By Clare Gorman
The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) recently announced the welcome news that all publically-funded development research is to become freely available. As the recent ‘Academic Spring’ debate attests, this is good news for most, not least of all southern researchers who rank accessing research high up a long list of problems they face when trying to engage with the wider development community.
“Charging the developing world to see findings of new scientific research will mean fewer people escape poverty and could cost lives” warned International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell as he set out the Department’s new open access policy. “Even the most groundbreaking research is of no use to anyone if it sits on a shelf gathering dust… What’s just as important, though, is ensuring that these findings get into the hands of those in the developing world who stand to gain most from putting them into practical use.”
Although some may disagree, surely any attempts to make research available easily and at little or no cost to researchers in developing world deserve applause (bravo, Eldis)? Yes… but while open access initiatives and policies such as these are hugely significant, it’s important to understand that the ‘apartheid of knowledge and analysis’ (as Duncan Green of Oxfam puts it) doesn’t end with improving access.
As a programme dedicated to promoting and sharing knowledge from and for the Global South, GDNet has long been aware of the barriers that southern researchers experience to having their knowledge influence global debates on development. GDNet recently identified other key challenges: securing research funding, communicating research findings to peers and policy audiences, and the (mis)perceptions of the quality of southern research, and concluded that a change in personal attitudes towards research from developing countries is also necessary.
Leading by example, GDNet has launched Connect South, a campaign to encourage members of the development research and policy communities to adopt a more inclusive approach to southern research. The campaign calls on people and organisations working in development to pledge how they will help southern researchers to communicate their work better and more widely. The organization has launched its own Charter of Commitment to southern research which they are hoping will inspire other organizations to do the same.
Ensuring that research findings get into the hands of those who stand to gain most from putting them into practice is one thing. Recognising the value southern research offers to global discussions on development is quite another. If development research is to make the impact DFID wants it to, both need an equal chance to succeed.