Reflections on an Open Digital Global South

By Michael Wolfe – June 29, 2017

Openness in scholarship and research in digital forms — where information is shared at no cost to readers, other researchers, or the public, and with minimal restrictions on reuse — is more common and more complicated today than ever before. We have open access articles and journals, and open source software, but are now also developing new open practices around data and information of all kinds, such as genomic data, traditional knowledge, and cultural heritage objects, including sensitive information such as the locations of rare and endangered species.

In this context, where is scholarly publishing headed? Is scholarly misconduct becoming more prevalent? What might a fully open access publishing environment look like and will it be equally accessible and affordable across the Global North and South?

Several years ago, thanks to a grant from the UC Davis Interdisciplinary Frontiers in the Humanities and the Arts (IFHA) Program, the UC Davis Library helped create the university’s Innovating Communication in Scholarship (ICIS) project in order to examine the ways we create, share, and evaluate the evolving modes of communicating knowledge, including examining open research sharing practices and their consequences.

Spring Conference Sparks Global Conversation on Open Scholarship

In May, ICIS sponsored a conference at the UC Davis School of Law that took a broad look at the role and effects of “open” research practices in the Global South.

How can the Global South — which includes diverse and developing nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America — best benefit from the opportunities presented by open, digital sharing of knowledge and research results? And what are the risks and difficulties the Global South faces from the adoption of these practices around the world?

To address these questions, we sought insights from a broad range of scholars and practitioners with roots and expertise across the world. The result was an agenda featuring speakers from five continents, with expertise in scholarly anthropology, archaeology, medicine, law, scholarly publishing, and more.

The discussion (which can be found in full on the library’s YouTube channel), points to the need for continued interdisciplinary engagement on these questions as the scholarly communications landscape continues to evolve.


Watch the conference sessions on the library’s YouTube channel.

 

Key Findings

Among the major findings of the conference were the need to improve global search and discovery methods for research conducted in the Global South. Research and scholarship in the Global South have both international and regional audiences and are often communicated in regionally-based research journals and open access platforms, for example, SciELO in Latin America. Meanwhile, the infrastructure for online discovery of research (e.g., Google Scholar, Web of Science, Scopus, PubMed) tends to focus on ‘international’ journals based in the Global North, reducing the ability of regional journals and databases to reach key audiences.

Related to search and discovery, there is also a need for better tools to help English-speaking researchers connect with audiences around the world. There was discussion of the rise of so-called “predatory” journals whose publishers are often based in the Global South and primarily serve authors whose language barriers or research scope prevent them from publishing in traditional journals, but whose research requires publication to have impact and reach its audience. Unfortunately, many of these journals are either of questionable integrity, or operate under fraudulent business practices (hence the “predatory” moniker), complicating their role and drawing significant scrutiny from the global community of scholars.

Finally, we know from the Situating Open Access in the Global South panel that open access publishing practices are thriving in much of the Global South, but further study is needed on how local changes in the landscape inform and affect practices between and across the North and South. Throughout the conference, speakers also noted that, for individual researchers, the responsible adoption of open practices beyond journal publishing takes care and responsiveness to highly variable and individualized circumstances. More sharing of these kinds of stories is welcomed and anticipated.

While we assembled in Davis, California, our hope is for the conversation to be global. The whole event was streamed online, and hundreds of virtual participants joined over the two days of the conference. The event may be the final gathering for the ICIS project, but it is a beginning for this particular subject. Here at the UC Davis Library, we will be working with our colleagues and new connections from around the world to dig deeper into the ideas, themes, and puzzles teed up at the event, and are looking forward to keeping the discussion going.