Open Access Week

October 25 -31, 2021 | Everywhere

Horizon 2020 strengthens open access requirements for funded research & innovation proposals

Despite the open access requirements of the Horizon 2020 research programme, true open access is not a reality yet. Many consortia continue to publish their results in closed access magazines or use unnecessary long embargo periods before publishing in open access media, keeping the monopoly of scientific publishers alive.

However, a 2012 study estimated the overall economic benefit from increased access to scientific information for Europe at €6 billion a year.

European Union member states released in May 2016 a joint statement on an ambitious new open access target, whereby scientific publications on the results of research supported by public and public-private funds must be freely accessible to everyone by year 2020.

This renewed commitment from the European Union to open access means that the European Commission will now enforce much more strictly the open access requirements of H2020, starting with the evaluation of H2020 applications.

In practice, evaluators are requested to evaluate if the open access strategy outlined in the proposals they are reviewing is adequately described, and can truly enable the open access goals set by the European Union.

To receive an open access proposal toolkit (including text suggestions to match H2020 open access requirements), please contact

Follow us at @h2020experts in order to get more information on H2020 and open access.

Why open access?

Open access can be defined as the practice of providing on-line access to scientific information that is free of charge to the end-user. In the context of EC-funded research and innovation, “scientific information” can refer to either peer-reviewed scientific research articles (published in academic journals) or scientific research data (data underlying publications, curated data and/or raw data).

It is important to understand that open access does not mean that projects must publish all their research results as soon as they are obtained, but it means that all publications made by the consortium must be free of charge to the end-user (reader). The decision on whether (and when) to publish open access documents must come after the more general decision on whether to go for a publication directly or to seek first Intellectual Property Rights protection (such as patents).

There are two (non-mutually exclusive) alternatives for open access:

  • “Green” open access (also called self-archiving): the published article or the final peer-reviewed manuscript is archived by the researcher in an online repository before, after or alongside its publication. The access to the article is often delayed (“embargo period”), allowing publishers to recoup their investment by selling subscriptions and charging pay-per-download or view fees during this exclusivity period.
  • “Gold” open access (also called open access publishing, or author-pays publishing): the published article is immediately provided in open access mode by the scientific publisher. The associated costs are shifted from readers to the university or research institute to which the researcher is affiliated, or to the funding agency supporting the research.

What is open access?

In addition to making your proposal compliant with grant rules, open access provides many additional benefits (see below). For example a 2010 study showed that open access publication increased citation rates by 17% to 250% depending on disciplines.

Source: Danny Kingsley & Sarah Brown used under CC-BY / adapted from original byJochen Bihn.

How do the open access requirements compare between H2020 and its predecessor (FP7)?

In August 2008, the European Commission launched a pilot initiative on open access to peer reviewed research articles in its Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7). In this pilot, open access to articles resulting from research funded in areas participating in the pilot was required to be provided within a specified time period.

This initiative covered approximately 20% of the FP7 budget, including specific areas of the Work Programme. Grant agreements in these areas signed after the beginning of the open access pilot contained a special clause (clause 39) requiring beneficiaries to deposit articles resulting from FP7 projects into an institutional or subject-based repository and to make their best efforts to ensure open access to these articles within six months (Energy, Environment, Health, Information and Communication Technologies, Research Infrastructures) or twelve months (Science in Society, Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities). Open access publication costs (where the “gold” model is used) were eligible in FP7 during the length of the grant agreement as part of the total grant.

The Horizon 2020 framework extends open access to scientific publications in all fields and is anchored as an underlying principle in the Regulation and the Rules of Participation. It is implemented through relevant provisions in the grant agreement.

Clause 29.2 states that each beneficiary must ensure open access (free of charge, online access for any user) to all peer-reviewed scientific publications relating to its results. The clause also adds specific implementation details such as:

  1. as soon as possible and at the latest on publication, deposit a machine-readable electronic copy of the published version or final peer-reviewed manuscript accepted for publication in a repository for scientific publications (moreover, the beneficiary must aim to deposit at the same time the research data needed to validate the results presented in the deposited scientific publications).
  2. ensure open access to the deposited publication — via the repository — at the latest: (i) on publication, if an electronic version is available for free via the publisher, or (ii) within six months of publication (twelve months for publications in the social sciences and humanities) in any other case.
  3. ensure open access — via the repository — to the bibliographic metadata that identify the deposited publication

This is a hard requirement, meaning that open access is mandatory for all scientific publications resulting from Horizon 2020 actions, and that proposals not providing enough evidence of their open access commitment will be impacted negatively during the evaluation process. 

What are the common mistakes to avoid when developing your collaborative grant proposal?

Collaborative grant proposals are notoriously difficult to write. The EC selection process is very competitive, often retaining only proposals over 14 (out of 15) for funding. In this context, the lack of convincing open access strategy can lead the reviewer to flag a shortcoming and remove 0.5 point, which may well be the difference between a funded and unfunded proposal!

It is not sufficient to write a paragraph repeating the open access requirements of Horizon 2020. You must also provide evidence to the reviewers that you have taken steps to address these requirements in the dissemination plan (in section 2 of your proposal) and the project plan (in section 3 of your proposal). Failing to do so may have devastating effects in evaluations (in particular for Innovation Actions where section 2 has a 1.5x weight in the scoring formula).

Common mistakes are to forget publishing budgets (for gold access) or to keep embargo periods which are too long (for green access). Experienced evaluators will also look for implementation details on your publication repository, and how it will integrate with search tools and social media tools. After all, it is not sufficient to deposit your publications in a repository, you must also ensure they are easily discoverable by existing tools such as Google Scholar.

What tools can you use to support open access?

Research institutions in Europe are underequipped with tools to share and disseminate their research effectively, to manage and increase the efficiency of their research communication activities and to track their performance.

New tools such as Polaris (developed by MyScienceWork) can bridge this gap and provide a comprehensive turnkey repository solution allowing research institutions to:

  • Archive: all project publications are centralized in a repository (open access full text or metadata).
  • Communicate: a team of scientific journalists from MyScienceWork writes popular science articles, researchers portraits, event promotion campaigns, etc. to deliver a clear and complete image of all project research (inside the H2020 project or outside).
  • Disseminate: the institution's publications and articles reach out the international community of 500,000 members in the academic and industrial sectors.
  • Collaborate: easy-to-use, collaborative and social networking features address the digital research community by creating scientific profiles for researchers so that they can connect to the latest results and help them expand their professional network.
  • Measure impact: Dashboards help in analysing the project research portfolio, monitor its progress, evaluate its influence and better identify its audience.

Tools like Polaris disrupt existing closed-access scientific publishing systems by giving research institutions their own open access repository. Doing so, they provide the scientific community, industry and general public with better access to research, which has an immediate impact on scientific progress and on society in general.

See the Polaris video  

Further resources

EC white paper “Open Innovation, Open Science, Open to the World”

Background document to the public consultation “Science 2.0 – Science in Transition”

Commission staff working document impact assessment accompanying the document Commission recommendation on access to and preservation of scientific information in the digital age


MyScienceWork is a customer of Zaz Ventures and has recently been awarded a grant under the Horizon 2020 SME instrument programme. 

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