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‘Policy guidelines for the development and promotion of open access’ by UNESCO

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Some time ago, UNESCO released a very interesting study on Open Access – its brief history, objectives, methods of publication; the benefits of OA, and the development strategies for the model. It is worth taking a closer look at this publication, since it contains some very useful information.

The document – ‘Policy guidelines for the development and promotion of open access’, states that Open Access is a priority for UNESCO and they also note that there is an additional function – aside from the dissemination of scientific knowledge, which is the main goal of OA, namely, to preserve the products of human science. In other words, the widespread publishing of research in open-access not only assists the scientific community and societies worldwide, but it also captures and preserves the results of science in digital form. This is a very interesting proposition, and alas, it is rarely present in the debates on Open Access.

The report also reveals interesting data on the dissemination of OA in specific scientific disciplines as well as its impact in specific geographic regions. For example, according to UNESCO, Green OA is at its most developed in Europe, USA and Asia, with the repositories being opened mostly by independent institutions and rarely by governments.

The data on the type of OA models (in specific scientific disciplines) which undergo the most dynamic development, is very interesting. Gold OA, for example, dominates in medicine, biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology, whereas Green OA takes the lead in mathematics, earth sciences, social sciences and physics.

UNESCO also indicates the benefits of Open Access – namely, increase in speed, efficiency and efficacy of research. OA is also an enabling factor in interdisciplinary research; enables computation upon research literature and increases the visibility, the usage and the impact of research. Moreover, it allows the professional, practitioner and business communities, as well as the interested public, to benefit readily from research.

(You can also read about the benefits of OA here)

The report also indicates that without the development of appropriate strategies and policies for OA, the model will not be able to develop dynamically. The report provides some guidelines on possible policies. Here is a comprehensive selection, quoted from the UNESCO document:

Policy type: policies may request and encourage provision of Open Access, or they may require it. Evidence shows that only the latter, mandatory, type accumulate high levels of material. Evidence also shows that researchers are happy to be mandated on this issue

Open Access routes covered: policies can require ‘green’ Open Access by self-archiving but to preserve authors’ freedom to publish where they choose policies should only encourage ‘gold’ Open Access through publication in Open Access journals

Deposit locus: deposit may be required either in institutional or central repositories. Institutional policies naturally specify the former: funder policies may also do this, or may in some cases specify a particular central repository

Content types covered: all policies cover journal articles: policies should also encourage Open Access for books: funder polices are increasingly covering research data outputs

Embargoes: Policies should specify the maximum embargo length permitted and in science this should be 6 months at most: policies should require deposit at the time of publication with the full-text of the item remaining in the repository, but closed, until the end of the embargo period

Permissions: Open Access depends on the permission of the copyright holder, making it vulnerable to publisher interests. To ensure that Open Access can be achieved without problem, sufficient rights to enable that should be retained by the author or employer and publishers assigned a Licence To Publish. Where copyright is handed to the publisher, Open Access will always depend upon publisher permission and policies must acknowledge this by accommodating a ‘loophole’ for publishers to exploit

Compliance with policies: compliance levels vary according to the strength of the policy and the ongoing support that a policy is given: compliance can be improved by effective advocacy and, where necessary, sanctions

Advocacy to support a policy: there are proven advocacy practices in support of an Open Access policy: policymakers should ensure these are known, understood, and appropriate ones implemented

Sanctions to support a policy: both institutions and funders have sanctions that can be used in support of an Open Access policy: policymakers should ensure that these are identified, understood and appropriate ones implemented where other efforts fail to produce the desired outcome

Waivers: where a policy is mandatory authors may not always be able to comply. A waiver clause is necessary in such policies to accommodate this

‘Gold’ Open Access: where a funder or institution has a specific commitment with respect to paying ‘gold’ article-processing fees, this should be stated in the policy

Many of these ideas are now being implemented. Furthermore, UNESCO indicates that governments also have a role in the development of Open Access and that they should support this model in tandem with scientific institutions if they want OA to become a part of their policy.

‘Policy guidelines for the development and promotion of open access’ covers many other important issues, such as the promotion of the scientific work published in Open Access and the issue of copyright, which can be seen in two aspects: licensing of newly formed, fully open journals and licenses for already published works to be digitalized and published in OA. UNESCO also notes that, although the main emphasis is currently placed on OA Journals, it is also important to promote book publishing in this model.

There are other matters of interest in the report that can be discussed, but rather than that, I would encourage all to read it for themselves. Much of its content is already widely known and has been discussed before, but it is good, nevertheless, to take a closer look at the UNESCO approach to Open Access.

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