Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Realising the BOAI vision: A view from the global South

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), the meeting that led to the launch of the open access movement, and which defined open access thus:

“By ‘open access’ to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”

A great deal of water has passed under the bridge since 2002, but as 2017 draws to an end what should the stakeholders of scholarly communication be doing now to fully realise the vision outlined at the Budapest meeting?

That is a question I have been putting to a number of people, inviting them to say what they believe the priorities should be going forward for the following stakeholders: researchers, research institutions, research funders, politicians and governments, librarians, and publishers.

Today I am publishing the response I received from Dominique Babini. Based in Argentina, Babini is open access advisor, and previously repository manager, at the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), a network of 623 research institutions, mostly in Latin America.

This is what Dominque had to say:


In developing regions, where research and its communication are mainly publicly-funded, or the result of international cooperation, many more venues than the so-called “mainstream journals” are used by researchers to share their research. This encompases subjects like health, education, agriculture, socio-political and economic matters etc., and the results are communicated to diverse audiences.

This diversity is not reflected in the traditional WoS and Scopus indicators that are used to evaluate researchers in our countries. As a result, researchers are punished for not publishing in journals included in the commercial international indexing services, and so our present reality is that we are to a great extent excluded from the mainstream scholarly communication and evaluation systems.

Researchers can help change this situation. When evaluating research projects and colleagues, for instance, it would help if they followed the DORA and Leiden recommendations and sought to include in their assessment research outputs published in local/regional venues, and in local languages. In other words, they should seek to complement the traditional indicators with local/regional open access indicators, where available.

And when publishing or distributing online research outputs, researchers should be mindful of the need to include in each digital object they are preparing (and in a prominent place) information that will help create metadata when these research outputs are incorporated into diverse open access venues, e.g.: they should describe the evaluation process used to assess the content, and provide licensing information to enable the content to be shared. They should also include their ORCID if they have one, and provide details of the organisation that funded the research.

Research institutions

A top priority for research institutions and universities in developing regions is to review and update the evaluation indicators used for tenure, promotion and grant requests, in line with the DORA and Leiden recommendations previously mentioned. 

Likewise, they should value the quality of research outputs published in local/regional venues in local languages, and complement traditional indicators with local/regional open access indicators when available.

They should also reward researchers for participating in pre- or post-peer-review processes, and for publishing in non-profit open access venues (e.g. repositories, non-profit publications etc.). These new elements should be incorporated into evaluation processes as they are reviewed and updated, and then used in conjunction with traditional indicators for evaluation based in WoS and Scopus, since the latter poorly represent the diversity of research contributions from the developing regions. 

It will also help for research institutions to be aware that they have a fundamental role to play in building a more inclusive and participatory non-profit global open access, open science and open evaluation ecosystem. 

Another priority for accelerating the transition to open access and open science at the institutional level is for institutions to introduce and fund open access policies. As a percentage of the total spent in traditional subscriptions, too little funding is currently dedicated to open access publishing and infrastructure, or to collections development, training, and advocacy. 

Again, metadata is key. It would help if every research output published by researchers in the institution – be it in publications distributed by the institution or elsewhere, in its own repository, say, or in other repositories – inserts within the digital object the information that will be needed for preparing metadata to allow the research output to be incorporated into open access venues. Again, examples of the information needed include a description of the evaluation process the content underwent, information about licencing, institutional identifiers, and information identifying the organisation that funded the research.

If the research institution, and/or university/organisation to which it belongs, publishes open access journals and books, it will greatly help if they follow international quality standards for open content and repositories, e.g. those recommended for journals by DOAJ, those recommenced by DOAB for books, and those outlined by COAR for repositories.

Research funders

For research funders the top priority is, again, the need for an international review of the evaluation systems used by the research community. Here the various declarations issued in recent years (e.g. the DORA, Leiden and The Hague recommendations) are relevant.

Funders should also be forming alliances with international initiatives like COAR, DOAJ, SPARC, UNESCO (among others), to coordinate and fund a scholar-led non-profit future for open access indicators to complement the traditional indicators which, as noted, poorly reflect research outputs in the diversity of digital formats now used, and research outputs from less privileged researchers and institutions. In our region UNESCO has provided support to give Web visibility to regional open access indicators.  

If the international evaluation systems continue to be based only on the WoS and Scopus indicators, I think we will see the slow death of local and regional voices and venues, and of those indicators that could contribute to the diversity needed in the global agenda of research, and which are more suited to sustainable development priorities.

Now is a good time for members of global funder and science organisations like the Global Research Council and Science International to review whether the research community should continue to channel so much of its scarce funding dollars to support a global scholarly communications industry that has long enjoyed huge and growing profits from publishing research, and which is now complementing its traditional revenues with APCs for providing open access. Moreover, these APCs are set at a market price designed for developed countries, which is prohibitive for those in the developing world.

Funders might instead want to consider progressively redirecting public money earmarked for scholarly communication to initiatives focused on creating a more inclusive and participatory global scholar-led non-profit open access infrastructure, one that facilitates and encourages collaboration, diversity (of both content and formats) and so helps enable a more equitable scientific dialogue to take place, both within the global research community itself, and with other publics.

In our particular case, CLACSO has received funding from SIDA and Norad to make the transition to open access scholarly communication in collaborative ways with its research member institutes in Latin America and the CLACSO digital repository (including the CLACSO-REDALYC collection of 896 journals), which receives an average of 4 million downloads each month.

Politicians and governments

We need more governments to engage with open access, both by means of creating and updating OA policies and through the allocation of funds and other resources to support scholar-led non-profit open access venues.

We also need to see more negotiations taking place between commercial publishers and alliances of governments, with a view to promulgating the FAIR open access principles, including ensuring that fees are set “in proportion to the work carried out”.

We also need to see a reduction in publisher embargo periods to bring them into line with the embargoes specified in the many institutional and funder OA policies being introduced around the world, and with OA legislation. In light of the fact that the salaries of the authors and peer-reviewers of the articles published in commercial scholarly journals are usually funded by the public this is a reasonable demand.

To allow the transition to an equitable global open access scholarly communications environment – one that includes the active participation (as readers and as authors) of less privileged research communities both in developed and developing countries – governments need to engage more with global community-based organisations like SPARC, COAR, UNESCO,  EIFL, FORCE11, among others. 

Open access and open science issues should be integral to the agenda when S&T parliamentary commissions are undertaken, and in the meetings of ministers of science in each region. They should also be on the agendas of political parties.


Librarians are key players in open access advocacy and implementation. Discoverability, open access to traditional and digital resources, networking, collaboration, are all in the spirit and tradition of this profession. It is, for instance, libraries who usually manage the institutional repositories, and undertake OA advocacy and training activities.

In some cases, research university libraries also manage open access journal collections ( Latin America with the National Autonomous University of Mexico-UNAM and the University of Sao Paulo-USP, which manage more than a hundred journals each using the OJS-PKP platform).

As such, libraries need more money, or the reallocation of present budgets where possible, to allow these initiatives to develop, grow and flourish. It would also help if information science and library science education and training programs regularly updated their curricula to include the new challenges the profession faces – e.g. the need to research, design, implement and manage the changing needs of scholar-led open access initiatives.

We also need a better understanding of the users of open access content that we make available. We all feed research content onto the Web, which has become the most used library in the world, but we know very little about the profiles and motives of users outside the research community.

One of the few surveys undertaken in our region reported that 50% of users of peer-reviewed open access journals from SciELO and Redalyc are students (Alperin 2016). This is understandable given that university libraries in the region face constant financial difficulties keeping up with the materials their students need for their studies.

At an international level we are seeing some very interesting experiments and projects with libraries working collaboratively to develop and fund open access initiatives, but more research is needed to better understand the real possibilities of this model for developing countries. Very few libraries in the developing world manage the purchase of international journals (which is usually carried out at a central national office) and so very few libraries have the ability and permission to transfer money abroad.

The tradition in developing regions is more one of in-kind participation in local and international open access collaborative initiatives. This tradition emerged from the experience of participating in decentralised UN international information systems (e.g. in agriculture and health)


All the stakeholders being considered here are, in one way or another, publishers in the context of the emerging scholar-led open access environment. This includes the publishing of individual journals, and collections of journals published and managed by the scholarly community and indexed in non-profit open access journal portals, e.g. DOAJ, SciELO, AJOL, Redalyc, JOLs, Latindex, Dialnet. It also includes repositories (institutional, subject, funder, pre-prints servers, data, software repositories), and books (e.g. collections of academic open access books in DOAB, SciELO Books, CLACSO books). 

Today publishing also encompasses online content outside traditional formats – e.g. blogposts, Wikipedia articles, opinions in newspapers etc.. All these open access publishing initiatives face the difficult task of complying with international standards of quality, and best practices designed to make the content searchable, accessible, indexed and interoperable.

So, for instance, scholar-led publishers should meet international quality requirements for editorial processes and peer-review, and ensure that these processes are properly described in the journal, as per the recommendations of DOAJ. Some are also already utilising the Fair Open Access Principles.

Latin America is the largest user of the open and free OJS-PKP Open Journal System software for managing the editorial and peer-review processes of journals which in our region are published by research institutions and societies, without any outsourcing to commercial publishers. These journals also don’t use APCs and they participate in the regional journal portals SciELO and Redalyc. As early as 2010 around 85% of academic publications in Latin America were publicly available through the Internet (Carlee Adams, SPARC website).

Latin America issued the open access Declaration of Salvador in 2005  and has introduced national legislation mandating the deposit of state-funded research results in open access digital repositories in several countries (in Argentina and Peru in 2013; in Mexico in 2014; and a bill was introduced into Congress in Brazil in 2007 and reintroduced in 2011).

As noted, international commercial publishers should adapt their embargoes to conform to the time limits specified in the different national legislation and policies introduced, and to collaborate with countries and institutions to ensure that articles they publish can be easily harvested by the relevant institutional repositories once the embargo period is over. Again as mentioned above, this is not an unreasonable demand given that the authors and peer-reviewers of the articles published by commercial publishers are usually publicly-funded.

In relation to the payment of APCs to commercial publishers: at the recently-held first meeting of the national consortia of Iberoamerican countries (the consortia that manage the centralised national purchase of international journals in each country) a declaration was issued (rough English translation here, original text in Spanish here) agreeing that a policy of expansion of open access through payment by means of APCs is impossible from a financial point of view for the signatory countries. As such, it was recommended that institutions do not create subsidies to pay APCs.

Once again, I would stress that the APCs of so-called “mainstream journals” are set at levels intended to meet the needs of developed countries, and bear no relation to the research project budgets and research salaries in developed countries. Yet these researchers also need to publish in these journals (or perish) given the present evaluation systems they are subject to. For this reason, if no other, the indicators used for evaluation need to be reviewed and updated so that researchers are able to select other open access publishing venues.

Finally, CLACSO has also signed and endorsed the Jussieu Call for Open science and bibliodiversity. Amongst other things, this states that “… current journal subscription spendings should be changed into investments enabling the scientific community to regain control over the publishing system and not merely into new spendings only earmarked to pay the publication fees for researchers to commercial publishers” 


In the 15 years since BOAI, developing regions have seen the gradual growth and expansion of a number of collaborative open access initiatives (e.g. repositories and repository networks, regional open access journal portals etc.). We are therefore confident that a global transition to a collaborative non-profit open access future is possible, so long as we continue to create and strengthen the diverse set of scholar-led non-profit open access initiatives that have begun to emerge.

An open access future that allowed less privileged researchers and institutions in both developed and developing countries to participate would see the realisation of BOAI’s vision. This vision, let’s recall, assumed that “Removing access barriers to [the] literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge.”

To achieve this, BOAI invited governments, universities, libraries, journal editors, publishers, foundations, learned societies, professional associations, and individual scholars to “join us in the task of removing the barriers to open access and building a future in which research and education in every part of the world are that much more free to flourish.”

Let’s all work towards that!


Earlier responses to these questions from Danny Kingsley, Lisa Hinchliffe, Richard Fisher and Alison Mudditt can be read hereherehere, and here.

A list of some of the more interesting OA developments during 2017 is available here.

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