Open Access in Latin America: an opportunity to grow stronger…by Laura Santana

Out of the 20 top countries in the world when it comes to research output, the only country to represent the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region is Brazil in the 13th position, according to a Web of Science report from 2013-2018. In this time period, almost one-third of Brazil’s research was published in collaboration with authors from abroad. Nonetheless, countries like Chile and Colombia, although not part of the top 20, were able to express stronger international collaboration by producing approximately 70% of its research with authors from different countries.

As much as the understanding of the changes around evaluation systems regarding research impact has been sedimented over the years, international collaboration still plays an important role to increasing research relevance not only due to the research networks authors can outreach but mainly because this validation is still influenced by traditional scholarly communication means. According to an interview with Dominique Babini from the International Science Council, the “mainstream” journals still lack contribution from more diverse sources of information, such as the developing regions. So, how do we break this cycle and make sharing knowledge information in the region truly democratic?

In order to answer this question, first, we need to have a better understanding of how the LAC countries access information online and relate to ICT (Information and Communications Technology) once the digital divide is not new to the region. In fact, it continues to be a priority to be tackled by local governments, first, to generate infrastructure that allows citizens to have access to the ICT and, now, in an attempt to help communities engage with technology and grasp a sense of digital literacy.

Even though a report from the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean states access to the Internet grew over 100% in the region between 2010 and 2016, changing the stats from 22.3% of households connected to the Internet in the first decade of years 2000 to 45.5% in late 2016, data shows that the disparity of access between rural and urban areas represent an average difference of 27%. Brazil, Mexico and Colombia – who share the Top 4 podium of countries that access the Internet the most with Argentina – also have the greatest gap between urban and rural areas.

The need for equality policies regarding access to technology is visible in this scenario. Although the challenges to strengthen the economy and increase socio-demographic indicators are heterogeneous among the countries, Open Access (OA) emerges as a solution to address the issues presented so far. However, what does OA actually means in a region where half of the population seemingly still does not have access to the World Wide Web? Open Access means opportunity.

OA initiatives have grown more in LAC than any other region of the world since SciELO’s foundation in 1997, mostly via digital repositories due to the interest of institutions to promote the dissemination of their research output; regional and countrywide policies regarding state-funded researches; infrastructure and different levels of funding available for APCs. Authors believe the “green road” to Open Access has the greatest potential to promote what the OA movement advocates for. However, UNESCO’s Global Open Access Portal indicates that almost one-fifth of the Open Access Journals from DOAJ are from LAC, with Brazil being responsible for half of these: University of São Paulo, National Autonomous University of Mexico and University of Chile each have more than 100 OA journals in their institutional digital repositories.

To help build a more robust notion on how to encourage LAC to collaborate within its countries and in partnership with others with the purpose of solidifying the region and bringing more relevance to the use of technology in its scientific output, we have listed a few action items inspired by Nosek’s notions of cultural change towards Open Science:

 

  • Community Engagement

 

Since all individuals are part of a social system, communities represent a crucial role in transition and change processes. Thus, to provide access to education & technology initiatives regionwide can help engage learners and scholars despite language differences, promote interoperability and cultural advocacy.

 

  • International Collaboration

 

Collaboration is the foundation of scientific advances, which highlights the need for cooperation. As a result of expanding existing research networks and creating new ones, we can expect the strengthening of institutional – and why not country and regionwide – policies that help shape key OA initiatives.

 

  • Training & Continued Education

 

In addition to providing access to infrastructure, it is necessary to guarantee the sustainability of implementing ICT for educational and academic purposes in the region. By focusing on digital literacy, institutions and governments can help facilitate the development of skills and competencies the fast-paced online environment requires and help make individuals be the leading figures of their own paths as learners, teachers and researchers.

This view of LAC aims to broaden the perspective of the opportunities Open Access represents in terms of changing how the countries produce knowledge; to whom are they making it available and which improvements should we expect next.

Laura Santana is a Researcher from the Information Science Department from the University of São Paulo and Engagement Specialist from BMJ. Contact information: [email protected]