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Dekker: 'We will realise Open Access by 2020'

Sander Dekker, State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands, is pushing for more widespread use of Open Access as a means of publishing the results of publically-funded research. Open Science is a key priority of the Dutch Presidency in order to bring this Open Access agenda forward on a European level. Neth-ER asked Mr Dekker about his experiences so far and his vision for the future.

Q: The Netherlands is often considered a European pioneer in Open Access. Can you explain to your international colleagues what factors determine the success of a transition to Open Access to scientific publications and how research data can best be reused?

A: I have set a clear objective at the national level and discussed it with the universities (via the Association of universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and the academic publishers). This inclusive approach is of great importance as major transitional processes require maximum co-operation. I have also looked for partners at the international level. The European Commission has recognised the importance of Open Access and the broader field of Open Science for a longer period of time. Commissioner Moedas' motto is ‘Open Science, Open Innovation, Open to the World’, a sentiment that he has put into action via an Open Science Agenda, an Open Science Policy Platform, plans for a European Open Science Cloud and other initiatives. This will certainly help to set an agenda at the European level. There are also many other countries which are working towards Open Access. For example, together with the British Minister of State for Universities and Science, I presented a non-paper on Open Science to fellow ministers and the European Commission.

Political attention and pressure to change the system of knowledge-sharing have accelerated this process in the Netherlands. This particularly relates to the offsetting agreements that the universities have made with publishers, which maintain access to articles in international journals and make publications from major Dutch authors immediately and freely available. I have often been told that the political attention paid to this issue strengthened the universities' negotiating position in their dealings with the scientific publishers. I was therefore able to make a contribution in my capacity as State Secretary. I hope that the same can be said of the more stringent policy developed by NWO to make the results of NWO-funded research immediately available. NWO is currently also running a pilot on data-management plans and reuse of research data. I hope that everything that has been done in the Netherlands can also be conducted across the whole of Europe via the Council Conclusions with clear goals and ambitions. That is the way to apply political pressure across the whole of Europe. 

Q: Open Science is a key priority of the Dutch Presidency. Have your expectations regarding the results of bringing the Open Access agenda forward so far been met? And who would you say are the most important change agents in the transition to an Open Access publishing system at European level? 

A: The VSNU's approach in the negotiations with publishers is being copied by others and NWO is taking plenty of initiative to get fellow research councils to join them. The Netherlands is leading the way and successfully constructing a basis of support.

Open Science is indisputably a high priority. Awareness has been created, and after more than 20 years of discussion, collective goals and action have been formulated within the Council Conclusions, one of which is that we will realise Open Access by 2020, when we will also have taken important steps in taking a new approach towards the reuse of research data. The Amsterdam Call for Action on Open Science also specifies concrete action. I have also encountered publishers who understand the need for different models for scientific communication/publications and are taking steps accordingly. There is also growing realisation within academia that things can – and must – be done differently.

Yes, I am satisfied with the momentum created by the steps taken so far. It is very important that we have a shared goal and that we take action now to achieve it. At the Open Science Presidency conference on the 4th and 5th of April, where hundreds of stakeholders from across the world gathered in Amsterdam to share their knowledge, strategies and good examples of Open Science, I offered to arrange another meeting in Amsterdam in 2018 to discuss the results.

Q: Talking about that conference: the main outcome of the conference is the Amsterdam Call for Action on Open Science Can you specify to whom this Action Plan should apply, what its goal is and - most importantly - what needs to be done next to maintain the momentum?

A: The Action Plan calls on everyone: national authorities, the European Commission and all stakeholders. This cross-border collaboration is important as science and scientific publishing are international processes.

The Action Plan is a living document. This means that you can respond to it and that activities can be addressed and added to. It is important that national authorities, the Commission and the stakeholders (e.g. via the Open Science Policy Platform) address the action points. By regularly providing feedback at the Competitiveness Council level and by holding a progress conference in 2018, we can keep a close eye on progress. The Policy Platform will be put into action and activities can also be performed the working groups that contribute to the European Research Area (ERA). Essentially, it's about getting to work and ensuring that we work together as much as possible.

Q: EU ministers for research and innovation will make agreements on Open Science and their goals and plans for the years ahead at the Competitiveness Council meeting on 27 May. Robert-Jan Smits, Director-General of DG RTD, made a clear statement at the Open Science Presidency Conference about the importance of the May Council adopting ambitious Council Conclusions: the 27th of May is “D-Day”, according to Smits and “we will then know who are the true believers in Open Access”, he said. Do you (still) agree with him and what are your ambitions for this Council meeting?

A: Robert-Jan Smits is right. I intentionally pushed for ambitious Council Conclusions with clear objectives and activities. This is reflected in the Call for Action, and all parties must get to work. The Commission can play an important role in keeping Open Science high on the political agenda also after the Dutch EU Presidency is over. I really hope they do, as the stakeholders will only be able to realise true change – despite resistance from certain parties – if this political backing continues.

Q: As the world cannot be changed in six months’ time, can you say something about your European ambitions after the Dutch Presidency has ended?

A: You are exactly right. It has not been my ambition to change the world during the six months that the Netherlands holds the Presidency, but I did aim to start. That means that I will continue to work on the issues raised, also after the 30th of June. That of course goes for Open Science, which I got started on even before the Netherlands held the Presidency, and which will continue to be my focus, both nationally and internationally, as part of our efforts to develop the European Research Area. I already mentioned the follow-up conference on Open Science I want to organise in 2018. But I will also continue working on investments in research and innovation for growth, jobs and solutions to societal challenges, for example. The Seventh Framework Programme has been evaluated, and we should now concentrate on the mid-term review of Horizon 2020 and, in particular, the new European Framework Programme for research and innovation and achieving the proper focus in the new Multiannual Financial Framework. Work on these exciting issues is starting now and I am looking forward to giving them shape together with my European colleagues and the partners in the Netherlands.

Q: Alexander Rinnooy Kan said in an interview with Neth-ER that he hopes that other countries are willing to create their own version of the Dutch National Research Agenda, which would enable interesting transnational comparisons. And developing a European agenda that covers overlapping themes would be advisable, according to Rinnooy Kan. Do you agree with him and how do you see a possible follow-up taking shape at European level?

A: I recognise Alexander’s observation. I actually had different colleagues approach me and ask about the Dutch National Research Agenda: everyone is very interested in our bottom-up stakeholder approach and citizen involvement. The contents of the Dutch National Research Agenda enable us to demonstrate how the Netherlands can contribute to the societal challenges and be a valuable partner. If other countries were to develop a similar agenda, that could lead to new forms of European cooperation on themes that match the priorities of a group of countries. That would strengthen, from bottom-up, the cooperation between national research agendas and programmes with potential for cross-border dimensions.

The Dutch National Research Agenda has proven to be very valuable in more ways than one. The process has led to new forms of interaction between science and society. It brought the curiosity of the Dutch people to the fore, in a unique way. As an instrument, the Agenda connects research agendas and promotes and facilitates new and unexpected partnerships. In so doing, barriers disappear and the potential of cross-sector dynamics is utilised. For all these reasons I can certainly recommend that all of my colleagues initiate their own, similar processes.

More information
Publication Council of the European Union: Council 18-month programme, 1 January 2016 to 30 June 2017
Website EU2016NL: Open Science Conference
Article Neth-ER: Interview with Alexander Rinnooy Kan
Website:  Dutch National Research Agenda