Tuesday, April 10, 2012

World Bank to Introduce Open Access Policy

The World Bank has announced today that it is introducing an Open Access (OA) policy. This will mandate that World Bank research outputs and knowledge products are deposited in a newly-created institutional repository called the Open Knowledge Repository (OKR), which will be freely accessible on the Internet.

In addition, the Bank will become the first major international organisation to make much of its research output available under Creative Commons licensing. As a result, any user in the world will be able to read, download, save, copy, print, reuse and link to the full text of the World Bank’s work, free of charge.

The new policy — effective July 1st — will cover monographs (i.e., books, reports, etc.), externally-published sections or chapters of books written by Bank staff, working papers, journal articles, economic and sector work, plus associated datasets.

The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programs. Its official goal is to reduce poverty and support development. 

Back in the driving seat

The precise details of the Bank’s policy will depend on whether the work in question has been published by the Bank itself, or by an external publisher.

For work published by the Bank, electronic copies of complete, final manuscripts that have been approved for release to the public on or after July 1, 2012, as well as the associated metadata, will be immediately deposited in OKR.

These works will be made available under the most liberal Creative Commons licence, the Creative Commons Attribution (“CC BY”) copyright license, which places no restrictions on its use except proper attribution.

Where an external publisher is responsible for publishing the work, the policy will require that the final word-processed version of the text is submitted to the OKR upon acceptance of the manuscript for publication. The work will then become immediately available to Bank staff, but released to the public only after the publisher’s embargo has elapsed.

As such, the policy recognises that most publishers currently insist on an embargo period (a.k.a. delayed open access) before any work they have published can be made publicly available in an institutional repository.

After the respective publisher’s embargo elapses, externally published works will be made available free of charge to all under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial, No-Derivatives (“CC NC ND”) license, unless the publisher accepts the use of a more liberal license.

The mandate will also apply to the Bank’s own two journals — World Bank Research Observer (WBRO) and World Bank Economic Review (WBER), which are currently published by Oxford University Press (OUP) under third-party publisher agreements. Here too, the publisher’s embargo will be respected.

We should note that OUP currently has one of the more restrictive self-archiving policies, and imposes a lengthy embargo period of 18 months. Perhaps for this reason, although the Bank will not (like the Public Access Policy of the National Institutes of Health) itself prescribe an embargo period, it has stressed that it “expects the amount of time it takes for externally published Bank content to be included in its institutional repository to diminish over time”.

Critics will doubtless point out that to only provide free availability 18 months after publication is not to provide open access, certainly as it is understood by those OA advocates who define OA as “free, immediate, permanent online access to the full text of research articles”. See also here.

Nevertheless, the Bank’s OA policy will be a powerful new signal to publishers that times are changing, and content creators intend to get back into the driving seat when it comes to deciding when and how work they create is made available to the public. And experience shows that achieving OA has to be viewed as a brick-by-brick process.

Natural evolution

As evidence of the latter point, we could note that the Bank’s new policy does not come out of the blue, but builds on its on-going Open Development Agenda. This includes two earlier initiatives, the Open Data Initiative and the Access to Information Policy.

Introduced in April 2010, the Open Data Initiative ended the Bank’s practice of selling its World Development Indicators data, when it made its more than 7,000 development indicators — along with more than 60 other datasets — freely available on its web site.

The Access to Information Policy, introduced in July 2010, transformed the way in which the Bank makes it data available to the public, and saw the release of more than 17,000 historical documents from its archives.

As a next logical step, the Bank's OA policy will provide a number of important new benefits. By creating a single, searchable database of all its information, for instance, the Bank will make it easier for users to locate and access the data they need.

Moreover, the OKR is OAI compliant, so it will be interoperable with other repositories. Amongst other things, this will enable OKR data to be “harvested” and made available through third-party services like RePEc (Research Papers in Economics) and Google Scholar. This will see the Bank’s content potentially becoming accessible to many more people.

Further, by requiring that Bank-generated content published by external publishers is deposited in OKR the new policy will ensure that work previously locked behind subscription paywalls will become freely available. (The World Bank eLibrary, however, will remain a subscription-based product for librarians, researchers and heavy users of bank research products).

Importantly, by using Creative Commons licensing the Bank will make it possible for anyone to distribute, reuse, and build upon its published work, even (in most cases) commercially, so long as the Bank is credited for the original creation.

Commenting on today’s announcement World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick said, “Knowledge is power. Making our knowledge widely and readily available will empower others to come up with solutions to the world’s toughest problems. Our new Open Access policy is the natural evolution for a World Bank that is opening up more and more.”

Significant for three reasons

OKR is, in fact, already live, and currently contains more than 2,100 books and papers (from 2009-2012) across a wide range of topics and all regions of the world. This includes the World Development Report, other World Bank annual flagship publications, academic books, practitioner volumes, and the Bank’s publicly disclosed country studies and analytical reports. In addition, articles published in WBRO and WBER between 2007-2010 are also now freely available in OKR.

OA advocates have welcomed the development. “Today's announcement is significant for three reasons,” explains Peter Suber, director of the Harvard Open Access Project. “First, the World Bank is following up on its open data policy of April 2010. Its experience with open data led it to commit even further to open research, not to retreat.

“Second, the Bank made itself a leader, along with other institutions like the Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust, in moving beyond gratis OA mandates, which make work free of charge, to libre OA mandates, which make work free of charge and free for reuse under open licenses.”

He adds, “Libre OA mandates were very rare as recently as last year. While the RCUK and Wellcome Trust have announced plans to strengthen their existing policies from gratis to libre OA, the World Bank is now the first major international organization to have actually adopted a libre mandate.

“Finally,” Suber concludes, “this policy applies to a major body of research on poverty and development. If there is one area where we would all want to maximize the impact and utility of research, it is the area covered by the World Bank.”

I hope in the near future to explore the Bank’s OA strategy more fully in an interview with its publisher Carlos Rossel. [This interview can now be read here].

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