2012 Conference on Trends in Knowledge Information Dynamics

Posted by Rebecca Schild at Jul 16, 2012 04:00 PM |
The 2012 Conference on Trends in Knowledge Information Dynamics convened a panel on Open Access. There was consensus amongst the panelist that the “big question” facing the open access movement no longer remains "if" or "why" open access, but rather "how" open access. The panel proved instructive for shifting the discussion away from ideology towards concrete questions facing the open access agenda and its implementation.

This year’s International Conference on Trends in Knowledge Information Dynamics held in Bangalore brought together a panel of speakers who discussed the accomplishments of and future challenges facing the open access movement.  There was an air of consensus amongst the panelists that the “big question” facing the OA movement today no longer remains if or why open access, but rather how open access[1].  The speakers did a good job of moving the discussion beyond ideology or proof of principle and used the panel to discuss some of the challenges facing the OA agenda and its implementation.

More than ten years after the launch of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, the benefits of open access have been demonstrated through countless studies. Studies have demonstrated an increased impact factor for authors who self archive, for those who self-archive early, those who publish in OA journals, as well as for journals that have gone OA. Other studies have shown the benefits of open models for facilitating scientific collaboration and stimulating the knowledge economy; creating new opportunities for both big business and start-ups alike. Further, open models of publishing—both green and gold—are well recognized today as attractive alternatives for research institutions and universities seeking local and sustainable solutions for internal intellectual property management. In light of this mounting body of evidence, policy makers and administration can no longer overlook the benefits of OA for the visibility and impact of their institution, faculty and research publications.

Fortunately, the wealth of studies demonstrating the benefits of OA for both the STM and HSS disciplines have grabbed the attention of national and international policy makers. On the international stage, models of scholarly research and communication that privilege the open sharing of knowledge are proving more favorable to closed models which remained (relatively) unresponsive to shifting scholarly needs and practices. The presentations given by  Alma Swan from Key Perspectives Ltd and of Dr. Carlos Morais Pires of the European Commission reminded us that OA is no longer an fringe matter confined to the esoteric concerns of tech-savvy physicists. Both the unsustainable increase in journal licensing fees and the opportunities presented through digital publishing methods has allowed OA to emerge as a mainstream public policy issue. Leading inter-governmental institutions such as the World Bank, UNESCO and the European Commission have all committed themselves to the OA agenda through a range of initiatives.

The World Bank, for example, now releases all of their publications under the CC-BY license and deposits them within their Open Knowledge Repository. UNESCO continues to support the movement through capacity building initiatives such as policy guidelines and through the Global Open Access Portal. The European Unions’ recent “Digital Agenda” report has firmly recognized the importance of the OA movement to the European economy. Additionally, the Commission’s launch of the “OpenAIRE” repository has set an important valuable precedent and it is hoped that this move will encourage more organizations from the EU to maintain their own institutional repositories. With the support of big players like UNESCO and the European Commission, it remains probable that OA will continue to find its way into the policy agendas of more universities and funding agencies. This high level policy support has certainly reinforced the legitimacy of the OA movement and has proven valuable for the “open” shift in scholarly communication.

As support for OA continues to gain momentum at the international level, an environmental scan reveals a conducive—if not promising—environment for the future growth of open access in India.  Indeed, the success the OA movement has seen to date is a cause for optimism in itself. However, these accomplishments must not obviate the real need for continued advocacy in India at all levels. At the national level, the Knowledge Commission of India has shown support for the OA agenda. The agenda has also been taken up by the Council on Scientific and Industrial Research in the form of a council recommendation and a growing network of institutional repositories. At the university level, the National Institute of Oceanography Goa and the National Institute of Technology Rourkela remain the only two institutions which have demonstrated a thorough and long-term commitment to OA in a policy-based capacity. Consequently, both institutions continue to witness growth of their repositories thanks to the support of administrative and library staff. However, it must be recognized that other institutional repositories in India continue to grow at impressive rates, even in the absence of a strong policy base.

Recognizing that most OA enthusiasts agree both upon the need for and benefits of OA, Dr. Norbert Lossau of the Geottingen State Library, Germany, reminded us of the need to focus less on reconfirming the known and taking advantage of opportunities to address concrete questions around implementation. Lossau’s presentation provided a concise and action-oriented framework for moving the OA agenda forward. In particular, he emphasized the need for resource reallocation within library units in order to provide the required institutional support for OA and also underlined importance of capacity and network building among actors who might be working in isolation.

Given the inertia of many faculty and researchers in Indian universities and research institutions, more needs to be done at the policy level before OA can be said to enjoy mainstream success. Given the scope of the task ahead, Dr K Kanikaram Satyanarayana, Deputy Director General of ICMR reminds us that the changing landscape of scholarly communication may not lend indefinite and central importance to the scholarly journal and consequently, the OA movement. Recent internet-based innovations in scholarly publishing—such as the “PLOS Currents” project—reveals how the instantaneity of the digital research environment is inciting greater demand for raw data. Researchers no longer appear willing to wait for the publication of peer-reviewed articles in order to test and build upon the work of their peers. With related issues like open data moving center stage in the “openness” debate, it remains unclear if access to scholarly literature as a finished product and medium of scholarly communication—will remain a priority for policy makers in the long term.

Given the challenges ahead, champions of OA—in any context—need not, nor should not, do it alone. While recognizing the challenges related to maintaining global networks, the panel discussion served as an important reminder that the long-term success of any OA initiative rests in its’ ability to plug into regional, sub-regional and global networks. Global network building does not, however, imply that India need only integrate themselves into established networks (which are more often than not grounded in the Western experience). While greater representation and participation of advocates from the South would certainly be of benefit, it is also important that the distinct needs and conditions of scholarly communication in the Global South are not left unaddressed. Facilitating a truly global exchange of knowledge and building long-lasting south-south collaborations remains an important task ahead. This is particularly important if the Global South is to be recognized as more than mere “beneficiaries” of the OA and also receive visibility as knowledge producers.


[1] Phrase popularized by Neelie Kroes of the EC, in support of OA

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