Open Access Research: A Review of DFID’s Policy and Practice

By Lucia Loffreda, 04/11/19

In late 2018, Research Consulting completed an independent review of the UK Department for International Development’s (DFID) Research Open and Enhanced Access Policy. Now, at a time of rapid development in the open access (OA) and open research data (ORD) landscapes, we’re pleased to share the findings in our latest report.

The review stems from the recognition of the complex relationship between accessible scientific knowledge and international development. While several voices are warning policymakers in low and middle-income countries against formally committing to OA initiatives such as Plan S, perhaps more can be done closer to home to improve access to research worldwide. With these ideas in mind, DFID aimed to bring its open access policy into line with recent developments in the OA field.

In support of DFID’s aims, we conducted an extensive review comparing the OA policies of almost 20 leading global research and development funders and engaging in consultations with 30 key stakeholders across the UK and international research funding landscape. We found that DFID’s OA policy generally has a broader scope than those of other development funders and that DFID has made significant progress towards increasing access to its research outputs in recent years. However, more can be done to align the policy with international best practice. In particular, we found that a lack of adequate systems and processes ultimately limits research discoverability and accessibility and should be addressed.

Our in-depth review identified a range of opportunities for the improvement of DFID’s OA policy, grouped into five key areas for improvement:

  1. embedding OA and ORD within DFID research, to ensure that appropriate guidance and support is available for all actors within the open research process;
  2. improving access to peer-reviewed articles, to allow DFID to align itself with key donors and funders across the international landscape, particularly through the endorsement of Plan S principles and the establishment of mechanisms to cover article processing charges (APCs) on behalf of researchers;
  3. improving access to non-peer-reviewed research, to ensure that research can be preserved and remain discoverable in the long-term, through the improvement of DFID’s research depositing workflows post-publication;
  4. improving access to research data, to ensure research is openly available for use by others, which would require the production of detailed guidance on ORD and the development of internal capacity to support researchers in dealing with ORD; and
  5. strengthening monitoring tools and processes, to track research impact by clarifying internal processes and responsibilities in relation OA/ORD and making use of relevant reporting tools to monitor publication data.

As more and more debate emerges around the implications of open access for countries in the Global South in transitioning to open access, it is increasingly important that DFID invests in making research open in a way that respects and protects these stakeholders. We hope that, based on our recommendations, DFID can develop a revised OA policy that is likely to yield long-term benefits, not just to our understanding of the problems affecting stakeholders in LMICs, but ultimately to their own ability to find appropriate solutions to such problems.