Why collaborating in the research sector is mutually beneficial for consortia, publishers and donors

As Research Uptake Manager in the Evidence into Action team at the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Ed Barney manages INASP funding on behalf of DFID. In this guest post, he reflects on the recent Publishers for Development conference.

I was lucky enough to make it along to the 7th annual Publishers for Development conference (PfD, #pfd2015), which took place in London on Tuesday 30th June. The event brought together a wide range of publishers, library consortia, NGOs, donors and academics into one room to address the question of how publishers can engage with developing countries in a responsible manner. As a relative newbie to work in this area there were a number of things that struck me during the day, which I’ve attempted to summarize below.

The morning sessions were used to build a picture of the range of contextual issues that library consortia experience in developing countries. These issues are neatly pulled together in this blog post from Dr Joel Sam, who provided a great outline of the situation in Ghana. It soon became clear what a vital role a library consortium plays in determining a country’s access to research, by providing a mechanism to enable individual libraries to coordinate, share expertise and negotiate jointly. This is not just beneficial for buyers of research but also represents a much more efficient way for publishers to transact with a given country.

We spent the afternoon unpacking what it means in practice for a publisher to act in a responsible way, using INASP’s principles for responsible engagement as a framework to stimulate conversation. I was very pleasantly surprised by the level of openness amongst participants, which helped to unpack the realities of the worlds that both publishers and consortia operate in. A number of issues were discussed, but one area that seemed to generate consensus was around price volatility, which is not helpful for either the buyer or seller of research, with a necessity for long-term sustainable contracts that are based on mutual understanding.

Many donors, including DFID, have funded substantial programmes of work to improve global access to research in developing countries (you can find more info on DFID work here). This enables brokers like INASP to build networks of relationships between many key actors in this area, including publishers, universities and consortia. However, it did become clear during the day that elements of donor activity in this area are having a negative impact on overall levels of access to research. For example, if a donor provides a large amount of funding for an individual university to purchase journals from a publisher this distorts the market in a country, limits the role of a consortium and reduces the scope for sustainable access across multiple institutions. More coordination in this area would clearly be helpful (I didn’t manage to see out the whole day without taking away any actions of my own!).

My assumption before attending the PfD conference was that work between publishers, consortia and intermediaries would involve pretty competitive, closed relationships that would work towards short-term goals. It seems that there is still potential for a lot of progress to be made, but continuing to increase the collaboration that is already happening will be beneficial to both publishers and consortia. Looking forward to PfD 2016 already!

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Guest Contributor

One Response to “Why collaborating in the research sector is mutually beneficial for consortia, publishers and donors

  • Hello Barney, thanks for the blog and your attending the conference. As you point out, the price is still the governing factor for all the stakeholders. Moreover there are many players in the publishing industry who want to maximize their profits. For example our consortia pulled out of IEEE because it. became expensive. What happens to research that is personal and not funded? Do they earn enough royalitiies? Many questions remain unanswered