singular moments of self-evaluation? This is an ongoing process for us and not an explicit part of POSI, inasmuch as an implicit one.

Dan Katz, JOSS: The challenges of adopting POSI haven't really been challenging for us, as POSI is more of a codification of things we already were doing or thinking than new actions.

Yvonne Campfens, OA Switchboard: Our own principle #3 on a self-sustaining, not-for-profit business model has been worked out in quite some detail. There is solid overlap with the POSI/Sustainability principle, but we feel strongly about an additional item: recurring revenue. To ensure continuity into the future as best as possible, it is important to know how you’re planning and realistically expecting to cover your cost in future years.

Also, regarding the POSI/Insurance (Open source) principle, we have to be realistic and see things in perspective. The OA Switchboard is not only a mission-driven initiative, but it also provides a tool (the central information exchange hub) that stakeholders operationalise in their workflows and systems. We are running it as an industry-collaborative not-for-profit initiative, which means financial resources are limited. Nevertheless, the demands and requirements on data privacy and security are significant - and for good reason. Deciding to go for self-developed open source for core business logic, combined with connecting (via self-developed open source connectors) and running AWS microservices in an AWS Virtual Private Cloud, was our conscious decision for sustainability.

Natalia Manola, OpenAIRE: Since its inception, OpenAIRE has been a community-driven endeavour, fortunate to have the support of EC funding for its operations. As we have become a member organisation, we have faced challenges related to maintaining transparency and implementing a membership programme that aligns with the principles of Open Science. Adopting POSI has ultimately not presented any significant challenges; rather, it has accelerated the formal and full adherence to some of the principles. Thus, all in all, it has a very favourable effect.

Giorgio Sironi, eLife/Sciety: Working within a non-profit, funding and revenue generation are defined differently; this sometimes means the privilege of continued funding, and that the challenges reside instead in the space of matching product development and its experiments with auditing what we build for compliance. For example, whereas most of our corpus of review is already publicly available in some other form on the web, there is still a minor integration point towards a private Google Sheet that requires specific credentials. When this was introduced, it was incredibly timely in surfacing COVID-19 preprint reviews to readers, but it eventually became a limitation when running a copy of Sciety for development or integration purposes.

Niels Stern, OAPEN & DOAB: The challenges we encountered were mainly about how to interpret some of the POSI principles. For example, under Governance, the “Cannot lobby” principle prompted a long discussion about the difference between lobbying and advocacy (read more in our self-audit blog post). Likewise, it was difficult to identify the boundary of the Insurance “Open source” principle - this clearly related to the software of our core operations, but what about that which forms part of general business systems? Finally, we had several conversations with the accountant performing our financial audit about the contingency fund and how that should be managed in the annual accounts. It turned out well, but it delayed our annual report. This should now be in place for next year.  

Maria Gould, ROR: One challenge for ROR was adapting some of the principles to our unique context. ROR is, by design, an initiative rather than an organization; therefore, some of the principles related to membership and governance needed to be assessed. One challenge for ROR, and we imagine for other infrastructures as well, is how to move from identifying weak spots or areas of improvement to putting a plan in place to actually address these issues. While POSI has been useful for us internally, it’s not easy to determine whether alignment with POSI determines how the community perceives or trusts us. As a selected infrastructure in the 4th SCOSS funding cycle beginning in 2022, the connection between POSI and other open infrastructure initiatives like SCOSS has not always been made clear. This is something we hope the community can address in the coming years.

Joanna Ball, DOAJ: The challenges for us have mainly been in the interpretation of some of the principles - for example, “living will”, and “cannot lobby” - and what these mean for our organisation. It has been helpful to work on a revised version of the principles with others in the POSI community to develop a shared understanding.

What advice would you give to any other organisations considering adopting POSI?

Melissa Harrison, EuropePMC: Consulting with some of the earlier POSI adopters was very helpful in shaping our own reflections. I would advise people not to hesitate to reach out and ask any POSI adopter to have a general chat. It’s a good group!

Chris Hartgerink, Liberate Science: We've found it easy to get hung up on committing to doing the self-evaluation, only to subsequently procrastinate on doing it. Although POSI is important to us, it is not urgent - and this is a blocker often. Just slot in three hours - it is enough to get a first full evaluation done - or start asking the questions to get there. Because the answers are already there - don't pressure yourself to change things to improve your evaluation immediately. POSI is exactly there for that honest look at your project and making sure you reassess every now and then.

Dan Katz, JOSS: To think about POSI as both a set of values to work towards over time and a community of like-minded organizations to work with, encourage, and promote.

Yvonne Campfens, OA Switchboard: See it as a very useful exercise to reflect on the development of your own principles.

Natalia Manola, OpenAIRE: Engaging in this exercise is quite valuable as it promotes transparency within the organisation, enhances understanding of commitments, roles and responsibilities, and shapes future actions. Furthermore, the community governance of POSI allows organisations to actively participate in its enhancement and fine-tuning.

Giorgio Sironi, eLife/Sciety: Consider open infrastructure from the beginning of the lifecycle of a new product: I speak more for the technical rather than the administrative and business hurdles, but modern engineering sits on top of open source tooling in many forms. This helps minimize the friction between the commoditized world of JavaScript libraries and the software developed in-house so that developers and product managers can see and pick up practices and patterns used by large communities in the wild rather than inventing their own issue tracker.

Niels Stern, OAPEN & DOAB: If you and your organisation engage with POSI as a meaningful process, it will show in the way you go about and write up your self-audit, as the comments speak louder than the simple ratings. If you’re considering doing a POSI self-audit, we would recommend you to do it properly. It will give you a unique opportunity to drill down through the strategic depths of your organisation. It can also help you shape future strategies. So, in short, the recommendation is to invest time in the self-audit process and use the results of it actively.

Maria Gould, ROR: Our advice to other infrastructures is to focus on POSI as a framework rather than as a prescription, a guide rather than a mandate. Also, to take advantage of the growing momentum behind POSI and behind open infrastructure in general to be part of a community transformation and alignment process around best practices and shared objectives.

Joanna Ball, DOAJ: Don’t rush it -  POSI is not a tickbox exercise, and each principle requires discussion and reflection in terms of what it means for the individual infrastructure, and what steps are necessary to move closer to the principles. I’d also advise speaking to other members of the POSI community - this certainly helped develop our thinking as we went through the process.

What’s next for your organisation/initiative, with regard to POSI?

Melissa Harrison, EuropePMC: At the end of this year, we’re planning to publish a blog reporting on our progress towards meeting POSI.

Chris Hartgerink, Liberate Science: We just reassessed according to the new POSI v1.1 - we'll be translating it into action items for the next year over the next few weeks!

Dan Katz, JOSS: We are currently thinking about some sustainability challenges that don't seem to be captured by POSI, so we'll likely see if these should be worked into a future version of POSI.

Yvonne Campfens, OA Switchboard: Reviewing our own principles, in light of also adjusting POSI principles, will be an ongoing process as we move forward.

Natalia Manola, OpenAIRE:  Open Scholarly Communication and consequently OpenAIRE is currently facing a critical juncture, with numerous opportunities for the development of new infrastructure and services on the horizon. Maintaining relevance to the Open Science cause is in the core of our work, and any progress will only be pursued with a focus on POSI. The next actions we will take involve: determining the commitments and responsibilities of our members; establishing and reinforcing internal policies that comply with POSI; and creating multiple revenue streams to guarantee continuous funding.

Giorgio Sironi, eLife/Sciety: An immediate next challenge for Sciety is to help shape the open standards where none are yet fully established - from Docmaps to COAR Notify, for example. Open APIs are the most useful when they are easy to use and integrate, and standards can help us run a service while not ending up practically locking out interoperable tools. At the same time, defining standards on a collaborative basis does not move at the same pace as in-house product development, and we have to balance the long-term needs of the community with the next feature to offer users.

Niels Stern, OAPEN & DOAB: Our aim for the POSI self-audit is that it will be a living document that will accompany our existing strategic plans and updates for our organisations (both OAPEN and DOAB). We plan to review our self-audit every few years to ensure it stays accurate. Meanwhile, it performs the essential everyday task of providing you, the scholarly community, with our public commitment to POSI and allowing you to question, challenge, or even encourage us on any of its aspects.

Maria Gould, ROR: We continue to work on areas we identified in our initial assessment in 2020. We plan to revisit ROR’s assessment at some point in 2024 to evaluate our progress and determine the next steps. And we look forward to continuing to collaborate with and support other signatories and open infrastructure initiatives.

Joanna Ball, DOAJ: We are using the POSI principles to guide our current work around our legal entity and governance structure. As this work develops we will communicate with our community and carry out a reassessment with our new Board. It will be a good opportunity to take stock, and plan how we can continue to embed the principles into our work. There’s always room for improvement!

Thanks to everyone who contributed their reflections.

Copyright © 2023 Ginny Hendricks. Distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.