Importance of Open Access (OA) and Open Data

October 16, 2013

By Collins Wanjala, Research Assistant, APHRC

December 14, 2012

Kenya is a technology leader in East Africa and so it should come as no surprise that Kenya is also one of the countries leading the way in the Open Access and Open Data efforts on the continent. But what are these initiatives and why should they matter to you? It is important to do research, publish it, as well as disseminate it to a wider population for knowledge sharing. Data is equally key for decision making, planning and development of a nation. That is where the ideas of open access and open data come in.

There are two similar movements changing the way we think about sharing knowledge in a free and accessible way to get the information to make more impact in the society. Watch a video on the World Bank’s Open Data Initiative here and visit Kenya’s Open Data website here.

The 2002 Budapest Open Access initiative defines Open Access as “making content freely available 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.” Although definitions vary slightly, Open Data is an effort to encourage more transparency from government agencies and institutions by having them post all accurate data online for the public use and review.

Recently APHRC staff had an opportunity to participate in the Open Access (OA) workshop at the University of Nairobi during the global open access week. The workshop was organized to help sensitize organizations/institutions in Kenya about open access and institutional repositories.

Benefits of Open Access to researchers 

It is obvious why open access and open data portals would be beneficial to the public: free information and more of it is empowering to society, but what is in it for the researchers themselves? Open Access systems are relatively affordable and widen global access to research information in response to the growing demand to make research free and available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. The diversity of information available inOpen Access also makes it possible for Scholars and other information users to have wide access to more information. This means researchers will be providing data to these networks, and also using the networks themselves for more research. Open Access also maximizes the visibility of research publications and improves the quality, impact and influence of research globally.

APHRC is getting more involved in open access and open data work in a couple of ways.

First, APHRC’s Library is working to create its own Institutional Repository (IR) system through the use of the Open Access software called Dspace. The project is at its initial stages where communities are created according to APHRC departments and collections uploaded and organized according to the communities. Dspace offers researchers a flexible, easy to use submission process where one simply completes a brief submission form and grants permission for Dspace_APHRC to distribute and preserve the work. Researchers and other information users will be encouraged to make use of the Open Access platform to be able to disseminate their research widely to the global world.

Second, APHRC’s new Data for African Development Working Group has decided to assess the open data movement as part of its core mandate. This work will involve reviewing information on unpublished data, either through a country specific case study, or at the international level in several ways.  The Working Group will analyze the sources, accessibility, timeliness, and platforms through which data is (or is not) made available and it will also focus on the current state and usage of open data initiatives. The product of this work will include a landscape analysis of current open data initiatives and programs such as a review of countries that have initiated open data programs, both within and outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

Chart 1. This chart illustrates some of the benefits of open access to various stakeholders. (Source: open access workshop)

Challenges of Open Source Publishing

Open Access is slowly being recognized as the way to go in terms of research publishing—but not all researchers and organizations have been supportive of open access and open data efforts. In fact, the very design of Open Access can seem threatening to researchers. One objection to Open Access is that scholars don’t earn royalty payments because content in Open Access needs to be availed freely.  That also means that no commercial content is made available although metadata for commercial publications may be openly accessed. Another challenge to Open Access is copyright infringement. To prevent copyright conflicts, publishers and authors sign the Creative Commons Attribution. This license that permits for unlimited reuse, adaptation and translation of article content while only requiring that users acknowledge the source. Although some researchers welcome this effort others feel that their work can be misused or manipulated without their knowledge or attribution. Either way it is clear that there is no stopping the Open Access movement and it is clear that organizations need to get on board if they aren’t going to be left behind.

Open Data and Open Access initiatives are leading the way to a more vibrant open research community. Challenges still remain to get all researchers involved and as a recent article in Wired magazine argued just providing data alone is not enough, but the progress thus far is encouraging as more and more institutions begin to see the benefits of more available high quality data.