The Bangalore National Open Access Policy – a way forward for developing countries

At the end of the Workshop on Electronic Publishing and Open Access in Bangalore two weeks ago, it was agreed that what was needed was not just another declaration, but a document that could be used to drive policy implementation in developing countries. The final version has now been released and is revealed as a remarkably clear and pragmatic document, the National Open Access Policy for Developing Countries.

Where this differs from its predecessors is not only in its focus on the developing world, but the fact that it includes a brief but very clear policy undertaking for signature by national governments, accompanied by a statement of the advantages of Open Access publication to governments and to academics as well as practical
implementation guidelines for effective and easy deposit of articles. The strategy that underpins its approach is that mandating deposit in institutional repositories of journal articles arising out of publicly funded research and making these available for harvesting provides a quick and affordable way of building a national record of
research output.

From the first paragraph, this document reflects something I said in my previous blog – that the mood has changed and that there is now an assertive voice articulating the value of the knowledge that is currently largely marginalised in the global research hierarchy:

The Bangalore workshop was convened to bring together policy makers and research scientists from major developing countries to agree a path forward towards adopting full Open Access to publicly-funded research publications. The importance of access to the world’s research information for the development of a strong economy and a vibrant research capability is widely acknowledged, yet financial barriers limit access by developing countries to the research information they need. Equally, the unique research carried out in countries representing 80% of the world’s population is largely ‘invisible’ to
international science because of economic or other constraints. The resolution of many of the world’s problems, such as emerging infectious diseases, environmental disasters, HIV/AIDS or climate change, cannot be achieved without incorporation of the research from developing countries into the global knowledge pool.

Open Access to the world’s publicly funded research literature provides equal opportunities for the communication of all research information, eliminating financial barriers. Furthermore, articles made available electronically on an open access basis have been shown to be cited on average 50% more often than non-open access articles from the same journal, thus ensuring the greatest possible benefit both to the authors, to the investment of funding agencies and to scientific progress. The benefits to authors, readers and their organisations is now increasingly recognised worldwide and by November 2006, 761 repositories had already been registered in the Registry of Open Access Repositories, and the Open Archives Initiative’s OAIster search engine could search over 9,000,000 records in interoperable Open Access repositories.

The proven advantages of Open Access publishing for developing countries were spelled out in a number of papers at the Bangalore workshop: substantially increased citations leading to higher levels of research impact, the widening of the author base, greater research efficiency through the reduction of duplication and faster dissemination, to name only a few. However, while the SciELO initiative in Latin America demonstrates the considerable benefits of intervention at a national level and of regional collaboration over research publication, systematic policy interventions are still lacking in most developing countries, leading to a fragmentation of
efforts that can, in reality, be ill-afforded. The policy undertaking included in the National Open Access Policy will therefore be a boon to those lobbying for national commitments to access to publicly funded research from governments in developing countries. As Subbiah Arunachalam put it in an email late last week, there is
now work to be done:

The most important thing now is to get policy makers in India, China and many African countries adopt and implement the OA Policy Statement signed by all the participants of the Bangalore workshop. Your suggestions and help are welcome.

The full text of the National OA Policy for developing Countries can be found at http://scigate.ncsi.iisc.ernet.in/OAworkshop2006/pdfs/NationalOAPolicyDCs.pdf

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