Force11 White Paper: Improving The Future of Research Communications and e-Scholarship


Abstract. Research and scholarship lead to the generation of new knowledge. The dissemination of this knowledge has a fundamental impact on the ways in which society develops and progresses, and at the same time it feeds back to improve subsequent research and scholarship. Here, as in so many other areas of human activity, the internet is changing the way things work: it opens up opportunities for new processes that can accelerate the growth of knowledge, including the creation of new means of communicating that knowledge among researchers and within the wider community. Two decades of emergent and increasingly pervasive information technology have demonstrated the potential for far more effective scholarly communication. However, the use of this technology remains limited; research processes and the dissemination of research results have yet to fully assimilate the capabilities of the web and other digital media. Producers and consumers remain wedded to formats developed in the era of print publication, and the reward systems for researchers remain tied to those delivery mechanisms.

Force11 (the Future of Research Communication and e-Scholarship) is a community of scholars, librarians, archivists, publishers and research funders that has arisen organically to help facilitate the change toward improved knowledge creation and sharing. Individually and collectively, we aim to bring about a change in scholarly communication through the effective use of information technology. Force11 has grown from a small group of like-minded individuals into an open movement with clearly identified stakeholders associated with emerging technologies, policies, funding mechanisms and business models. While not disputing the expressive power of the written word to communicate complex ideas, our foundational assumption is that scholarly communication by means of semantically-enhanced media-rich digital publishing is likely to have a greater impact than communication in traditional print media or electronic facsimiles of printed works. However, to date, online versions of ’scholarly outputs’ have tended to replicate print forms, rather than exploit the additional functionalities afforded by the digital terrain. We believe that digital publishing of enhanced papers will enable more effective scholarly communication, which will also broaden to include, for example, better links to data, the publication of software tools, mathematical models, protocols and workflows, and research communication by means of social media channels.

This document highlights the findings of the Force11 workshop on the Future of Research Communication and e-Scholarship held at Schloss Dagstuhl, Germany, in August 2011: it summarizes a number of key problems facing scholarly publishing today, and presents a vision that addresses these problems, proposing concrete steps that key stakeholders can take to improve the state of scholarly publishing. More about Force11 can be found at This White Paper is a collaborative effort that reflects the input of all Force11 attendees at the Dagstuhl Workshop 1, and is very much a living document 2 . We see it as a starting point that will grow and be updated and augmented by individual and collective efforts by the participants and others. We invite you to join and contribute to this enterprise.


  2. Citation: Bourne P, Clark T, Dale R, de Waard A, Herman I, Hovy E and Shotton D, on behalf of the Force11 community (2011).  Force11 White Paper: Improving the Future of Research Communication and e-Scholarship. 27 October 2011.  Available from Copyright: © 2011 The authors. License: This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (v3.0, unported:, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original authors and source are credited.

About This Document:

This document contains five sections. Section \ref{sec:vision} presents our vision of the future of scholarly publishing. In Section \ref{sec:issues}, we outline six key problems that prevent scholarly communication from achieving its full potential. Section \ref{sec:strategies} contains six specific recommendations for actions to address these problems. Section \ref{sec:pointers} offers a dynamic list of pointers to relevant research reports and related projects. Finally, in Section \ref{sec:steps} we describe what we are doing to implement these recommendations.

The problems and recommendations we perceive can be grouped into two groups, each containing three principal themes:

  • Themes 1–3 concern the format and technologies of scholarly publication: how scholarly data, information, and knowledge are (or could be) represented; how readers, users, authors, editors and computers can interact with these representations; and how different knowledge representations could be combined, queried, stored and otherwise treated.

  • Themes 4–6 concern the enterprise of scholarly publishing, including business models and the attribution of credit. In these sections we discuss how scholarship is evaluated, accredited and monetized; current and new models and modes of assigning copyright and intellectual property rights; the financial aspects of scholarly publishing; and the mechanisms for assessing the quality and value of researchers and their research outputs, and of attributing credit and worth to them.

The problems relating to these six themes are described in Section 2, while our recommendations for their solutions are described in Section 3. These problems and recommendations are summarized in the following table.

Formats and Technologies
Problems Recommendations
\ref{sec:issues-exp} Existing formats needlessly limit, inhibit and undermine effective knowledge transfer \ref{sec:strats-exp} Rethink the unit and form of the scholarly publication
\ref{sec:issues-inf} Improved knowledge dissemination mechanisms produce information overload \ref{sec:strats-inf} Develop tools and technologies that better support the scholarly lifecycle
\ref{sec:issues-data} Claims are hard to verify and results are hard to reuse \ref{sec:strats-data} Add data, software, and workflows into the publication as first-class research objects
Business Models and Attribution of Credit
Problems Recommendations
\ref{sec:issues-acc} There is a tension between commercial publishing and the provision of unfettered access to scholarly information \ref{sec:strats-acc} Derive new financially sustainable models of open access
\ref{sec:issues-bus} Traditional business models of publishing are being threatened \ref{sec:strats-bus} Derive new business models for science publishers and libraries
\ref{sec:issues-ass} Current academic assessment models don’t adequately measure the merit of scholars and their work over the full breadth of their research outputs \ref{sec:strats-ass} Derive new methods and metrics for evaluating quality and impact that extend beyond traditional print outputs to embrace the new technologies

Our Vision


A dispassionate observer, perhaps visiting from another planet, would surely be dumbfounded by how, in an age of multimedia, smartphones, 3D television and 24/7 social network connectivity, scholars and researchers continue to communicate their thoughts and research results primarily by means of the selective distribution of ink on paper, or at best via electronic facsimiles of the same.

Modern technologies enable vastly improved knowledge transfer and far wider impact. Freed from the restrictions of paper, numerous advantages appear. Communication becomes instantaneous across geographic boundaries. Terms in electronic documents may be automatically disambiguated and semantically defined by linking to standard terminology repositories, allowing more accurate retrieval in searches; complex entities mentioned in documents may be automatically expanded to show diagrams or pictures that facilitate understanding; citations to other documents may be enhanced by summaries generated automatically from the cited documents. Documents may be automatically clustered with others that are similar, showing their relationship to others within their scholarly context, and their place in the ongoing evolution of ideas. Ancillary material that augments the text of the scholarly work may be linked to or distributed with the work; this may include numerical data (from experiments), images and videos (showing procedures or scenarios), sound recordings, presentational materials, and other elements in forms of media still on the horizon. Extracts and discussions of scholarly work on social media such as blogs, online discussion groups and Twitter may greatly broaden the visibility of a work and enable it to be better evaluated and cross-linked to other information sources. A broad range of recent technological advances provide increasingly diverse and powerful opportunities for more effective scholarly communication; we need to grasp the opportunities and make these possibilities realities.

We see a future in which scientific information and scholarly communication more generally become part of a global, universal and explicit network of knowledge; where every claim, hypothesis, argument—every significant element of the discourse—can be explicitly represented, along with supporting data, software, workflows, multimedia, external commentary, and information about provenance. In this world of networked knowledge objects, it would be clear how the entities and discourse components are related to each other, including relationships to previous scholarship; learning about a new topic means absorbing networks of information, not individually reading thousands of documents. Adding new elements of scholarly knowledge is achieved by adding nodes and relationships to this network. People could contribute to the network from a variety of perspectives and with different degrees of weightiness; each contribution would be immediately accessible globally by others. Reviewing procedures, as well as reputation management mechanisms, would provide ways to evaluate and filter information. This vision moves away from the Gutenberg paper-centric model of the scholarly literature, towards a more distributed network-centric model; it is a model far better suited for making knowledge-level claims and supporting digital services, including more effective tracking and interrogation of what is known, not known, or contested.

To enable this vision, we need to create and use new forms of scholarly publication that work with reusable scholarly artifacts. Two principal aspects can be distinguished. First, we need to revise the artifacts of communication. As a starting point, our vision entails creating a new, enriched form of scholarly publication that enables the creation and management of relationships between knowledge, claims and data. It also means the creation of a knowledge infrastructure that allows the sharing of computationally executable components, such as workflows, computer code and statistical calculations, as scientifically valid content components; and an infrastructure that allows these components to be made accessible, reviewed, referenced and attributed. To do this, we have to develop best practices for depositing research datasets in repositories that enable linking to relevant