Reflections on the OAR Conference 2013

The QUT hosted the Open Access and Research Conference 2013 between 31 October – 1 November 2013. The conference was preceded by several half-day Pre-conference workshops on the 30 October.Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 12.55.16 PM

Overall, the conference worked on the theme of Discovery, Impact and Innovation and aimed to provide an opportunity to reflect on the progress of Open Access and to consider the strategic advantages these developments bring to the research sector more generally. A broad spectrum of policy and research management issues were covered including advocacy, open innovation and alternative metrics.

There was a huge amount covered in the two days, and as always the opportunity to meet colleagues face to face after in some cases years of online collaboration was a highlight. The conference was filmed and the video recordings are linked on this page from presentations from Day One and Day Two below. The full program can be downloaded here.

This blog will summarise some of the key messages that emerged from the discussions. A caveat – these are a tiny sample of the whole event. For a bigger perspective see the Twitter feed: #OAR2013conf

Global and National Open Access Developments

The first day focused on Global and National Open Access Developments. The sessions covered the breadth of recent international initiatives.  Key messages are below

  • The current publishing model is not sustainable.

In the future the dominant model of publishing will have the web as the distribution. Managing and controlling a publishing environment of global publishers will be difficult. The ARC cannot be too prescriptive about open access models because it funds across so many domains. – Prof Aidan Byrne | Australian Research Council

  • The public remain depressingly confused about open access.

The web has been around for 20 years, after 10 years of monitoring the debates about open access it became clear that high profile universities in the USA and Europe were not going to take the lead on the policy front.  QUT then started implementing an open access policy in 2003. It took less than a year before it was endorsed by the University Academic Board. Prof Tom Cochrane | Queensland University of Technology

  • It is extremely important to ensure the definition of open access is consistent and includes detail about reuse of material.

Reuse included machine analysis of information. It is difficult to retrospectively add details into policies. It is also very helpful to tie this policy into existing policy platforms. The NIH policy has been extremely successful and more than 2/3 of the users of the research are outside the academy – Developing a Framework for Open Access Policies in the United States
 Heather Joseph | Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, United States

  • Having good open access requires: good policy development, infrastructure to support the open access system and advocacy of the policy.

Despite the gobsmackingly complex area that is European politics, they have managed to pull off the Horizon2020 policy development. The policy is consistent across the European Union and beyond. Part of the reason it succeeded was a huge campaign of 18,000 signatures from the research community. – Open Access Developments in Europe
 Dr Alma Swan | Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, Europe

  • Australia is building real momentum in the open access area.

Now one quarter of Australian institutions have open access policies, there are several open access monograph presses, and both government funding bodies are mandating open access to funded research outputs – Open Access Developments in Australia 
Dr Danny Kingsley | Australian Open Access Support Group

  • Chinese publishers are increasingly ambitious in the international market.

Publication in China is oriented towards evaluation of academia, and is only undertaken by state owned publishers, many enjoying subsidy from the government. There are about 1000 open access journals in China, many with a higher than average impact factor. The centralised platform of 89 institutional repositories called GRID (Chinese Academy of Science IR) – with over 400,000 full text items. – Open Access Developments in China
 Dr Xiang Ren | University of Southern Queensland

  • India is a net importer of knowledge – so open access helps India.

While India is not playing a significant role in open science and scholarship it is addressing ‘open’ issues elsewhere. There is a National Repository for open education, India has adopted the AustLI model for access to legal Acts, there are also interesting developments in the patent space to allow access to cheaper drugs. – Opening India 
Prof Shamnad Basheer | National University of Juridical Sciences, India

  • A good policy requires deposit immediately on acceptance for publication.

This ensures things are deposited and there are ways to allow researchers to have access to papers even during the embargoes. Waiting until the end of an embargo potentially loses use and application during that period – OA: A Short History of the Problem and Its Solution
 Prof Stevan Harnad | University of Southampton, United Kingdom

  • It is good to reach out to communities in their own language.

Open access advocacy in developing countries uses a range of tools, from high level stakeholders and influential researchers through to radio talk shows and actively engaging the community. Tools like usage statistics and live examples have proved successful. Open Access Advocacy in Developing and Transition Countries
 Iryna Kuchma | Electronic Information for Libraries, Ukraine

  • The open and networked web can be exploited to solve complex scientific problems.

For this to work it is important to have research outcomes that are reproducible or repurposable. It requires communicating research to different audiences who have different needs for support and functionality. Currently we do not have the data or models we need to analyse the system of scholarly outputs. We must not lose control of data into proprietary hands. Network Ready Research: Architectures and Instrumentation for Effective Scholarship
 Dr Cameron Neylon | Public Library of Science, United Kingdom

  • Altmetrics are a researcher’s footprint in the community.

They complement traditional metrics and research evaluation. Researchers thinking about a research impact strategy and funding agencies might want to include an impact statement in their Final Reports. – Altmetrics as Indicators of Public Impact
 Pat Loria | Charles Sturt University

Video of presentations from Day One

Open Data, Open Innovation and Open Access Publishing

The second day featured thematic sessions – focusing on specific areas of research and information management necessary to the advancement of Open Access. Specifically Open Data, Open Innovation and Open Access Publishing. Key messages:

  • Having a mandate alone is not enough.

An empty repository is useless, a partly filled repository is partly useless. It doesn’t work spontaneously – there is a need for an institutional policy that must be enforced. The Liege repository has 60,000+ items with 60% full text available – as only articles are mandated. The average number of downloads for items is 61.73. – Perspectives of a Vice-Chancellor Prof Bernard Rentier | University of Liège, Belgium

  • The patent system is supposed to lubricate the system but is increasingly throwing sand into the gears.

Copyright protects expression and patents protect functionality. Strong patents mean people make investments in order for people to convert ideas into product. However there is increasing concern that actual and potential litigation are not just costly but actually inhibiting innovation. The Economics of Open Innovation
 Prof Adam Jaffe | Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, New Zealand

  • Open stuff is useless unless you can translate it to something that means something.

We are no longer moving physical things, we are now moving information through the knowledge space. Because patents are jurisdictional there are many other countries that can use the patented information. The new facility The Lens is a map of the patent world allowing innovators worldwide to access all of the knowledge held in the patent system. “Solving the Problem of Problem Solving”: How Open Access will Shift the Demographics of Innovation to Create a More Fair Society and More Resilient Global Economy.
 Prof Richard Jefferson | Cambia

  • If monographs are behind paywalls when journals are free there is a problem for monographs.

The systems supporting scholarly communication via the monograph are falling down. Under the Knowledge Unlatched model libraries from around the world collaborate to share the publications. This spreads the costs of OA across many institutions globally. It ensures HSS books are accessible as OA journals. Libraries should avoid double dipping – if they were going to buy the titles on the startup list, sign up for KU instead. Knowledge Unlatched
 Dr Lucy Montgomery | Knowledge Unlatched

  • It is not adequate to ignore the humanities and say ‘we will deal with monographs later’

With monographs IP is not about capitalism but it is recompensation for the professional labour of editorial input that is significant and inherent to the quality of the product. The format is not important in policy setting (pixels or print). Ideally there would be a shared infrastructure that everyone can tap into, but this needs startup assistance. Free as in Love: the Humanities and Creative Arts in Open Access Publishing
 Dr John Byron | Book Industry Collaborative Council

  • We need to be thinking of knowledge as a network and an infrastructure – a common intellectual conversation and a quest for knowledge.

At the core scholarly communication is about communicating new knowledge. The default price on items online. The marginal cost of serving one more copy of an article is zero (more or less). The license is the one thing that does not cost anything – the more people reading doesn’t change the first copy costs. The question is how to charge for what actually costs money. There is a need to protect and retain core business but innovate on the non-core processes. Innovation in the Age of Open Access Publishing 
Dr Caroline Sutton | Co-Action Publishing, Sweden

Video of presentations from Day Two

Open Access Champion 2013 – Open Journal Project

To celebrate Open Access Week 2013, the Australian Open Access Support Group is recognising two ‘Open Access Champions’ – an individual and an organisation.

The Open Access Champion 2013 – Organisation Category has been awarded to the not-for-profit international development organisation Engineers Without Borders Institute’s Open Journal Project.

Julian O’Shea, the Director of the EWB Institute, who is heading up the project, spoke to Danny Kingsley about what has happened in the three months since the AOASG featured a story about the project in July.


In bestowing the Open Access Champion 2013 award the AOASG is recognising the excellent work that Engineers Without Borders (EWB) has been doing to open access to research. The Open Journal Project publishes the Journal of Humanitarian Engineering (JHE)  which is not only open access, but provides easy to understand interpretations of the technical papers, translated into the local language(s) and addresses other issues of accessibility.

This project exemplifies a true commitment to open access in its pure form. The Project has considered all aspects of accessibility, well beyond the first step of simply providing access to the original research. In addition, the stated intention of the Project to act as a stimulus for others to follow the example set further increases the already impressive impact of the Project.

Increasing academic engagement

Since the project launched there has been a great deal of interest, explained Julian. “What is really pleasing is the level of academic interest,” he said.

The EWB have been talking to practitioners in the area of WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene Wash) research. Despite the focus on development, much of this research is still published in closed journals.

“This is probably one of the most important groups for development practice”, he explained. “But even people who would like to be out in the open publish in closed journals”.

The group has been offering them the opportunity to publish in the JHE. And to increase interest, the EWB have started discussions with organisers of the international WASH conference being held next year in Australia. The JHE is intending to publish a WASH-themed issue at the same time.

“The conference brings together leading academics and practitioners in WASH, so we will be using this as a platform to showcase our relatively young journal,” said Julian. “We want to build a network of the WASH and to formalise this as another opportunity to publish”.

The project is also looking to engage researchers in many of the countries where the humanitarian work is being conducted.  “We are looking at opportunities for them to publish”, said Julian.

The Project has considered the issue of different academic standards in different countries. “If you apply a fixed standard to your journal you are ruling out many parts of the world that do not have that experience,” he said. “English is the primary language of our journal”.

Many people who work in the area of humanitarian engineering may not have higher education degrees and may not have done formal academic writing. “If English is their second language we are happy to provide people in international research who can support and collaborate on the work”, said Julian. This is an open invitation, he explained, noting the journal is still a peer-reviewed journal committed to academic and technical rigour. “Their ideas have no less merit to their work but they do face academic hurdles”.

Sharing the message in the community

The target audience for the journal’s articles are practitioners in the field in developing countries. “What we have found is the idea that something is on the web so therefore it can be accessed is a bit of a stretch”, explained Julian. The EWB have a program which is a design challenge for Australian students – to come up with research outcomes that can be more readily understood.

“They make plain language guides rather than just the 10 page article,” he said. “So part of the process is we have readable understandable summaries of the research.”

The EWB are also planning to start spreading the word in person. “As of next year we will be disseminating these outcomes in country,” he said. “Because we have a network of people in country, with our local partners we will be holding local workshops targeting the groups we know about and share in person about what some of these outcomes have been”.

The group hopes to run some workshops in Nepal, one on water and one on energy. This will be using a human connection. “We can’t underestimate that,” said Julian. “Sharing in person makes it a lot more real. We will be working on the networks within their communities that spread the word”.

This AOASG award is not the only recognition the project has had. It was shortlisted for the World Youth Summit awards which recognises ICT and technology solutions addressing poverty alleviation. “We were the only program nominated from Australia”, explained Julian.

Future plans

The Project continues to innovate, with a summer project planned. “A student will develop a technology solution that converts an academic paper’s pdf or preprint into a low bandwidth version”, explained Julian.

The EWB are hoping to be able to automate the conversion, to allow the process to be scaled up across whole journals. “We expect to have a prototype by early next year that will enable editors and publishers to have a version that is low bandwidth friendly,” he said. “So these can be accessed in the developing world where downloading a pdf can be a technical challenge – this will give practitioners more scope to download. The outcome of the project will be open source so it can be shared.

Julian and the EWB team are brimming with ideas, but time is an issue as the Open Journal Project is just one of the projects currently running. Julian would like to develop a resource pack for editors and publishers to help them with these access issues. “It could help them with the change from one type of licensing to other”, he said.  “That would make it more of a movement.”

ARC & NHMRC OAWk panel discussion

In celebration of Open Access Week, the Australian Open Access Support Group (AOASG) and the Australian National University (ANU) invited the Chief Executive Officers of the two government funding agencies to a panel discussion about their open access policies.

Professor Aidan Byrne, CEO of the Australian Research Council (ARC), and Professor Warwick Anderson, CEO of the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) spoke about their open access policies, and then participated in a Q&A session that was moderated by ANU Vice Chancellor, Professor Ian Young.

The session was recorded and is available on the ANU You Tube Channel  (see below for time stamps of different parts of the recording). The slides and an audio recording are also available (note the recording goes for the whole event but there were only slides from Professor Anderson’s presentation).


Summary of the discussion

The presentations covered the broader international open access landscape and how much this has changed in the past year. Both Professor Anderson and Professor Byrne discussed how, given the speed of change in scholarly communication, it is almost impossible to know what the open access agenda will look like in five years time. For this reason, neither the NHMRC nor the ARC wish to be prescriptive about how to implement their policies.

The presentations underlined that neither policy advocates a particular method of achieving open access, or specifically requires payment for open access. However, the NHMRC considers the cost of publishing journal articles a legitimate Direct Cost of Research, and the ARC is progressively removing the caps on the percentage of research funds that can be used for publication.

One of the questions that arose was the issue of monitoring compliance to the policies. Both organisations are working on the premise that as researchers make their work open access they will see the benefit of having work available. Professor Anderson noted the NHMRC’s Research Grant Management System now allows Chief Investigators to list publications linked to grants and these will be checked next year. While there are no current plans to withhold future grants from researchers that do not comply with the policies, this could become the case into the future.

More than one researcher noted the challenges with making creative works, or culturally sensitive research freely available. Professor Byrne reiterated that these were examples of why the ARC was not expecting 100% compliance to their policy.

Time points during the recording:

(Note: 2:34 means 2 minutes and 34 seconds into the recording etc)

2:34 – Professor Anderson’s presentation on the NHMRC policy

20:24 – Professor Byrne’s presentation on the ARC policy

28:48 – Question session begins

28.54 – The first question referred to elements of image copyright in particular in the visual arts, given this is an area where people rely on the images for their livelihood

30:49 – The second person asked if there were particular things we should be doing in Australia to comply with the policies and whether we should be positioning ourselves in terms of the international context?

34:36 – This question referred to issues of monitoring compliance, and asked about the tagging proposal from CAUL for harvesting articles and where that proposal is going

40:00 – There was a statement about Australia being a leader in open access monographs

40:26 – A technical question followed about grant applications and asked how compliant researchers had to be in their applications

43:21 – This was a discussion about the dissemination of culturally sensitive research materials

46:36 – The question related to data, and noted that the policies have been shaped and informed by changed expectations of an open society but how have they been shaped and formed by processes in government to make data more open for the taxpayers?

49:01 – The question referred to the cost associated with publication, in particular when groups are disadvantaged because they do not have the resources to come up with the page charges to publish

57:40 – The final question asked about where the country is going in terms of major infrastructure for research

BIS Report part one – Findings & implications

A report released last week by the UK government has given open access advocates the world over something to cheer about. The recommendations of the report are particularly welcome to those who advocate for open access by deposit of work in an open access repository (which is the AOASG’s position).

The UK House of Commons Business Innovations & Skills (BIS) Committee has been looking into open access and the report, Open Access: Fifth Report of Session 2013–14  from this investigation suggests that the position that the country has taken on open access should be readdressed.

The current UK position is that research should be made available. While this is welcomed by the open access community, the method by which this is achieved is disputed. The UK supports the expensive and unsustainable method of paying for articles to be published open access.

This position, reflected in the Research Councils of the UK (RCUK) open access policy , resulted from a report released last June by the Finch committee on open access to UK-funded research. There was considerable disquiet in the open access community at the time of the Finch Report.

The AOASG wrote a story about some of the effects the Finch Report and the subsequent RCUK open access policy has had on research accessibility in Australia “UK’s open access policies have global consequences”  – this was published 17 September in The Conversation UK.

This blog will highlight some of the more interesting sections of the BIS Report with some commentary around it. There is also reference to some of the ensuing commentary that has emerged in the UK. The blog has the headings Report purpose, The system is broken, Problems with hybrid, Different embargo periods and Other notable blog commentary.

Note this doesn’t mean the remainder of the BIS Report is of no interest. As an excellent summary of many aspects of the open access debate currently, it is worth a read in full if you have the time.

This blog is the first of two looking at the BIS Report. The other – “BIS Report part two: Information & observations” – is available here.

Report purpose

The BIS Report begins with the observation that it is necessary to transition to open access, but there needs to be a discussion about the best way to achieve it (par 2). However it notes that current policy raises the risk that “the Government’s current open access policy will inadvertently encourage and prolong the dysfunctional elements of the scholarly publishing market, which are a major barrier to access” (par 3).

The BIS Report does not hold back in criticism of the Finch Report and the RCUK policy in terms of the focus on gold open access through article processing charges. It notes that “Neither the Government nor RCUK undertook public consultation before announcing their policies” (par 6). Of course this could be interpreted as saying that the current report is fulfilling that remit…

The BIS Report recommends that the Government and RCUK should reconsider the importance of repositories and green open access in the move to full open access (par 70).

The system is broken

The BIS Report notes: “A recurring theme in this inquiry has been that elements of the scholarly publishing market are dysfunctional” (par 73). The primary issue is that of price.

There are two problems – one is the separation of the value of services provided by publishers compared to what they charge. “The costs of publishing services are increasingly disassociated from the value of the actual services provided. We heard evidence that costs of peer review, formatting, editing and other publisher services are exaggerated by publishers, keeping prices artificially high” (par 74).

The second issue has long been recognised. The library role in negotiating the price for subscriptions means that “authors are desensitised to the prices of journals in which they publish” (par 75) and this hampers the development of a functional market.

Problems with hybrid

The BIS Report discussed the issue of hybrid journals in some depth. Many submissions had said that the current policy had the unintended consequences of pushing up the cost of article processing charges and: “allowing ‘double dipping’ by hybrid publishers” (par 36). The report noted that Reed Elsevier had provided evidence that publishers were responding to the RCUK policy by increasing the amount of hybrid open-access publishing (par 37).

The problem is that gold open access is very expensive compared to green. Work undertaken by Australian Professor John Houghton (with Dr Alma Swan) was cited, stating “adopting Gold would cost UK universities 12 times the cost of adopting Green, and for the more research intensive universities, Gold could cost 25 times as much as going Green” (par 61). A second concern was that the universities and research organisations are expected to find the funds for this (par 64).

A recommendation arising from this was that “the Finch working group commissions an independent report on APC pricing, which should include average APC prices of pure Gold journals and hybrid journals, domestically and internationally” (par 58). This would be very welcome.

Different embargo periods

The BIS Report noted “the absence of evidence that short embargo periods harm subscription publishers” (par 49). This relates to the observation that immediate green open access affects subscription rates, which is discussed in the sister blog to this one.

What is interesting, however, was the observation that the Committee did not receive any evidence that Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) disciplines needed longer embargoes than Science, Technical, Engineering and Medical (STEM) disciplines. In general this idea comes form the longer ‘shelf life’ of HASS articles.

The result of this distinction is that the Finch Report recommended “embargoes for HASS subjects of 24 months and for STEM subjects of 12 months” (par 45). In light of any evidence to support the position, the BIS Report recommended a revision of the Government and RCUK policies to “place an upper limit of 6 month embargoes on STEM subject research and up to 12 month embargoes for HASS subject research” (par 50).

The Russell Group of universities released a statement  that argued pulling back the length of acceptable embargo periods means that researchers will have to pay for open access because publishers have longer embargoes (so the only way to comply is to pay for gold). They then go on to say that the amount of funding available for publication would only cover 10% of their output.

COMMENT: This is a back to front argument. The concerns should be directed at publishers, demanding they reduce their embargoes, not at the BIS Report. It is the current status quo that supports this unsustainable situation. The BIS Report offers ways to turn that back.

Other notable blog commentary

Not surprisingly the release of the BIS Report has resulted in considerable commentary in the UK. Below is a list of more prominent online discussions.

Richard Poynder, Open and Shut, 10 September 2013, “UK House of Commons Select Committee publishes report criticising RCUK’s Open Access Policy

Heather Morrison, The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics, 12 September 2013, “Kudos to the UK Business, Innovation & Skills Committee: important steps in the right direction

Ann McKechin MP, Impact of Social Sciences, 12 September 2013, “The Government’s policy on open access and scholarly publishing is severely lacking

Dr Danny Kingsley
Executive Officer
Australian Open Access Support Group

Accessibility is more than making the paper OA


Proponents of open access generally agree that there are many benefits to open access, but discussions about the processes involved in achieving open access often stop at making the published research available. But what happens when the issues of accessibility are considered?

A remarkable project is underway in Australia, spearheaded by the Australian chapter of a not-for-profit international development organisation, Engineers Without Borders (EWB). The Open Journal Project aims to explore and promote techniques to make academic information genuinely open and accessible – with a focus on groups that are often excluded from access to this type of information.

EWB is a volunteer organisation, sending volunteers overseas to a local non government organisation to work on the ground on a project. The Open Journal Project considers the needs of individuals and practitioners in other countries.

“The Project doesn’t finish the day you press publish – that’s when it starts,” explained Julian O’Shea, who is the Director of the EWB Institute, the education, research and training section of EWB, and is heading up the Project.

“We are thinking about what we can do to make the work more accessible.”

The EWB Institute is based in Melbourne, and is publishing a peer-reviewed journal as a pilot and case study in their work. The Journal of Humanitarian Engineering (JHE) is piloting innovations in open access, including multi-language access, developing country access, low-bandwidth websites, and disability-accessible content.

“We want to pilot innovations and share our experiences with doing this,” explained Julian. “We want to work out what is world’s best practice, do it and live it and show it is not too hard.”

The problem

The EWB has noticed that practitioners overseas are under-served by the current publishing process. As an example, Julian stated that the leading university in Cambodia does not have access to the largest database in the field of engineering.

The idea for the focus of the journal began because the group saw there were very few that focused on experience, drawing on outcomes from developments and disseminating that information.

“The aim of the journal is not to be published or cited, but to provide outcomes in communities,” explained Julian. “This is different to other research organisations as a metric of success. It gives us a different angle or lens.”

The group wanted to encourage this as a field of research in academia. They were not sure what level of interest there would be in the journal because from a purely technical point of view they are not publishing innovative technologies. Rather, the focus is on new ways of applying this technology.

“We have been surprised and pleased that the journal has been really positively responded to,” said Julian.

Open access

The journal is published open access, with no cost to the author or to the reader. It uses an open source program called Open Journal Systems to run the administration of the peer review and publication. All papers in the journal are available under a CC-BY 3.0 license.

“We have had no negative feedback at all from people wanting to publish in the journal,” said Julian. “People doing this kind of research don’t have any issue with making their work freely available.”

Accessibility – language issues

Academic papers can be difficult to read even for people within a field. They can become impenetrable to researchers in parallel fields. This problem is further exacerbated in an international environment, working with practitioners on the ground who may not have any tertiary education.

There are several issues with language. The first is the problem of making the technical reports understandable to the lay person. Often the papers in this area are very technical, including many equations, and can reach 300 pages.

To solve this problem authors in the JHE are required to submit a two page plain summary about the paper with the formal paper. This means a project manager on the ground can make a decision about applying the technology or approach and then pass the full paper on to the technical manager.

But many of these projects are in countries where English is not the primary language. The Project addresses this by making the reports available in the language of the country it is targeted towards. The Project translates the plain language guides into both the local language of most importance and into other general languages.

The Project called on goodwill to obtain the translations. They sent articles out to the world, asking for volunteers to translate the papers. This had a good response from universities, companies or simply people to help out on the website.

The Project now has an approved translator list. The first time an article is translated it is sent to a native speaker to approve it and once this is done the translator can go onto the list. The quality of translations has been very high, said Julian, with only one that had to be sent back.

To date the plain language summaries have been translated into Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Hindi, Chinese, Spanish, Danish, Khmer and French. The number of languages is growing.

Accessibility – distribution

Another consideration is bandwidth. In many countries the internet connection is through a mobile telephone which prevents the download of large documents. The Project decided to produce the journal on a low bandwidth, and this opened up new issues.

“Generally the journal system distributes through pdfs,” explained Julian. “The problem is it is all or nothing – if the download cuts out at 90% you get nothing.” So the Project looked at releasing html versions of the papers. This has reduced the size of the website to 4.3KB and the journal articles are about 18KB. “We can put about 80 journals onto a floppy disk,” he said.

The Project also has plans to further improve the distribution to remote areas. “We haven’t done it yet but we will have a system that says ‘here’s a postcard, send it to us and we will send the paper to you by donkey’”, said Julian.

Accessibility – inclusion

With a philosophy of sharing research, it was important to the project to provide versions of the papers in an accessible format for people with disabilities.

The choice of publishing html versions of papers assists people with vision impairment, as they translate better using text-to-talk programs than pdfs.  In addition, the project is being proactive about embedding helpful metadata within the document such as describing images.

The Project has used the guidelines for Vision Australia to release a large print edition of the papers. “The first one took about couple of minutes – after that it was very simple,” said Julian. “That is what we are trying to show in this project, to meet a need for some people can be solved in literally two minutes.” The team has also produced Braille editions of the plain language guides.

Future plans

The project hopes to share their experience and inspire others. “We are doing this through the case study approach,” said Julian.  “This is my goal – to be able to communicate better. I am an author – what can I do? I am a publisher – what can I do?”

The Open Journal Project is hoping to formally launch later this year. Meanwhile, Volume 2 issue 1 is about to be released.

Twitter handle – @OpenJournal

Dr Danny Kingsley
Executive Officer
Australian Open Access Support Group

Lost & found: challenges accessing government research

While there’s been much angst about the locking away of academic literature and sky-high fees for libraries to access academic journals, what about all the other sources of publicly-funded material? Why are they also not included in the brave new world of open access?

As a PhD student working in a reasonably cutting-edge area, grey literature* is my life-blood. And yet when it comes to some key sources who take money from public coffers for their work, getting access to material that should be public domain is tricky at best.

My area of interest – not-for-profit, non-government hospitals and large scale clinics in developing countries – has not generally been the focus of briefing papers and articles. But often these health facilities are included in documents for various reasons without being the focus. And given the dearth of directly relevant data, I’m prepared to take what I can get – or at least what I can find.

Government Double Standards?

While recipients of Australian Government funds for research now have an obligation to allow open access, the same can’t be said for government departments, which are encouraged, but not required, to make their work open access. 

Try checking AusAID’s website for their list of advertising projects or FOI procedures and requests or this page on consultation arrangements. The links lead you either to a blank page or an announcement that the information will be added when it becomes available.

And that’s just scratching the surface of the problem. A significant amount of research is now outsourced to specialist consulting firms or hubs at academic institutions. What that means in practice is we have no idea how much information isn’t making it onto indexes on government websites.

As part of my research I went to AusAID looking for any information they might be able to contribute. I should stress the staff I dealt with were professional and went out of their way to check for me. But the end result was a direction to an outside body, the Nossal Institute,  a health knowledge hub for AusAID. After I found some useful reports on Nossal’s website, I went back to the AusAID publications area and searched for them using keywords from the title. Nothing. I searched under health. Nothing. The document register similarly yielded nothing.

So what happens to members of the public who don’t know AusAID has a librarian to ring and ask for advice? Or who doesn’t make the connection between AusAID and Nossal or any other body contracting to AusAID for that matter?

Your ability to track down information funded by the Australian taxpayer shouldn’t be dependent on how ‘in the know’ you are. Whether you’re a researcher or a tradie, these documents should be easy to access.

It’s in the Report

The sad reality is that even when you finally find the document you’re after, you probably won’t be getting the full picture. As anyone who has ever done research will tell you, there’s a lot that misses the final cut. What happens to that uncaptured knowledge?

When all the researchers were in-house, that institutional knowledge collected along the way stayed within the institution. But now, it dissipates out to a complex web of contractors and partner organisations. So what hope does anyone outside the organisation have of tracing detail that didn’t fit the word limit?

Make an Appointment

I imagined a world where I could ring the librarian, put in a formal request to get access to the library and come and thumb the physical pages, letting the Dewey decimal system lead me from one title to another and maybe even hit the jackpot with a title I would never have thought to search for. Or better still, in a face-to-face conversation with that gatekeeper of knowledge, the librarian might plant a thought that led me to the holy grail. Apparently not.

Along with the outsourcing of much research capacity, the AusAID library now resides off site, so even staff put in requests for books to be retrieved and brought in. While it makes sense for archival or rarely accessed material, there are some titles that could and should be read often. And yes, there are electronic books, but not everything comes in e-book format, not to mention the costs if every individual in an organisation paid for an e-book every time they wanted to read a few prescient pages.

While I’ve focussed on AusAID here, I gather from anecdotal conversations with departmental staff and fellow researchers that this experience is far from rare. I’ve singled out AusAID purely because of my recent interaction with them as a source.

And now the good news…

I was preparing to be less than glowing about the World Bank’s open access. I started by writing that the World Bank had an obligation, given their highly specialised research, to make all their reports accessible for free.

As a frequent user of the site in the past, when I started searching the site again I went straight to the publications catalogue. I was appalled that it still cost $100 to get a report as crucial as African Development Indicators. The best they seemed to offer on the online bookshop was a ‘geographic discount’ for developing country purchasers.

What I missed in the catalogue was the announcement on the inside cover page that ‘most publications are now available for free online’. I ended up stumbling on to the Open Knowledge Repository area of the website which is well designed, easy to search and remarkably had the vast majority of reports published by the World Bank available to download free.

There are some exceptions in the open access policy. Open access only applies to external research when that research was commissioned on or after July 1, 2012 which presumably leaves some research still being undertaken now exempt from the rules. However given the volume of current and historical material available free it seems the Bank has worked hard with its authors to get their consent to publish full reports online.

My one criticism is that this needs to be better flagged on the site, and particularly in the online bookshop. Over-familiarity with the old site led me to miss these changes – like many researchers I can be guilty of being a ‘mongrel reader’ and skipping straight ahead if I think I know a website well. The ‘read and share this’ button looked to me like a clunky piece of advertising rather than an invitation to download the research.

So the upshot is that global organisations like the World Bank, with their multitude of stakeholders, are making huge gains rapidly, while Australian government departments are still lagging behind. It’s time government departments similarly made significant inroads into genuine open access.

* Grey literature is defined as ‘ … document types produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats that are protected by intellectual property rights … but not controlled by commercial publishers i.e., where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body.’ –  12th International Conference on Grey Literature at Prague, December 2010

Belinda Thompson
PhD Scholar
Menzies Centre for Health Policy
Australian National University