Open Access Africa & Berlin 10 Meeting Reflections, Part 3 (of 3): OA & Implications for Universities

During the first week of November, South Africa was host to two major Open Access meetings: Open Access Africa (#OAAfrica2012), an event sponsored by BioMed Central and hosted by the University of Cape Town from November 4-5, and Berlin 10 (#Berlin10SA), hosted by Stellenbosch University from November 6-8, 2012. Approximately 150 delegates attended the Open Access Africa meeting, and nearly 270 delegates participated in Berlin 10. Collectively, the two meetings covered Open Access issues in great depth, breadth, and scope. This article is the second in a series and focuses on issues broadly related to Open Access and implications for higher education institutions that were raised during both meetings. Part 1 can be accessed here, part 2 is available here

Higher Education, Organizational Culture, and Change Management

At the Open Access Africa meeting, Laura Czerniewicz from the University of Cape Town focused on organizational culture in her presentation, “Institutional responses to the changing higher education environment: the case of UCT.” She suggested that institutions of higher education typical have “entrenched cultural practices,” which should be a key factor when considering what approach to take to implement Open Access or any other major change affecting an organization’s culture and that advocacy for openness needs to be context specific in order to be successful.

Czerniewicz presented a framework of institutional cultural types as described in I. McNay’s 1995 publication, From Collegial Academy to Corporate Enterprise: The Changing Cultures of Universities. Using this framework, she noted that many universities, including UCT, would be characterized as a “collegium” type of institution, where there is a loose policy definition and a loose control over policy implementation. She explained that the collegiums type is characterized by “loose institutional policy definition, informal networks and decision arenas, and innovation at the level of the individual or a department.” The organizational response then is one of ‘laissez faire,’ with few targeted policies or processes.

In this type of environment, “requiring academics to do something they don’t believe in is useless.” Czerniewicz suggested that you need to align your strategies, principles, and approach to the desired organizational change. Their approach to building the UCT “Openness Agenda” thus reflects their specific context and culture. They emphasized individual control and maximum flexibility for faculty. They developed multiple strategies, not a one-size-fits-all approach. They also looked for champions at all levels within the university to help build their case. She noted that in their experience, “champions work best in horizontal networked relationships, building communities of practices.” Furthermore, the team advocates for the UCT openness agenda by getting involved in the critical elements of university life – they are involved in the committee structure. “Being in the right meetings and inserting ourselves in the right discussions is critical.”

In terms of content, UCT has taken a far more holistic approach to open knowledge than many institutions. The OpenUCT initiative supports a wide range of resources – whole courses to more granular items such as a single ebook, presentations, podcasts, lecture notes, images, and animations. Their goal is to make the work that occurs at the university discoverable, and so they put materials online in ways that encourage findability and discoverability. Czerniewicz explained that they “turn resources into shareable resources.”

Possibilities and Challenges of OA for African Universities & Researchers

Jonathan Harle, Programmes Manager for the Association of Commonwealth Universities, raised several questions related to the connection between institutional research capacity and Open Access, particularly for African universities and researchers. One interesting point: a significant issue facing many researchers is that of awareness – i.e. the inaccurate perception among researchers who they think they can’t access a particular journal or article when in fact they can, either through Open Access or through a free/heavily-discounted access-to-knowledge programme such as Research4Life or PERii. Harle mentioned an anecdote from a seminar in Nairobi where a high-level research administration official complained of having poor access to journals, to which a senior librarian from the same institution responded that they now had access to 34,000 titles. But having access to journals does not mean that researchers are aware of that access or that they are able to access those articles via their mechanism of choice.

Harle raised concerns about whether OA, “while aiming to enhance the positions of African researchers, might actually shut them out.” He noted concern with article processing charges in particular – might this lead to  “[researchers from] developing countries being able to read all research but not publish [in Open Access journals] because of APCs?” Even with APC waivers, is this scalable and sustainable for all disciplines? Are all authors willing to ask for waivers if they are not automatically granted?

The possibilities of Open Access are tremendous for researchers in their role as knowledge consumers. Harle noted that there is a much wider body of literature to draw upon, researchers from developing countries are less cut off from their international peers and there is a greater potential for collaboration. Even so, there are still challenges. We are currently enmeshed in a hybrid open and closed environment, where some materials are free to access and free to be re-used but others are not. “Searching, discovering, navigating is a huge challenges for researchers, whether open or not.”

Linkages between Open Access, Journal Impact Factor, and Rewards/Tenure Systems

While not a new problem, voices are getting louder and more emphatic arguing for eliminating or at least overhauling the ISI Impact Factor system – and urging institutions to look at other ways to measure researcher performance. At most universities around the world, tenure, promotion, and other types of performance rewards are closely linked to authors’ publication record as calculated by impact factor. Due to a combination of the criteria for how Thomson-Reuters selects journals for inclusion in their rankings and the young age of new Open Access journals, authors – particularly those in the early stages of their career – have strong incentives for publishing in journals with a high ISI Impact Factor. Several speakers throughout the week spoke out strongly against using the ISI Journal Impact Factor as a measure of quality. Tom Olijhoek went into great deal about problems with the ISI Impact Factor. Cameron Neylon argued for adoption of altmetrics as an alternative to the ISI Impact Factor. More details about this discussion are available here.

Implications for University Libraries

Most universities that support Open Access do so by implementing a policy and requiring deposit of all faculty scholarship into an institutional repository, one that is managed by the university’s library. While hosting a repository takes systems administration work and ongoing technical support, as Eve Gray said, introducing the technology is just the first step – it’s not just about platforms, the platforms need to be integrated throughout the institution and its infrastructure, i.e. research, teaching, and learning. At many institutions, the library does not have the capacity to handle all of the facets of this work.

While repository work may be philosophically aligned with the work librarians have been carrying out for centuries, the details of repository management – and in particular, the set of services offered around Open Access and open content – are very different and require capacity development and skills training. Helena Asamoah-Hassan, the University Librarian at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana, focused on this element of Open Access in her presentation at Open Access Africa. Their repository “went global” in 2009, and has been growing gradually but steadily ever since.

Asamoah-Hassan explained that they started with capacity building even before the institution had committed to Open Access. They wanted to get buy-in from the key stakeholders before investing resources in training staff and needed the capacity building so faculty/researchers could understand the benefits of having a repository. Among other activities, they have built capacity by engaging in a number of activities such as holding workshops, forums, and other opportunities for academic departments and the university as a whole to share knowledge and engage in discussions. KNUST has made a point to use citation statistics and other types of data to help prove how items from the repository are being cited.  From the library’s perspective, Open Access is not just about the repository; new roles have been created as a result of this work – administering article processing charges, liaising with publishers, dealing with intellectual property rights issues, and engaging in advocacy.

Students as Stakeholders

Another source of potential advocates for Open Access, and a group that has not been part of most discussions up to this point, is students. At Open Access Africa, Daniel Mutonga from the Medical Students’ Association of Kenya, provided his perspective, while Berlin 10 included a complimentary presentation from Nick Shockey of the Right to Research Coalition, an organization for students in support of Open Access that works in connection with SPARC. Mutonga’s presentation clearly argued for Open Access from the perspective of students. He succinctly presented the argument for “why students need OA.” He argued that students need Open Access for:

  • A complete education
  • If your professors can’t read it, they can’t teach it
  • Research for papers
  • The current system puts students from smaller students at a disadvantage
  • Research beyond the degree – you still need access to research as a doctor or member of the public

The two presentations about students and Open Access produced quite a bit of buzz by delegates.

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

Although Berlin 10 has ended, many of the conversations and dialogues started at the meeting have continued in various forum. Starting this week, the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) at Sussex University is hosting a conversation on the UNESCO Knowledge Communities Platform in the Open Access community. The central theme is “Is Open Access only for rich countries?” The conversation will continue for several weeks and is open to the public.

Likewise, Professor Russel Botman, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University, published an article this week in University World News, “Open access to knowledge will boost Africa’s development,”  continuing to advocate for Open Access within the international higher education community.

In the article, he writes:

“In this time of flux, there is a window of opportunity for us to improve two things – particularly for Africa: access, and visibility.”

“Open access paves the way for those who need to participate more fully in the knowledge community. They do not have to pay subscription fees for scientific journals, which are frequently unaffordable to under-resourced institutions. And at the same time, open access increases the visibility of research coming from the developing world.”

“In this way, greater equity is achieved. If knowledge is the currency of our time, then open access amounts to the redistribution mechanism of that wealth – hence it can be regarded as hope-generating.”

This emphasis on Open Access supporting both global knowledge consumption and global knowledge production was a major theme throughout both meetings and hopefully will continue to be discussed.

The full week of meetings generated a tremendous amount of content and thought-provoking discussions. It is readily apparent that Open Access has turned a corner during 2012. Conversations in the Global North have shifted from whether Open Access is a good strategy to more specific discussions about sustainable implementation and maximizing use of Open Access resources. Even so, Open Access poses real challenges for the Global South, particularly for locally-produced publications. While answers to many of these questions are still murky, it is heartening to see many of these issues raised on the international stage and that stakeholder groups continue to broaden — it is no longer simply a library issue.

These notes do not include a full account of the sessions. Several other useful recaps highlight other aspects of the conference:


Open Access Africa & Berlin 10 Meeting Reflections, Part 2: Open Access and International Development

During the first week of November, South Africa was host to two major Open Access meetings: Open Access Africa (#OAAfrica2012), an event sponsored by BioMed Central and hosted by the University of Cape Town from November 4-5, and Berlin 10 (#Berlin10SA), hosted by Stellenbosch University from November 6-8, 2012. Approximately 150 delegates attended the Open Access Africa meeting, and nearly 270 delegates participated in Berlin 10. Collectively, the two meetings covered Open Access issues in great depth, breadth, and scope. This article is the second in a series and focuses on issues broadly related to Open Access and international development that were raised during both meetings. Part 1 can be accessed here, Part 3 is available here

A Human Rights Approach to Open Access

During the first day of Open Access Africa, Eve Gray (Honorary Research Associate, University of Cape Town), launched the week of discussions with a bang by unequivocally linking Open Access to human rights during her presentation, “The Rapidly-Changing Policy Environment: Implications for Publishers and Universities.” She referenced the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, arguing that Open Access is a moral mandate, as it provides access to scientific knowledge and cultural knowledge.

Furthermore, Open Access is the road to innovation, leading to social innovation and social development. As Gray explained, “Open Access has the potential to provide solutions to social issues, especially through public health.” She referenced the 2011 Danish Report, “Access to Research and Technical Information in Denmark,” a report to the Danish Agency for Science, Technology, and Innovation (FI) and Denmark’s Electronic Research Library (DEFF), which focuses on access to information by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The study investigated how private sector researchers access information, what kinds of information they need, and, in particular, barriers with current toll subscription models. Gray noted that scientists have noted that they also need access to failed research so firms do not repeat the same mistakes.

Gray discussed referenced key international organizations including UNESCO, the European Commission, the World Bank, the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and their various flavors of support for Open Access. Each of these organizations has a different approach to and interest in Open Access, yet the takeaway is that “investment in research communication and its infrastructure is essential.” The WB and FAO approaches are particularly pertinent to development. As Gray explained, “if you want to compete and contribute to development, you need to make [research] translatable and reusable,” which is possible when organizations such as the WB and FAO release their research and data with Creative Commons licenses encouraging use, reuse, and interoperability of materials.

At Berlin 10, Ms. Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, raised several similar and related issues in her keynote address. She focused on the global reach of knowledge. She too referenced the Danish study Gray mentioned, emphasizing that Open Access is important to the private sector, stating that “Open Access to knowledge can spark innovation, generate jobs, and create wealth.” In terms of the global picture, she noted: “Developing and implementing open access is a worldwide challenge that calls for solutions that are locally pertinent and globally compatible – solutions that are flexible enough to adapt to a rapidly-changing environment.”  The full text of Ms. Geoghegan-Quinn’s remarks is available here.

Sustainability of Open Access: The Perspective of Research Funders

Representatives from three major research funding organizations, Wellcome Trust (Open Access Africa & Berlin 10), The World Bank (Open Access Africa & Berlin 10), and the UK Department for International Development (Berlin 10) presented about issues related to sustainability of Open Access.

Chris Bird, Senior Solicitor at Wellcome Trust, started his presentation by noting that the Wellcome Trust’s Open Access policy stems from their commitment to maximize the impact of the research outputs and the organization’s belief that research could make a major contribution in supporting global development efforts such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

While the Wellcome Trust has been a leader in terms of mandating Open Access for its funded research, compliance by scientists has been “disappointingly low” – only between 50 and 60% of Wellcome Trust-funded research papers have been deposited into PubMed Central per policy requirements. To improve the situation, Wellcome Trust is now taking a three-pronged approach to support the sustainability of Open Access. They are:

  1. Funding OA – as Bird clearly stated, “publication costs are part of the research costs” – which needs to be factored into how research is funded.
  2. Developing infrastructure – by building resources such as Europe PubMed Central; supporting development of eLife, a new OA journal;  and being involved in various activities designed to raise awareness of OA within the research community.
  3. Strengthening the Wellcome Trust’s OA policy – including sanctions for non-compliance and shifting to required adoption of a CC-BY license whenever the Wellcome Trust has paid an OA fee for publication.

In addition, Bird shared some perspectives on OA and Africa. He noted that “Gold OA is vital to ensure researchers can immediately access and use published research findings, wherever they are based in the world, but we must ensure that researchers in research-poor settings are not restricted in their ability to publish their world.” He clearly stated that “publication has a cost,” and that “we believe strongly that funders must recognize and resource these costs as an integral part of funding research.”

Matthew Harvey from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) continued along similar themes in his talk entitled, “What Difference to the Sustainability of Open Access Can a Donor like DFID Make?” He explained that DFID’s activities are framed by the Millennium Development Goals but that their approach is on evidence – DFID seeks to implement evidence-based activities by demonstrating, for each intervention, its need and how the intervention is to be conducted. All of this requires access to a full body of evidence, which clearly ties into Open Access.

DFID is supporting Open Access through two main strategies: (1) funding OA programmes such as the INASP-led Programme for the Enhancement of Research Information (PERii) and the Mobilising Knowledge for Development (MK4D) Open Access Advocacy Programme managed by the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) and (2) enacting their own policy – “Research Open and Enhanced Access Policy.”

DFID’s policy emphasizes not just access, but accessibility. Their interpretation of research outputs is quite broad – it includes peer-reviewed journal articles but also reports, books, book chapters, data sets, multimedia, websites – i.e. anything and everything. In addition, the DFID policy requires research proposals to include an “Access and Data Management Plan” along with associated costs, as part of the research budget. The policy also specifies that datasets must be deposited within 12 months final date of data collection. Furthermore, DFID is encouraging researchers who submit proposals to consider various ways DFID funds could be used to support Open Access — in addition to funding APCs, they would consider supporting other re-use applications to encourage usage and accessibility such as translations. The requests need to be appropriate in terms of cost and purpose, but DFID’s support is quite broad in scope.

Open Access and Poverty Reduction

Towards the end of his presentation, Harvey stressed that DFID’s perspective is that Open Access is not an end in itself, and that “continued interest [by DFID] will require a demonstrable or at least plausible connection to poverty reduction.”

This idea of a connection between Open Access and poverty reduction was also raised by Carlos Rossel, Publisher of the World Bank, who spoke at both Open Access Africa and Berlin 10. Rossel made a compelling case for aligning Open Access with organizational mission – in the case of the World Bank, that means making published materials and data available to be freely accessed and reused. Rossel suggested that the perspective of the World Bank is that while publishing does not lead directly to gains against poverty, their belief is that anything they can do to remove impediments in the fight against poverty can help to achieve that goal. Rossel very clearly encouraged any and all mission-driven organizations to adopt Open Access: “Open Access is right for the World Bank. If you are a mission-driven organization, Open Access should be right for you, too.”



This is the second post in a series highlighting some of the major issues and themes raised during the 2012 Open Access Africa and Berlin 10 meetings. Additional posts will highlight the the changing university environment. Slides from both meetings have been posted to their respective websites — click on session titles from within each meeting’s programme. Click here for the Open Access Africa programme or the Berlin 10 programme. Podcasts from several Berlin 10 sessions are also available.

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The forum will run until 15 October 2011. After that, members of the team will review comments and input from participants which will inform our next steps. The team will them determine a plan of action for establishing a COAR roadmap for global repository interoperability. If you’re interested in working with us to establish a COAR roadmap, please fill out this form and a member of the team will get in touch with you.

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Major Challenges

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Global Interoperability

What are the major challenges related to achieving global interoperability of Open Access repositories? What sort of support structures would best support global interoperability? What models exist for creating a global repository infrastructure? What are the major language-related issues? How can they be solved? Leave your suggestions in the comments.