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CSPC | Canadian Science Policy Centre

A new Open Access policy in international development

November 26, 2015
Naser Faruqui
Director, Technology and Innovation
International Development Research Centre

I am moderating a panel on open science for development today at the Canadian Science Policy Conference. The focus is on open access (OA) to research outputs. At IDRC, I Ied a team in the development of our new OA Policy, which came into force this summer. In this post, I’d like to explain the policy and why we put it into place.

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is a Canadian Crown Corporation that supports science in developing countries. Our vision is knowledge, innovation, and solutions to improve the lives of people in the developing world.

Driving innovations and sustainable growth

As Director of IDRC’s Technology and Innovation Program, my job is to lead a global team that helps developing countries leverage science and technology to drive innovation and sustainable growth. One of my teams supports digital innovations for sustainable growth. A key aspect of its work is to promote open models of development, which depend on freely available content on the internet, to unleash economic value, address democratic deficits, improve learning, and advance science.

On that last point, we have been supporting research on open science, including open access (OA) to research outputs. In simple terms, open access research outputs are online, free-of-charge at the point of use, and free of most restrictions on use. Along with research on the open production of science, IDRC has been supporting research on its sharing and use.

For instance, we supported a program on scholarly communication that helped universities in South Africa, Botswana, Mauritius and Namibia ensure that their research produces impact, by making their research outputs more open. This led to the University of Namibia setting up its first ever OA policy and establishing an institutional repository.

Accelerating research with open access

Recent rapid changes in publishing models, driven by the Internet, have created an unprecedented opportunity to extend the reach and accessibility of research outputs. OA is increasingly recognized as a way to accelerate research, democratize access to knowledge, and ensure that publically funded research is available to the public.

Recent research shows that OA journals are approaching the same scientific impact and quality as subscription journals.

We know that OA articles tend to be more widely-read than subscription-based articles and that developing-country researchers rely more on OA journals than do those from developed countries. Most scholarly journals, whether OA or subscription, are peer reviewed and recent research shows that OA journals are approaching the same scientific impact and quality as subscription journals, particularly for those funded by article processing charges.

While the case for OA to research as a public good is relevant to all research funders, it is of particular importance to IDRC and southern researchers. This is because OA is not just a question of accountability, it is critical to IDRC’s vision of improving people’s lives. Research cannot lead to development if knowledge is not freely available to all who might use it, and build on it, to change people’s lives. And we know that southern researchers do not have the same level of access to paid journal subscriptions as do their northern counterparts.

A new open access policy

Our new OA policy contains five key provisions, which were designed to ensure openness by default, consistency across our research outputs, flexibility for our grantees, and scientific rigour. Under the new policy:

  • Project outputs will be made accessible free of charge to the end-user;
  • Authors are encouraged to publish books and articles as open access. If not possible, the outputs must be uploaded to an OA repository within 12 months of publication;
  • Grey literature (technical reports, theses, workshop reports, etc.) must be placed in the open, IDRC Digital Library;
  • All project outputs will be made available under the Creative Commons (CC BY) licence; and
  • Research proposals submitted to IDRC must include an open access dissemination plan.

Our grant agreements will reflect the policy, and require recipients to document their compliance in their final reports. Approval of subsequent grants will depend on compliance with IDRC’s OA policy. We have developed resources to support and educate our staff and recipients in this changing environment, including help in identifying high quality open access journals.

Our policy covers article and manuscript processing charges not only for outputs emerging from proposals received after the implementation of the policy, but also for outputs emerging from projects after they close – when we know most outputs are produced.

The policy will also support article processing fees for a limited number of projects that were active before the policy was envisaged. We’ve also developed a new extranet to simplify submission of research outputs, track the number of articles and costs, simplify copyright permissions and enhance collaboration with recipients.

What’s in store for the future?

In terms of next steps – IDRC is exploring the idea of convening a group of funders to share experiences on OA implementation, potentially collaborating on monitoring the impact of emerging OA policies, and mitigating negative impacts of OA, such as predatory journals.

Finally, we are committed to implementing the next major step in our OA policy, Open Access to Research Data. We are currently pilot testing open data management plans, in order to develop an IDRC OA to research data policy.

Together with the new OA policy, these initiatives cement our commitment to openness as fundamental to IDRC’s vision to improve the lives of people in the developing world.