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.

Award

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.”