Monday, 12 November 2012

Open for Development... what are the implications for research communication?

By Alan Stanley

The EADI Information Management Working Group (EADI IMWG for short!) is a long-standing working group whose annual meeting has been a regular event in the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) calendar for well over 20 years. This year’s meeting was held in the beautiful surroundings of the University of Antwerp and hosted by the impressive Institute of Development Policy and Management (IOB).

The topic was “Open for Development” and explored how the linked movements of Open Access, Open Data and Open Content are relevant to our work and how to make the best use of these innovations in the development context in which we work - that is knowledge-brokering and research communication.

Open Access has been a recurring theme for the group over the years but there have been significant developments in the last 18 months. A high profile global boycott of academic publisher Elsevier and the publication of the Finch report in the UK have caused unprecedented debate on Open Access issues in the broader academic community. Similarly DFID’s new Open and Enhanced Access Policy has forced many in the development community to sit up and take notice.

At the same time new technical innovations and increasing access to the internet have led to growing interest in the potential application of Open Data and Open Content (Open Educational Resources) for sharing knowledge and learning in international development.

A key question for the development community to address is to understand:
  • Who is driving these innovations? 
  • Do they really reflect the needs of research producers and consumers in developing countries?
  • Or could they actually be adding to existing information inequalities across the digital divide?

To help answer this IDS was pleased to be able to support the attendance of Eve Gray from the Scholarly Communication in Africa programme at the University of Cape Town to give the opening keynote presentation “Open Access is 2012 –a developing country perspective”.

Eve highlighted some startling inequalities and the dominance of what she called the “English-speaking global North” in the current academic publishing models and, more pervasively, the indicators and rankings used to assess research quality, and ultimately, academic performance. This is exemplified by this map World Map of Science Research Publication 2001 (SASI, 2006), published on WorldMapper - Eve's comment being that this has not changed significantly in the last few years.

© Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) Downloaded from

She also highlighted some notable success stories in Open Access publishing models such as peer-reviewed open access journal, Plos One, and Brazil's Scientific Electronic Library Online, SciELO.

But fundamentally Eve was calling for a move from “Open Access” to “Open Research” which embraces the emerging Open Data movement and broader changes in how research is conducted and communicated. She presented a vision for the future where we focus less on journal publishing and move to less competitive and more collaborative models. The case for these becomes more apparent if we look beyond the divisive Impact Factor to measure the reach and influence of research based on "alternative metrics" (altmetrics).

Alan Stanley is Senior Thematic Convenor with IDS Knowledge Services

Altmetrics is something we are looking into here at IDS...What are your experiences of using altmetrics to measure reach and influence?