Iratxe Puebla and Francisco Silva Garcés
The first Iberoamerican Congress for Open Science took place on 23-24 November 2022, as a forum for Iberoamerican dialogue on the right to science and to promote change in how we understand science, from an inclusive, open, participatory, and responsible perspective.
As part of the congress, participants were invited to submit applications for works on open science, and the event’s academic committee considered how to handle these submissions. Initially, there would be an invitation to submit abstracts for brief talks during the congress, after which authors would be invited to submit complete works for publication as part of the congress proceedings. How were we going to handle these submissions?
From the beginning, we felt it was relevant to consider open modalities to manage the submissions. In an open science congress, what better way to lead by example than to adopt open approaches for these papers?
Manuscript submission: collaboration with SciELO Preprints
The papers submitted to the congress focused on open science themes aligned to the UNESCO recommendations, including among others, open infrastructure, skill development, or citizen science. After the short talks presented at the congress, several authors developed full manuscripts that they submitted to the conference proceedings.
We had to consider a couple of aspects regarding these papers: submission of the manuscripts and the peer review for those works. For the submission, we considered several options, but it seemed relevant to use a platform that allowed works to be made openly available, in accordance with the principles of open science. Given the focus on Iberoamerica, we also needed a platform that allowed the submission of works in Spanish and Portuguese, the official languages for the congress.
We decided to use preprints because it would allow the works to be deposited in an open format, and at the same time, create a public document for the authors that could be easily cited and reviewed. Considering the languages for the congress, the SciELO Preprints platform met all the requirements. One of the things that made it possible to use this server was the close collaboration with Alex Mendonça and the SciELO Preprints team, who were always willing to explore options for the moderation of manuscripts and to support the visibility of preprints submitted to the conference. We asked authors to complete the submission of their manuscripts to SciELO Preprints by 5 January 2023.
Peer review of the submissions: an open peer review approach
We also wanted to adopt a transparent approach for the peer review process, and decided to make reviews public alongside the preprints. As for the publication or not of the reviewers’ identity (that is, whether the reviews would be signed), we decided to leave this decision to each reviewer, according to their preference. We designed a template for the reviews, together with the partner journal for the congress, the Revista Científica de la Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas de Bogotá. The review template served a number of purposes: 1) facilitate the reviewers’ work and record their decision to sign the review or not, 2) provide a consistent format for the reviews to be published with the preprints, and 3) capture the information required by the partner journal, which would reuse the reviews to make editorial decisions regarding the publication of the works in the journal.
During this process, we worked closely with both the SciELO Preprints team and the editors of the partner journal to harmonize both the reviews themselves and the publication process of the reports. One thing to keep in mind was that the journal maintains an anonymized peer-review process, but the journal welcomed the idea of an open review approach complementary to its internal processes.
Taking into account the objectives of the congress and the needs and feedback from our collaborators (academic committee, partner journal), we designed the flow for the entire evaluation process for the papers, from their submission to their publication in the journal. We prepared an infographic summarizing the process and we shared it publicly as a guide for authors interested in submitting works to the congress proceedings.
Once the preprints were deposited at the beginning of January, the academic committee for the congress coordinated the peer-review process for the papers, which was completed by the end of February. We published the reviews alongside each preprint as they were completed.
The congress proceedings
All the papers submitted to the conference are available as preprints in a collection on SciELO Preprints. The reviews are also available alongside each of the preprints. This has made it possible for the papers, as well as their associated reviews, to be publicly available months before their possible publication in a journal.
The academic committee has shared the manuscripts and associated reviews with the partner journal; for those reviewers who chose not to sign their reviews, we shared their identity with the journal confidentially. Based on these reviews, the journal has invited the authors of the papers that it considers appropriate for publication to submit a revised version of their paper that responds to the reviewers’ comments. This has enabled the reuse of the open reviews completed as part of the congress without having to restart the review cycle in the journal. Once the revised manuscripts are submitted to the journal, this will make a final decision on publication, and the accepted papers will appear in a special issue of the journal.
A more open and collaborative path is possible for conference proceedings
The use of preprints as part of science communication did not start this century, or even this millennium. Some disciplines, particularly the so-called hard sciences such as mathematics and physics, have been using preprints for decades. The life sciences have also increasingly used this form of communication in recent years. During the pandemic, preprints provided a fast and efficient way to publish and advance the necessary research to develop a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first Iberoamerican Congress for Open Science could not be indifferent to this open communication approach for early, accelerated publication. With that in mind, we decided to implement open and collaborative processes for the papers that authors intended to publish as part of the congress proceedings. Instead of pursuing the fantasy of high impact factors or mainstream journals, we looked for authors who had a desire to share their experiences, their efforts to make science transparent, inclusive, multilingual and reproducible, and publish in a regional quality open-access journal.
This will continue to be the approach of the Iberoamerican Congress for Open Science, an event fondly co-created from the region for the region, where all members of the Iberoamerican open science community come together, including the sometimes invisible, but important, emerging figures that are promoting open science.
Thanks to the academic committee for contributing their experience, for the enthusiasm they brought to every step of the way, and for agreeing that it was necessary to implement an open review process consistent with the principles of the congress. We hope that this serves as an example that, with the existing infrastructure and community support, open approaches are possible for the communication and review of conference proceedings.