Making your research accessible

Open Access: Reflections from the field of research communication

By 4 September 2012

Open Access will change our communication processes at a very practical level. After seeing DFID’s guidance  on how to implement the new open access policy, it became clear that we need to do more to make outputs and communication practises truly open access.

This is shown by considering the following questions:

1.     Is research openly licensed?

Just because a research paper is freely available for downloading on a website doesn’t mean that it meets the requirements of open access.  If the paper has copyright, people’s right to use the work in different ways will be restricted. If it has no copyright, people will be confused as to how they can use the work and will have to make time to get the right permissions. To make the research paper an output that is truly open access, it needs to have a Creative Commons license. This type of open license clearly indicates the extent to which people can use or build upon the work (but it might not always be possible to openly license a paper, for example, when an institution does not have copyright control over the particular output).

2.     Are other ‘non-academic’ outputs freely available?

If we have created outputs that could be really valuable and useful for others, we should consider sharing them online so others can access them. Such outputs can be non-academic materials, including videos, audios, etc. For example, UKaid shares photographs on Flickr , which anyone can access and use in communication products (provided they give relevant credit). Letting others use our photographs is useful, but we need to make sure that we have obtained consent from the participants in the photographs.

3.     Have open access outputs been deposited into repositories?

An openly licensed research paper that is freely available for downloading may still not be truly open access if it has only been posted to one institutional website. This is because people may not find the paper online when they search for research on that topic. To make the paper more searchable, we need to increase the online visibility by depositing it into open access repositories .  People looking for openly licensed materials can go to these repositories, which help them locate what they are looking for in one place.

4.     Are outputs in a format that enables open access?

If someone can’t download a freely available, openly licensed output because the file size is too large, then that output is not truly open access.   We need to convert material into formats that enable ease of access.

We need to understand the principles of open access and incorporate standards of openness in communication practises and systems.

What else should we be doing to make open access part of communication practises in research institutions? For other useful tips, see the R2A blog by Kimberly Clarke titled “Open Access – What can DFID do?”