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Breaking through the paywall: understanding how communities across the world are able to access research

Gaining a global perspective on how communities- from low and middle-income countries- are able to access and utilise research.

Market Insights and Business Cases

Scientific research, and equitable access to its outputs, is critical to the lives of billions of people across the globe. The world benefits from increased knowledge and understanding, a truism only reinforced by our recent experience of responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In support of advancing global access to research, we were asked to carry out an analysis and a review for Research4Life, a public-private partnership, launched in 2002, which aims to close the knowledge gap between high-income and low-and-middle-income countries.

Research4Life is backed by five United Nations agencies, approximately 175 scholarly publishers, Yale and Cornell University, as well as other stakeholders. The initiative aims to provide free or low-cost access to research publications and online resources, most of which would otherwise be locked behind paywalls. As of March 2020, it covered 23,500 research journals, 80,000 e-books and 120 other digital resources; accessible to more than 10,000 institutions in 125 countries.

Research4Life asked us to assess the partnership’s organisational effectiveness and inform their future strategic direction. For this work, we conducted a review of current global trends in the scholarly communications and research landscape, with a particular focus on low-and-middle-income countries to better understand the key developments and to inform future efforts. Our analysis used a simplified version of the PESTLE framework, assessing political, economic, social and technological trends globally, on research in and for low-and-middle-income countries and on scholarly communications.

We looked at 35 trends that had the potential to affect research and scholarly communication. Of these, we highlighted three key trends which we believed would be profoundly significant. These were: the growing research base in low-and-middle-income countries, the increasing amount of open access research available and a growing digital divide in the world.

To build on the insights generated in the review, we undertook to carry out surveys, in-depth interviews with stakeholders in many countries and build up case studies of user journeys. Furthermore, our work had been largely completed prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, so we have now added a separate addendum to our findings to reflect recent developments.

This work for Research4Life was carried out during 2019 and 2020.

The Research Consulting team was professional and communicative throughout. They asked challenging questions and went above and beyond to provide relevant context and content to our project. All reports were delivered on time and have met the project requirements completely. I would not hesitate to recommend them to others.Andrea Powell, Publisher Coordinator for the Research4Life initiative

Further Reading