Open access is not enough to connect evidence to real change

19 October 2015

As IDS rolls out a new open access policy and we make the final preparations for the launch of our new open access journal, we need to remind ourselves that being open is not on its own going to mobilise knowledge for impact.

Open Access Week 2015, 19–25 October

Our approach to open access

A key moment in the implementation of our open access strategy was our public announcement just over a year ago that our flagship publication - the IDS Bulletin – was going gold open access in 2016. No more subscription fees, no article processing charges, and freely available and reusable digital content for all. What better way to celebrate IDS turning fifty years old! It seems very fitting that the first open access issue in January will look at the Making All Voices Count programme. This global initiative is exploring some of the key research questions around attempts to harness new technologies to enable citizen engagement and make governments more accountable. In the meantime, we have launched our own institutional open access policy, designed to support the whole IDS community and our partners to utilise open approaches for academic publishing and beyond.

These recent developments are part of our longstanding focus on increasing the supply of and access to development knowledge. As both a knowledge intermediary (excuse the jargon) and research and teaching institution, IDS has historically invested heavily in programmes specifically designed to mobilise knowledge with technology. Online services such as ELDIS and BRIDGE have always tried to leverage awareness of crucial development evidence and remove barriers - both technological and systemic – to its use. It has been the development of the British Library for Development Studies (BLDS) digital collection which perhaps has done the most to open up access to development resources from Southern researchers and their institutions. This open access digital repository recently passed the milestone achievement of one million downloads and will soon be enriched with almost two and half thousand articles from the IDS Bulletin back catalogue.

Whose knowledge counts?

Thoughtful use of technology to open up access to development knowledge matters. It matters because we believe passionately that cutting-edge research and knowledge will be crucial to achieve progress against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and that increasingly this knowledge must be local. So far we have seen lots of innovation rather than revolution, and we have learnt that being open does not in itself promote progressive economic and social change.

The UN Data Revolution Report claims that: ‘Without immediate action, gaps between developed and developing countries, between information-rich and information-poor people, and between the private and public sectors will widen, and risks of harm and abuses of human rights will grow.’ Positive transformations in development processes can only come about if we address not just technical and legal barriers to access but engage with the politics of knowledge - who it is produced for and by, and whose voice counts. This is why we think it is crucial to work together with partners to co-construct research and contextualise knowledge.

This brings me right back to the IDS Bulletin. What makes the Bulletin special and such a great expression of our open access values is that long before we contemplated sacrificing royalty income for free access, its thematic issues had always tried to bridge academic and policy discourse, bringing together partnerships of individuals and institutions committed to the study of a particular set of issues. Since 1968 over 2,600 authors from academic institutions, think tanks and NGOs have joined these learning partnerships, which are often southern led and traditionally southern focused. As we see the globalisation of development studies with a universal framing for the SDG framework, the IDS Bulletin can play a very effective role in providing a space for diverse perspectives on key global development issues all based on the robust peer-reviewed and co-constructed evidence that IDS is well known for.

Engaged Excellence

This approach to the development and production of each issue of the Bulletin encapsulates our commitment to what we call in our new strategy Engaged Excellence. This means that the high quality of our work (excellence), is dependent upon it linking to and involving those who are at the heart of the change we wish to see (engaged). Publishing partnerships and open access are crucial for the delivery of Engaged Excellence.

So, even though digital innovation and creative commons licensing agreements cannot in themselves produce a democratic approach to the construction and sharing of knowledge, they sure can help a lot. Whilst we evolve the IDS Bulletin and the rest of the IDS publishing programme to respond to the open access movement, we are also adopting increasingly sophisticated technological approaches to supporting our partners to increase the availability of their own research.

The Open Knowledge Hub (or OK Hub as it has become known), funded by the UK Department for International Development, is providing an Open Data platform for sharing and downloading digital content. Raising the profile of diverse perspectives on development and encouraging the contribution of content from the South is a key aspect of the Hub, recognising that digital divides can be recreated within an Open Data environment. Through peer support and shared learning, IDS and our partners are increasing our capacity to engage and innovate with Open Data and Open Content. Perhaps not surprisingly BLDS, BRIDGE and ELDIS were the first to contribute to the OK Hub but it is growing all the time with content partners joining from around the world.

The co-construction of ideas, rigorous and relevant research drawing on local knowledge and enduring partnerships, with the added ingredient of some innovative digital approaches, can contribute to a more equal and sustainable world. For IDS, our next great open adventure will be the development of a truly global digital library for development studies. This will embody our engaged excellence approach and challenge the cognitive injustices that stand in the way of progressive global development.

To read more about how we have transitioned our journal to open access see the blog by IDS Bulletin Editorial Coordinator, Alison Norwood.

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