Open access to African research – Is it enough?

Written by Ruth King


Open access is just one part of a successful research process. I am reminded of that during every conversation I take part in about open access to African research. It can end up sounding simplistic compared to the complex issues that surround it, such as availability and uptake; building capacity in doing and publishing research; looking beyond the research article as a format for communication of research; flawed reward systems for researchers and measuring the impact of a piece of research. All of those issues are raised in this Guardian piece on ideas to improve development research access and uptake, and are reflected in the work of Publishers for Development, a forum dedicated to advancing the importance of access to research for development.

I see open access as a crucial underpinning, which has the potential to help make progress with some of the surrounding issues (often fundamentally through the fact that it makes things open). We also know that there are challenges, such as the hanging question of whether regional publications are out-competed by the policies of international open access publishers to waive the article-processing charge (APC) for authors from developing countries. To that end, BioMed Central is working with partners to explore open access as a viable model for African research. That work focuses on the following three areas, and includes some big questions.

In order to ascertain the effect of open access in an African context and to understand any pitfalls, more data is needed as to the publishing landscapes in African countries. Last year African Journals Online (AJOL)ran a survey on the current state of scholarly publishing in sub-Saharan Africa, with the full results expected later this year. We are also working with groups to identify where there are further gaps in knowledge about the effects of open access.

Factual, unbiased information about what open access is, its implications and potential is still necessary, and we are working to bring that together for the different people involved in the research process, from students to researchers, librarians and funders.

Research grants provide an important contribution to paying for open access through an APC model. Work is underway to gather information about who is funding the research undertaken in Africa. That will give a better idea of where funding for open access could come from, whether current waiver policies are serving the communities well and to inform business models that will work.

Like I say, there are some big questions involved and great work is being done by organisations such as INASP, EIFL and AJOL. BioMed Central is very pleased to play a part in making sure that open access serves African research well.

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