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“Please make all CGIAR research Open Access” an open response

Dear Arun,

I refer to your letter to the CGIAR leadership with the title “Please make all CGIAR research Open Access”, in which you advocate for the adoption of a global open access policy at the CGIAR-System level.

I would like to respond to your message in the same spirit of openess.

As the Chief Information Officer of the CGIAR and Leader of the CGIAR’s ICT-KM Program, I have had the honor of witnessing extensive debate on this subject as well as progress being made by CGIAR Centers.

I would like to address the following points raised by you in your letter:

 • Open Access policies at other Centers

• A CGIAR Open Access mandate

• Open Access policies that focus only on publishing in open access journals

ICRISAT is to be congratulated for the steps it has taken to implement an Open access (OA) mandate, but we should not ignore that OA policies are also in place at other Centers. Regarding a CGIAR System-wide OA mandate, it is, in principle, a good idea, but it should not be an end in itself. Even if we have repositories of documents that we can see, it doesn’t mean that we have met our overall goal of ensuring that our research is put into use. As to the last point, CGIAR Centers are taking a much broader perspective that covers more than just open access journals, aiming instead to make all types of knowledge products or outputs ‘open’ and ‘accessible’ – data, reports, films, presentations, etc., as well as journal articles and book chapters. Some types of outputs are ‘easier’ to make accessible than others. “Open access” policies can often be easily applied to products that stay in our hands, but the situation becomes more complex when it comes to articles published by third parties.

Allow me to elaborate:

 OA policies at other Centers

Several other Centers have also been making progress in their bid to make their research outputs open and accessible to all. For example, a year ago, CIAT, announced its push for OA, and its Open Access Policy has been available on the web since April 2010. Over at ILRI, the Center has been making outputs available and accessible through a new system called Mahider. Similarly, IFPRI makes available datasets and publications electronically. The IFPRI library catalog/institutional repository contains more than 117 full text articles for which the Center has obtained permission from the publisher to post in the repository. The list goes on as other Centers are also involved in similar pushes towards opening up their research outputs.

This is also in line with the Independent Review of the CGIAR, which recognizes the need for OA. It suggests that CGIAR Centers should be encouraged to “make their research available and useful for development” as well as for international science. It also states that the “CGIAR can achieve development impacts where they matter only by being part of an international public goods [IPG] delivery system.” I believe this is a goal that we all share.

In support of CGIAR research at the individual Centers, the ICT-KM Program initiated a Triple-A approach (our own IPG delivery system) to look at ways to make Center outputs Available, Accessible and Applicable. While focusing on the CGIAR, this approach is also closely aligned with a global initiative on coherence of information for agricultural research for development (CIARD). This international partnership is “committed to making agricultural research information publicly available and accessible to all”.

A CGIAR OA mandate

The Triple-A approach and CIARD both focus on learning from what Centers and other partner organizations are already doing and achieving. The methods, tools, approaches and processes for making research available, accessible and applicable are documented and shared as ‘pathways’ that can be chosen, adopted, and adapted to fit particular institutional contexts and goals. Each Center makes its own decisions. As such, this approach is more likely to be followed, and sustained over the long term, than a one-solution-fits-all approach.

OA policies that focus only on publishing in open access journals

While there are pathways that focus very strongly on open access principles, the scope is not just confined to publications, but a wider set of knowledge assets as well, and how they can be made more available, accessible and applicable. Achieving this objective will take more than just focusing on publishing in open access journals. We need to make concerted efforts to ensure research reaches those who need it. This means taking a more comprehensive approach and finding new and innovative ways of making it accessible.

At the end of the day, it is the individual Centers, organizations and the researchers themselves generating agricultural knowledge that will have to put approaches into place to make research more available, accessible and applicable – and this is not a simple case of creating a mandate and expecting all to follow, or setting up repositories of articles and thinking we have reached our goal of putting ‘research into use’.

Nonetheless, it is important for us to work as a team and support each others’ ideas, pathways and speeds. Let us put all these ideas, experiences and energy towards moving this important agenda forward in an effective and productive way.

Rather than a policy on “open access” limited to journal articles, I would instead prefer to see us develop a strong and clear CGIAR view and set of practices that balance the need for high quality science with highly accessible outputs, and reinforces the substantial progress we have already made across all the Centers.

I would advocate for a concerted effort to “opening access to our research”

I look forward to your cooperation as we continue to pursue ways to make sure our research reaches those who need it.

All the best,


This letter is in reponse to a letter Subbiah Arunachalam sent to CGIAR leadership on 19 may, 2010. I would like to acknolwedge the expert advice of the community of information managers in the CGIAR.