Overview of Initiatives in the Developing World
International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications, United Kingdom
The International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), based in Oxford, England, is a program of the International Council for Science (ICSU). INASP was established in 1992 following the ICSU/ UNESCO Conference on Access to Information in Developing Countries. There are programs and activities in over 120 countries, principally in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, as well as newly independent states. INASP’;s mandate is to improve worldwide access to information and knowledge through a commitment to capacity building in developing and transitional countries.
OPEN ACCESS IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES: CONTEXT, ISSUES, AND CHALLENGES
In 1996 Richard Horton of The Lancet talked about mainstream publishing condemning most third-world efforts to invisibility. He talked about thwarted efforts, and hindered development in developing countries.
The invisibility to which mainstream publishing condemns most third world research thwarts the efforts of poor countries to strengthen their indigenous science journals, and with them the quality of research, in regions that most need them.1
The knowledge gap, or digital divide, runs in three directions: South to North, North to South, and South to South. In the South-to-North divide it is well documented that there are limited local resources in developing countries, limited information communication technology (ICT) skills, and a lack of access to technology. These are familiar challenges. In some quarters there is a perceived lack of credibility that we should overcome. Publications in the sciences in the South are in some cases not valued as highly as those originating in the North.
In the North-to-South flow information has become a very expensive commodity, and developing countries struggle to afford commodities. There are also digital divide issues that require technology and training. Initiatives such as INASP’s Programme for the Enhancement of Research Information (PERI) and Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI) of the World Health Organization, and also in a specialist field the Ptolemy project from the University of Ontario, enhance the flow of information from the North to the South.
PERI works in four related areas to support equitable access to and dissemination of learned information. These components will be described in more detail later on in this paper.
Richard Horton, ed., The Lancet, 1996. See http://www.ias.ac.in/epubworkshop/presentations/epub_DCs/tsld006.htm.
HINARI was created to bridge the “digital divide” in health, ensuring that relevant information—and the technologies to deliver it—are widely available and effectively used by health personnel including professionals, researchers and scientists, and policy makers. Launched by the Secretary General of the United Nations in September 2000 and led by the World Health Organization, HINARI has brought together public and private partners under the principle of ensuring equitable access to health information. HINARI provides access to more than 2,000 scientific publications on public health to institutes within 113 eligible countries.
The Ptolemy Project enables surgeons in several Africa countries access to one of the world’s largest libraries of surgery journals by designating medical researchers and clinicians in these countries as research affiliates of the University of Toronto. The University of Toronto Library is the third largest research library in North America and, as affiliates, participants are provided with full access to the Library’s comprehensive collection of electronic resources.
What is becoming increasingly clear from these initiatives is the very strong need for both technology and training to properly exploit and utilize international information resources.
Of the more familiar open archive initiatives in the North many are either not directly relevant in the developing world (the high-energy physics arXiv) or where they are relevant, lack of awareness means access and use is low.
We must also be aware of evidence, as Richard Horton suggested, that the influx of information from the North to the South is in danger of damaging indigenous initiatives. Authors in the South are looking for recognition and reach as much as authors in the North and they may be tempted to publish in a journal with higher international “standing” than in a locally published journal, however relevant. This practice becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where the lack of regard for local journals means they struggle with quality and in some cases with publishing at all.
South-to-South information flows are constrained by a lack of funds. High costs hinder awareness, use, and development of information resources. There is also a perception problem that perhaps the most relevant information arena is the North. The Association of African Universities’ DATAD project, which publishes doctoral and master’s theses from African institutes for African institutes, may prove to be an important example working against the trend here.
Can open access bridge any of these gaps? Let us look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of open access in the context of developing countries. Open access has many strengths. First, it confers visibility. A recent study in Nature suggested that self-archived papers are cited “an average of 336 percent more citations to online articles compared to offline articles published in the same venue.”2 That kind of visibility could improve awareness of and access to resources. In terms of affordability and sustainability open-access software (such as those provided by the Eprints, DSpace, and CERN initiatives) and information are free. The distributed server technology encouraged by the Open Archive Initiative obviates the need for expensive local infrastructure. Another strength of open access is that the software is easy to obtain and straightforward to utilize. If archives are built with Open Archives Initiative compliance, it increases their potential for retrieval and for visibility as well as interoperability.
There are also some weaknesses associated with open access, most of which will likely be solved in the medium to long term. Open access initiatives and open archiving are technology-based concepts. In countries where there is poor ICT infrastructure and a relative lack of open access skills, this is a problem. Another weakness is that archives are presently rather North biased. The vast majority of archives in open access schemes are based in the North. Holding data in the North will potentially perpetuate access and use problems in the South. For example, the Botswana HIV Institution, which partners with Harvard, is concerned that because the data are principally housed in Harvard the Institution lacks control over those data and cannot guarantee their own access in the future. In addition, the content at some open-access sites is not peer reviewed, which presents a potential danger, for example, in medical disciplines. There is also the issue of quality control, involving peer review, the consistency of peer review, and version management.
S. Lawrence. 2001. “Free Online Availability Substantially Increases a Paper’s Impact,” Nature 411 (6837):521. http://www.neci.nec.com/~lawrence/papers/online-nature01/.
Open access also presents many opportunities. Open access enables researchers to communicate their results widely, quickly, and cheaply. That is very important for researchers in developing countries. It also assists in connecting global research communities. Researchers and information users in the South often complain of feeling isolated from global information exchange and the wider scientific community. Open access also provides the potential to foster partnerships and strengthen scientific cooperation South to South and South to North.
Open access undoubtedly improves communication. This can assist in changing the perception in the North that only Northern research is relevant by exposing Northern researchers to the valuable information produced in the South. It also challenges “West is best” attitudes that sometimes pervade in the South. Open access speeds up what Jan Veltrop at Biomed Central calls the “minutes of science,” the idea that with quicker and wider availability, there will be quicker and wider impact. This confers the potential to speed up the rate of progress, which could potentially benefit developing communities.
In addition to opportunities open access also poses some threats, including the threat of too much information. It may sound contradictory in countries where there has not been enough information, but researchers may find that they do not know which information resources are available in the online medium. When they do find it, they may not know whether it is worth having. Very little guidance about quality and reliability is typically available with online resources and open archives will have to be rigorous and dependable if they are to be worthwhile.
There is also a threat of researchers and information professionals in the South being, or at least feeling, left behind. The technology, the know-how, and the innovation are certainly being driven in the North, at the moment, potentially to the exclusion of the South. For example, in an informal survey of library professionals in about 13 African countries not one had heard of the Open Archives Initiative.
There are also concerns with archiving and perpetual access. The Botswana Harvard example illustrates these threats. Who is going to host the data and therefore who controls access in the long run? Who is going to pay for it and for how long? Developing countries are tired of donation programs that stop and start at whim, and open access could potentially have that problem. Copyright transfer agreements also pose a great challenge. While some publishers allow authors to self-archive under current copyright transfer agreements, in the future they may limit the rights of authors to post.
OPEN-ACCESS INITIATIVES IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
There are many initiatives that address open access in the context of developing countries. These include the Bioline3 and the British Medical Journal initiatives, which provide 29 journals free to the world’s 100 poorest countries. Another example is Extramed, which is based in the United Kingdom and takes its name from over 300 biomedical journals that are not indexed in Medline and therefore are invisible, even if they contain good and important research. When they are not seen, they are not cited. If they are not cited, their impact is reduced. It is a familiar story. Extramed publishes the full text of those journals on a CD-ROM and makes it available free to the South and at a reasonable cost to the North. Other projects include the Electronic Journal of Biotechnology in Valparaiso, and the INDMED database project in India. The Ptolemy Project4 is concerned with measurability and the impact of their project. The Public Knowledge Project provides open access software for archive building in developing countries.5 The SciELO project, based in Latin America, is a collection of online journals from Brazil, Chile, and Cuba that publishes in Portuguese and Spanish and provides abstracts in English and French. Journals from Costa Rica and Venezuela will be added to this project. The TerraLib project is an example of open-source software from Brazil.
INASP has compiled a directory of open access projects, key organizations, and related sites.6 Currently, there are 65 projects—individual journals, subject repositories, journal collections, and databases—listed in that
See Chapter 14 of these Proceedings, “Bioline International and the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine: A Collaborative Model of Open Access Publishing,” by D. K. Sahu and Leslie Chan.
See Chapter 12 of these Proceedings, “The Ptolemy Project: Delivering Electronic Health Information in East Africa,” by Massey Beveridge.
See Chapter 32 of these Proceedings, “Public Knowledge Project Open Journal System,” by Florence Muinde.
Component 1: Deliver Information
Component 2: Disseminate National and Regional Research
Component 3: Enhance ICT Skills
Component 4: Strengthen Local Publishing
directory, which includes a short description plus a Web link to the projects. This directory is constantly updated and is available on the INASP Web site.
INASP PROGRAMME FOR THE ENHANCEMENT OF RESEARCH INFORMATION
The Programme for the Enhancement of Research Information (PERI) is a four-component program of INASP (see Box 29.1).7 At the moment Component 1 of the program offers Southern institutes access to high-quality, peer-reviewed information from publishers such as Oxford University Press, Gale, Emerald, Springer, Blackwell, and EBSCO that would cost a single institute in the North up to $2.4 million. That information is made available on a countrywide basis. For a single country in the South the costs are between $22,000 and $65,000. This component of PERI enhances North-South information flow.
It is clearly also important to support indigenous publishing and the South-to-North and South-to-South information flows. INASP started Component 2, the Journals OnLine Programme, to increase awareness of and access to research results nationally and internationally to stimulate author submissions, and to support subscriptions. The African implementation of this component, African Journals OnLine (AJOL), offers over 170 African journals online with tables of contents and abstracts. There are links to the electronic full text whenever it is available. When electronic delivery does not exist, INASP facilitates document delivery by fax or e-mail, with fair recompense to the publishers in Africa. AJOL also supports publications in local languages, such as Portuguese journals from Mozambique and French-language journals from the west coast of Africa.
If requests come from the South, they are fully subsidized by INASP, so that there is no cost to the user. If they come from the North, there is a U.S. $10 charge per article. The project is about visibility, about being seen, cited, used, and valued. The pages viewed per month has grown from 6,000 at the launch to 81,000 at the end of 2002. Since the project is trying to address North-South, South-South, and South-North communication, it tracks registrants by country or region. There are over 1,300 registrants based in Africa, over 1,000 in the United States, over 1,000 in Europe, and a good number from Canada, Australia, and Asia. There are approximately 4,800 registered users, and that number is growing.
INASP wants to enhance capacity building with developing countries by enhancing the skills and attitudes in the preparation and production of journals and in the medium term by moving this project to local management.
The project includes AJOL, which is the most established, and a pilot phase in the Caribbean, called Carindex. INASP is currently conducting feasibility studies in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh to establish online journal programs in each of those countries.
FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR OPEN ACCESS IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
There is a shocking lack of awareness in the North and in the South about the potential of open access. It is important to raise awareness of open access and the related initiatives through conferences, workshops, and training. We should lobby for improved infrastructure, not just connectivity cables, hardware, and software, although these things are extremely important. We should highlight information access to policy makers as a priority. INASP has had some success with this in its programs in Uganda and Kenya. For example, the University of Makarere in Kampala recently doubled its bandwidth and is paying for more cabling to accommodate the information that is being made available through INASP’s PERI program.
Equally important is training for capacity building. INASP runs in-country training courses that cascade throughout the country, because they train the trainers. INASP is only one initiative; there are others. INASP is teaching general ICT and Web skills as well as electronic journals management skills to library staff and faculty. There is arguably a need for specific open-access training: building repositories and understanding the protocols, data exchange, and archiving and retrieval.
There should be focused funding for open access projects, so that the South is truly included in the process. If there is going to be an open access revolution, it should involve everyone. Funding for projects in the South and partnerships with the North would be very helpful.