Plan P: Can institutions facilitate open access?

The plan could see institutions pay their academics’ article-processing charges more often.

  • Dalmeet Singh Chawla

Credit: erhui1979/Getty Images

Plan P: Can institutions facilitate open access?

The plan could see institutions pay their academics’ article-processing charges more often.

8 March 2022

Dalmeet Singh Chawla

erhui1979/Getty Images

Some universities in the United States and United Kingdom are eyeing a scheme, due to be rolled out in 2022, that could see them pay their academics’ article-processing charges more often, instead of the costs coming out of the researchers’ own grant funding.

Under Plan P, universities that have signed up to the initiative will agree to pay US$500 for the peer review of every manuscript its academics submit to the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) and its sister journals, which are run by JMIR Publications in Toronto, Canada.

Every manuscript that is successful after peer review will move into a “manuscript marketplace”, as part of the plan. There, different editors of the participating JMIR journals will bid on which papers their journals would like to publish, taking into account the authors’ preferences.

If a paper is accepted, the institution will be expected to contribute an additional fee towards publication costs, but the final details remain undecided and will be subject to negotiation with each institution.

The aim is for all scholarly articles published through the project to be free to read online, says Gunther Eysenbach, a health informatics researcher at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.

Eysenbach stresses that his plan is complementary to Plan S—an ambitious funder-led initiative to make more scholarly papers available to read outside paywalls—rather than an alternative.

For Eysenbach, it’s important that the project is earmarking the cost of peer review from other publishing expenses, instead of lumping them together as the article-processing charges. As part of the project, some of the funds that institutions pay towards peer review will go towards participating external peer-review services, such as PREreview.

Greater access

Journals run by other publishers may be added to the manuscript marketplace, Eysenbach says, provided they are willing to reduce their publication charges by $1,000, given that the papers have already been through peer review.

“It’s an interesting model,” says Johan Rooryck, a French linguistics researcher at Leiden University, in the Netherlands, and executive director of Coalition S, the group of funders representing Plan S. In line with Plan S principles, Plan P would lead to more transparency around publishing costs and services, he says.

Rooryck also likes the idea that in Plan P’s proposed manuscript marketplace, a paper’s referee reports are made available to more than one publication—a process often dubbed ‘portable peer review’, that already exists at some journals and publishers to reduce duplication of efforts. A November 2021 study estimated that adopting portable peer review across all journals could save 28 million hours of peer-review time annually, in the United States alone.

Researchers participating in Plan P can also earn ‘karma points’ for editing, reviewing and authoring papers for JMIR journals. Under this policy, in place since 2015, the karma points can be redeemed as reductions in journal open-access charges for their own papers. For one review, an academic would typically receive around 100 karma points, which is equivalent to around US$100, Eysenbach says.

Papers participating in the scheme must be posted online as preprints before being considered for peer review. That would make all papers open-access by default, notes Eysenbach.

A similar idea, dubbed Plan U, set out in a 2019 PLoS Biology article, proposed that funders mandate that all of the research they finance be posted as preprints, but Plan U is yet to be widely adopted.

“Plan P goes one step further and adds the peer review component to it,” Eysenbach says. “Essentially, it’s a collaboration between open science-friendly institutions, funders, societies, peer-review services and journals.”

Plan P’s platform will automatically recognize preprints by authors based at member institutions, and will send out an automatic alert to the authors of the study that they are eligible to take part in the JMIR scheme.

Iowa State University in Ames is one of a handful of institutions in talks with Eysebach to sign up to the plan. Curtis Brundy, the university’s scholarly communications librarian, says Iowa State is likely to sign up to Plan P early in 2022. “We think this type of experimentation with publishing is very much needed right now and it's something that we support,” Brundy says.

Brundy says institutions are now more often paying open-access fees for their researchers’ publications, especially in Europe, which is an important way of addressing the imbalance caused by some authors having more to spend on publishing than others.