On Oct.15, 2013, INASP and the Association of Commonwealth Universities hosted this year’s Publishers for Development (PfD) meeting at the Charles Darwin House in London. The annual meeting brings together individuals from various stakeholder groups to discuss ways in which libraries, publishers, and higher education can work collaboratively to tackle big, global challenges within the scholarly communication ecosystem. INASP, a UK-based not-for-profit organization with an international focus, works with librarians, publishers, and researchers to “strengthen access to, production of, and use of knowledge and evidence in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.” The ACU, also a not-for-profit organization based out of the UK, is designed to “address issues in international higher education,” including research production and uptake.
This year’s meeting focused on the theme of “developing a global research cycle which fully engages [the global] south and north”—i.e. issues related to scholarly communication and libraries at a global level such as ensuring access to information, encouraging use of research via electronic journals and the internet, and strengthening the production of new knowledge and research. Specific topics included ways in which research production and knowledge sharing can contribute to international development goals; how publishers can better support libraries in developing countries; and pilot projects involving libraries or publishers designed to strengthen access to, awareness of, and production of research. The meeting included representatives from Europe, the U.S, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Bangladesh.
Lucy Browse, Programmes Manager at INASP and Director of the Publishers for Development initiative, kicked off the day by inviting “publishers, researchers, librarians, and other stakeholders” to engage with each other and noted, “Today you contribute to a truly global research communication cycle.” Browse updated participants on progress in regards to the “low-bandwidth challenge” issued at last year’s PfD meeting, where publishers were encouraged to employ strategies to improve the viewing experience, page load time, and navigation of their websites to improve website usability for low-bandwidth contexts. In the subsequent year, Browse noted that several publishers have indeed taken up this challenge and have made substantive changes to their websites. Further details and case studies are available from the Bandwidth Challenge website.
Jay Kubler, Senior Research Officer from the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), focused on the “future role of higher education in research and the evolving discourse about development,” within the context of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) and the post-2015 Development Agenda. Kubler noted: “whether talking about proposed targets [through the post-2015 Development Agenda] or the existing MDGs, none can be realized without higher education and research.” Furthermore, “higher education will continue to have an integral role in development objectives, but we need to animate the discussion with experience and examples” through “discussions about research dissemination and uptake, accessibility and awareness, and visibility of southern research.” Anne Powell, Programme Manager for Information and Access and Use, shared early scoping and planning work for a pilot project launched by INASP and Research4Life designed to “raise awareness of the considerable amount of electronic research material currently available [for] for free to researchers in the poorest countries” – for instance the tremendous body of research literature available between Research4Life, INASP-negotiated free journal access, and Open Access research. As Powell explained, “researchers don’t know these materials are available or the best way to access these materials.” The pilot project is looking at ways to increase awareness and usage of such resources within Sierra Leone. In-country interest appears to be high — Powell noted that “a number of researchers indicated that they are keen to develop writing and publishing skills,” and she shared some examples of locally-relevant research underway such as research into artificial insemination of cattle using coconut milk. However, even though interest in conducting research is high, Powell stressed that the working conditions are dismal: “challenges cannot be minimized. There is a lot of difficulty. The infrastructure in ICT is really poor.” Internet access is mainly by VSAT, which is slow and very expensive, or by researchers’ mobile broadband dongles. However, fiber-optic lines have reached the Sierra Leone beach and within 6-18 months should reach the interior. INASP’s work will be slow – rollout of interventions is currently on hold for approximately 18 months to give the ICT infrastructure a chance to improve – but the long-term intention is to offer multiple interventions to help post-conflict, very poor countries establish the foundation upon which a locally-developed research infrastructure can be built.
Carlos Rossel, Publisher at the World Bank, presented the World Bank’s Open Agenda and “why Open Access is right for development.” Rossel suggests that for the World Bank, “Openness is the new normal,” and the Bank aims to be “as transparent as possible.” Through the Open Agenda, the Bank is “Open about what we know, what we do, and how we work.” The Bank decided that knowledge and data are both public goods – “so we should make them open as best we can.” The three pillars of the Open Agenda are: Access to Information, Open Data, and Open Access. The Open Access policy went into effect in July of 2012, and the Open Knowledge Repository (OKR), the OAI-PMH compliant repository supporting the Open Access policy, was launched in April of 2012. All materials published by the World Bank are available immediately through the repository with a Creative Commons CC-BY license; materials World Bank researchers publish elsewhere are also deposited into the OKR.
Rossel noted that the OKR had its two millionth download earlier in October. But the real success story has been with the increased access to and usage of specialized, technical reports. Rossel explained that “before the OKR, we didn’t have systematic dissemination [of publications]. [Most titles] had no life before the repository.” This entire category of highly-specialized, technical reports was barely accessible before the OKR. For example, the Vietnam Urbanization Review: Technical Assistance Report, has been downloaded over 4,200 times, with over 1,300 copies downloaded from within Vietnam — whereas in the print world, very few copies were printed and distributed. As Rossel noted: “This is an amazing result considering what the reality was before the OKR.”
James Hardcastle, Senior Research Executive at Taylor & Francis, discussed research metrics – “what metrics we have at our disposal and what we can do with them.” While attacks on Journal Impact Factor have become commonplace over the past year, Hardcastle presented the broader issue of metrics within the context of the global south. In short, both long-standing bibliometrics such as Journal Impact Factor and newly-emerging “altmetrics” are problematic for the global south. As Hardcastle noted, “we’re not measuring most research from the South.” Hardcastle explained that SciELO, a major e-publishing platform for Brazil and other parts of Latin America, has been integrated into Web of Knowledge, but these citation counts do not integrate into impact factor metrics – these publications do not “engage with the rest of the Impact Factor universe.” Likewise, Nigeria has a very active publishing industry. Yet only a handful of these journals have an Impact Factor and only 19 journals are included in SCImago’s Journal and Country Ranking.
Altmetrics have other limitations. Hardcastle explained that “altmetrics is there to expand the idea of what impact is, how we look at impact.” Within the broad field of altmetrics, downloads and social media references to publications are rising to the top of the list of possible metrics to collect and analyze. But Hardcastle raised some concerns with these metrics – “Are the things that get good altmetrics scores just the things that are trendy? Are they [altmetrics] only going to find things that are popular and easy and not the best science?” Hardcastle showed a Facebook social media graph and suggested that altmetrics “will not translate well into different research areas” or parts of the world where Facebook usage is low.
Hardcastle’s presentation raised many questions, but one important takeaway: metrics should not be “one size fits all.” “Research comes in many flavors; we shouldn’t use the same metric for all things.” He ended the presentation with a graph connecting the value of metrics to the ease of their measurement and stressed that the most valuable metrics are still the ones that are the most difficult to measure, track, or collect – i.e., practical outcomes such as the development of “drugs, treatments, policy changes, or public understanding.” Downloads, for instance, are easy to measure but have limited value; whereas legislative evidence is far more valuable but also much harder to measure.
Helena Asamoah-Hassan, University Librarian at the Kwame University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana, spoke at the end of the day about her experiences with advocacy in terms of how libraries can make a difference to researchers. Asamoah-Hassan presented a number of easily-adoptable strategies she uses for engaging with different groups of stakeholders. Some key principles: “be passionate; understand the perspectives and priorities of each group of stakeholders; be well-armed with facts and figures to make the case; state the truth, be consistent, and make promises one can keep; every question or statement, however minor, from a stakeholder is important so do not ignore but address it.” Furthermore, she stressed the importance of building relationships and encouraging librarians to take a more proactive role within their organizations. For instance, “don’t wait to be asked; think what your [stakeholders] might need, find the information, and take it to them.”
Other sessions included: Jon Harle (INASP), who addressed “Strengthening Research and Knowledge Systems,” INASP’s new 5-year programme; Susan Murray (AJOL) and I presented preliminary observations from our research project, “The Current State of Scholarly Publishing in Africa;” Liesbeth Kanis, Project Manager Business Development at Brill, presented an upcoming VSO/INASP-funded project, “Strengthening Indigenous Academic and Digital Publishing in Tanzania;” Nell McCreadie (Sage) discussed findings of the Sage Report, “Library Value in the Developing World;” Tom Harber presented “Developing Research Uptake in Sub-Saharan Africa (DRUSSA): Increasing University Capacity for Research Uptake;” Lorlene Hoyt from the Talloires Network discussed “The Expanding Global Movement of Engaged Universities;” and Julie Brittain (INASP) hosted a panel with Florence Mirembe (International Health Sciences University, Kampala), Dr. Mohammed Abdul Mazed (Bangladesh Academy of Science), and Theodosia Adanu (Balme Library, University of Ghana) to discuss advocacy efforts.
Presentation slides will be posted to the Publishers for Development website in the coming days.
Abby Clobridge is the Managing Director of Clobridge Consulting, a boutique firm specializing in knowledge management, information management, and Open Access. Abby has worked with a wide range of organizations throughout the world, including various UN agencies; colleges and research universities; non-profit, inter-governmental, and multi-stakeholder organizations; the news media; and private sector companies.