Open research, scholarship and learning resources

I had written about the availability of academic research and data for developing nations in my former guise as an information professional years ago; after revisiting that post, I thought it might be worthwhile to update that information here to demonstrate that while much of this research is still behind paywalls, much exists out there that many don’t know about. The way I see it from my limited perspective is that the challenges facing developing nations in regards to scholarship are as follows. Nothing particularly original here on my part, but I include some resources here that might be worthwhile:

  • Access to scholarly materials-knowing what is available, what has been done before, and what other colleagues or contemporaries are doing. Further, it is imperative that cost structures for these materials are priced respective to resources available to purchase them. Ideally, they would be given away for free or heavily discounted in developing nations, as they are with several providers of academic content. Better yet, go direct to open source content of which the Directory of Open Access Journals is probably the best place to start. INASP maintains a list of other open access content that might prove useful as well.
  • Efficient delivery systems- in this instance I am referring to stable and efficient internet systems. While bandwidth is a persistent issue and remains the greatest impediment to access for a lot of these academic materials (particularly large datasets or multimedia), there is progress worldwide. I would argue that academic publishers and creators could speed this process along by making their content mobile-friendly.
  • Teaching + Research (should) go hand-in-hand- there are a wealth of open educational resources (OER) available that those teaching in universities in developing nations should consider using, not only to improve their teaching but to kickstart their use of open access materials, which will hopefully spill over into the open access academic research. OER Commons and OER Africa are useful in this regard.  Creative Commons (CC) has an open content search function as well that might prove useful for both teaching and research. Additionally, there a host of open textbook and courseware options to consider such as the Open Textbook Library,  Open Education Consortium, and many more. Again, I have this lurking suspicion that adoption of OER for teaching will spur the adoption of open access content for research.
  • Time=discovery-Research, even in the best of circumstances, takes time. With limited bandwidth, one has to prioritize searching and strategize their choices before even going online. This is all well and good, but it assumes a thorough conceptual knowledge of both what information is available and the structure of the information systems themselves (and subsequently how best to retrieve it). This is truly an unfair burden for scholars in developing nations as this ability to conceptualize information and the systems that contain it is not even present in the developed world. I would be hard pressed to find a researcher anywhere in the world who would be able to identify what is available before searching for it.

There are some organizations out there trying to make an impact on some of these fronts; I highlight one here but many more exist. One of those is INASP (International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications), an organization devoted to addressing issues of research access and use. INASP's work focuses on communication, knowledge and networks, with particular emphasis on the needs of developing and emerging countries. They also maintain a list of some good resources for scholars out there, including:

  • Publications and Journals available
  • AuthorAID: Supporting developing country researchers in publishing their work
  • VakaYiko- The VakaYiko Consortium is a three-year project involving five organizations working primarily in three countries designed to build capacity for accessing, evaluating, and using research evidence

So there you have it. There are materials available so be sure to take advantage of them.