IWA leads the way on access to water knowledge

The move to full Open Access for all IWA journals this year represents a huge contribution to the sector, particularly for developing countries. By Kala Vairavamoorthy.

IWA’s Strategic Plan 2019-2024 makes clear that we intend to strengthen our position as an authoritative source and a global reference point for water knowledge, and to play a pivotal role in bridging the chasm between research and practice.

As a global membership organisation bringing together academics, scientists, engineers and practitioners, IWA is uniquely placed to be the conduit through which knowledge is turned to innovation. Indeed, one of our greatest strengths is our extensive knowledge and information database of journals, books and conference proceedings, which is consistently enhanced by contributions from our members and other water researchers, practitioners, engineers, and so on, worldwide.

As one of the fastest and most reliable ways to disseminate information, journals are at the heart of our association. They helped in the very creation of the organisation by providing a focus for pioneering experts active in the water community around the world to connect through shared interests right from the earliest days of our predecessor associations. They create a powerful synergy, delivering highly valued information that can shape the direction of the water sector.

Journals also provide the essential element of trust through peer review of the latest research, investigations and evaluations of experience, especially from a science perspective. This is a process that delivers insights to members that are of great value. It also provides the strongest possible foundations to nurture an organisation and network able to rise to the demands of the sector with a voice that carries weight and authority.
Knowledge alone, however, is not enough. Only by ensuring the widespread dissemination of, and seamless access to, our knowledge base can we truly hope to drive innovation in the global water sector.

An information revolution

Today, IWA Publishing has a thriving programme of 15 journals, addressing the world’s most urgent water challenges, from ridge to reef and from catchment to tap. Not only is the portfolio enviable, but we have seen that it has the potential to underpin the realisation of IWA’s strategic aims, delivering vital information and insight to where they are needed the most.

The key to achieving this is through access – Open Access.

For this reason, we are proud to have announced that, from February 2021, the content in all our journals is now fully Open Access and can be read and downloaded by everyone around the world at no cost to themselves. Authors can also publish for free in our latest Open Access journals, meaning that everyone has the same potential to publish their work Open Access, regardless of any financial barriers.

We hope that by IWA fully embracing the Open Access movement, it will allow for information, knowledge, and best practice to be shared with the widest possible audience from around the world.

Our publications will receive greater visibility and readership, leading to a potential increase in the impact of research. Greater access to, and sharing of, knowledge also provides a boost to a range of important objectives – notably, fairer social and economic development, broader intercultural exchanges, and increased opportunities for innovation.

This is an exciting and transformative development, and indeed IWA is extremely proud to be the first membership organisation publishing STM journals entirely under an Open Access model.

In fact, Open Access epitomises the clearly felt need for democratising free access to knowledge. This nudge has enabled developing countries to generate an increase in the number of research scholars and in research output, with a focus on understanding and solving local problems. The changes have therefore fostered inter-cultural partnerships and catalysed co-ordinated global efforts for the betterment of humanity.

The rise of Open Access

Our move towards Open Access implements the same kind of vision espoused by the United Nations as being fundamental for the growth of capacity around the world. Building of knowledge societies by fostering universal access to information and knowledge through information and communication technologies is key to this growth. Open Access capitalises on the emergence of digitisation and connectivity to increase the possibility of making information available to anyone, anywhere, anytime, and in any format.

At IWA, we have seen that expectations around delivery of, and access to, information have evolved dramatically over recent years, driven in particular by transformation of the digital world. The calls for wider access align with IWA’s ethos of all of our publishing activities being carried out under the umbrella of our charity status.

As such, Open Access has been a key priority for several years. IWA Publishing has worked hard to increase Open Access options for authors by making five journals Open Access over the past couple of years – H2Open Journal, Journal of Water Reuse & Desalination (now Water Reuse), Blue-Green Systems, Hydrology Research, and Ingenieria del agua.

We have also focused on ensuring access for researchers in developing countries. Through partnerships with Research4Life and Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), IWA Publishing provides institutions in developing countries with full access to journal publications. Open Access author fees are also waived, or heavily discounted, for relevant authors. Research4Life aims to improve teaching, research and policy making in the areas of health, agriculture, the environment, and other life, physical and social sciences.

Meanwhile, EIFL works with libraries to enable access to knowledge for education, learning, research and sustainable community development.

A further approach has been to partner with research institutions, libraries, consortia and funders to facilitate and streamline Open Access publication for affiliated researchers. IWA Publishing has signed a number of institutional agreements, both at a national and individual level, granting full online access to journal content, as well as free Open Access publication for researchers affiliated with relevant institutions.

From partially to fully Open Access via Subscribe to Open

The big change for 2021 has been to build on the success of previous years and move towards full Open Access for all of our journals. This significant transformation was made possible through an innovative new model called ‘Subscribe to Open’ (S2O).

S2O is a collaborative Open Access model that relies on continued subscriptions to make content Open Access. Working with partner Knowledge Unlatched, IWA Publishing succeeded in not only transitioning its existing subscriber base to S2O, but also acquiring new S2O subscriptions and Open Access support.

Because journal costs are sustained through S2O subscriptions in this model, authors are not required to pay article processing charges in S2O journals. As long as S2O subscription revenues are maintained each year, journals will be published Open Access, and five years’ historical content will be made freely available.

Open Access through S2O equips scholars and practitioners across the globe, and especially in the Global South, with a free platform for the dissemination and readership of peer-reviewed information. This ability to publish research findings for wider consumption is in line with global efforts to build inclusivity and structural equity in the domain of knowledge production and consumption.

The response

The response to the offering of S2O has been fantastic, reflecting the value of our journals within our communities and the recognition of this value by institutions who have chosen to support this wider access.

More than 290 universities signed up and subscribed to support IWA Publishing’s S2O model, making this transition to Open Access possible. We are incredibly grateful for this overwhelming support from our global community of institutions, organisations, and individuals.

The move to Open Access through S2O marks an important step for IWA. It reflects completely our ethos of wanting to support progress on water challenges in the places most in need of such support.

I am confident that the latest change will inspire a new perspective where Open Access is our new normal. We hope that by IWA fully embracing the Open Access movement, it will allow information, knowledge, and best practice to be shared with the widest possible audience around the world. Our publications will receive greater visibility and readership while maximising the potential impact of this research.

Opening IWA’s treasure chest – the Content Management System

The move to Open Access is a huge step, but we are doing even more than this. Another key initiative is under way to unlock IWA’s huge treasure chest of digital content that exists in various formats and is currently underused. The ambition is to unlock the chest to make it readily accessible and to systematically blend all new knowledge that IWA generates. This Content Management System (CMS), a key module in the new Customer Relations Management platform (CRM) being developed for IWA members, is set to be available for use by the end of the second quarter of 2021, along with the renewed CRM.

The CMS contains all historical and new content generated by, or on behalf of, IWA. It will be curated, formatted and catalogued, with smart search features based on authors, keywords or topics. A robust feedback system with ratings, comments and insights on the most downloaded/viewed content enables development of future content to be consistent with the needs of the users. The content that forms part of the repository includes, but is not limited to, IWA conference proceedings, content from webinars, videos, reports, white papers, and previous editions of IWA magazines, especially Water21 and The Source.

The groundwork for the CMS started six months ago, with a dedicated team working on identifying, classifying, and mapping the documents. From that foundation, the CMS is going to be a key enabler for fulfilling the strategic goal of IWA being the space for professionals to exchange water knowledge, with a key feature being the option for members to share content they have generated by depositing it in the CMS repository.

In conclusion

2021 is a new year with IWA looking ahead and planning for the future. 2021 marks the start of our next chapter – providing universal, free access to our entire high-quality portfolio of knowledge-based journal publications. As a result, I believe IWA is set to truly be the global reference point for water knowledge, at the heart of the worldwide water community.

The integral connection between enabling Open Access and the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cannot be overstated. This is especially the case with developing countries, which are currently undertaking a civilisation leap in terms of developing water and sanitation infrastructure.

As a result of these developments, IWA is empowering more water sector professionals and leaders globally to become a part of creating a waterwise world, leading to improved and equitable access to safe water and sanitation services. •

The road to Subscribe to Open

As of mid-2020, IWA Publishing had five Open Access journals and 6,500 articles free to read online. The question then was how we make our 10 subscription journals Open Access too, so that everyone can read what is published. The answer was Subscribe To Open (S2O), which involves asking journal subscribers to continue paying for a journal while it becomes Open Access.

In October 2020, the IWA Publishing team – Sara Bosshart, Ben Cordle, Laura Day, Sarah Cooper and Holly Hines – began contacting subscribing institutions to explain what S2O was. We were helped by Knowledge Unlatched, which had already helped Berghahn Books make 13 journals Open Access with S2O. IWA members and the IWA communications team also spread the word.

The response has been fantastic, despite tough economic times and the global pandemic. Existing subscribers confirmed their support for S2O. New subscribers in Asia, North America and Europe signed up as well. Individuals and organisations made contributions in addition to subscriptions.

Now, all of our journals, including Water Science and Technology, are Open Access, and can be read by all, from Chennai to Chicago, Shanghai to Sao Paulo, Lyon to Lagos.


How you can help with Subscribe to Open

You can help our journals continue to be Open Access. If you are in a university, ask your librarian to support our programme with a subscription. If you work in a water utility or other parts of the industry, your organisation can make a direct financial contribution.
Why not also tell your friends and colleagues about interesting articles that are now free to access?

Subscribe To Open means that everyone around the world can read the latest and best research from 10 high-quality research journals. That might be the latest papers on SARS-CoV-2, microplastics, intermittent supply, green infrastructure, or nutrient removal. Working together, we can keep essential research free to access for all.

Find information on how you can help at: iwaponline.com/s2o/pages/individualsupport