Reporting Research

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‘Academic spring’ all year round

Yesterday, 10th April 2012, the Guardian reported that one of the world’s largest funders of science research has given its support to a growing campaign for publicly-funded research papers to be shared openly online.

Sir Mark Walport, the director of Wellcome Trust, who is also a fellow of the Royal Society, Britain’s premier scientific academy, said the results of public and charity-funded scientific research should be freely available to anyone who wants to read it, for whatever purpose they need it.

The campaign dubbed the ‘academic spring’ was sparked when nearly 9,000 researchers protested against academic journals restricting free sharing of scientific findings in hope of revolutionising the spread of knowledge by making research widely available to the public.

Cameron Neylon, a biophysicist who will take up a position as director of advocacy at Public Library of Science, an open access publisher, says:  “If you look at the way the web works and what makes effective information dissemination on the web, then it’s clear that open content spreads further, has more influence, is used in more ways than the people who wrote it could ever expect”.

This move coincides with the announcement made by the World Bank to launch its Open Knowledge Repository, which will store all of the World Bank’s research papers and is a first step in the World Bank’s new open access policy.

Caroline Anstey, World Bank Managing Director highlighted the benefits of this policy:

“…there is now unlimited potential for intermediaries to reuse and repurpose our content for new languages, platforms and media, further democratizing development by getting information into the hands of all those who may benefit from it.”

The initiative for open access has been praised both by researchers and research users but Alistair Scott from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) highlighted the need to include Southern research in the debate to make it truly global:

“The demand for Open Access is increasingly coming from researchers and research users in developing countries themselves. But there is a common perception in many developing countries that Open Access discussion are mostly dominated by those in northern, developed countries”

The motivation for the Open Access initiative  is also at the heart of the Relay programme which works to strengthen relationships between researchers and journalists and to ensure that research on critical development issues is reported in the media in developing countries to reach wider audiences.

One of our beneficiaries highlights the importance of making research available to wider audiences in Kenya, saying:

“People become more empowered, people become more knowledgeable, they know what is good for them and in the process they improve their living standards” –Luke Anami, Relay’s fellow journalist and a reporter for the Standard in Kenya.

The Relay Programme has recently published two working case studies which are examples of recent project work to improve the communication of research on issues of tax and governance in Kenya and Uganda and mega-dams and their impact on people and the environment in India.  The case studies reveal the potential for research findings to contribute to informed media coverage for wider public consideration.  The case studies are works in progress, and we invite feedback and comment.

The Wellcome Trust has also funded two of the Relay’s projects, which were designed to strengthen research reporting on sexual and reproductive health in Kenya and Bangladesh.

Making research available to wider audiences is at the heart of the Relay programme - Tim Smith / Panos Pictures

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