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AmeliCA Aims to Showcase and Strengthen Open Ecosystem in Latin America

Latin America has a vision for open scholarly communication—and it works. Scientists have long shared their research results through academic institutions, sidestepping the commercial publishing structure and enabling equitable access to all.

Now, as market forces threaten to alter the landscape, a new effort is underway to preserve the unique, publicly-funded approach and celebrate the successful model native to the region.

Open Knowledge for Latin American and the Global South, known as AmeliCA, launched in October 2018 with the goal of strengthening well-established scientific publishing and building partnerships. The coalition strives to develop a platform across institutions that will enable journals to keep operating without charging authors or readers. To date, 18 universities have joined and more than 100 journals are sharing a common infrastructure of software, tools, hosting, and training services.

Recognizing that equity and inclusion are at the center of this initiative’s mission, SPARC honors AmeliCA with its June 2019 Innovator Award as a shining example of what works with Open Access.

“It’s the showcase of how a healthy open access system can flourish under this kind of community-driven model,” says SPARC Executive Director Heather Joseph. “It prioritizes the voice of the creators of information equally across all areas.”

The approach can give hope to other regions of the world. Global North open advocates should be paying attention to Latin America as they search for strategies in the transition to open scholarly communication, she says.

“We are thrilled to see AmeliCA supported by so many organizations and institutions. They are actively demonstrating that there is more than one flavor of Open Access,” Joseph says.

Gaining traction

The new initiative has an impressive list of supporters including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO) and the Network of Scientific Journals of Latin America and the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal (REDALYC).

“We have an ecosystem in Latin America that has been open historically. We believe that publishing should be in the hands of academic institutions, universities, societies, and institutions whose goals are not for profit,” says Arianna Becerril-García, Executive Director of Redalyc and president of AmeliCA. “We have been invisible to other parts of the world, but our system is robust and it can be replicated.”

In its first six months, AmeliCA reported that nearly 29,000 full-text open access articles were in its books and journals portal. There were 42 Latin American scholarly journals from eight countries with XML content generated by their own publishers. And over 400 Redalyc journals from 16 countries are available in AmeliCA

“AmeliCA is giving a collective voice to a model that’s been taking place for a long time,” says Juan Pablo Alperin, Assistant Professor at the Canadian Institute for Studies in Publishing and an associate director of research of the Public Knowledge Project at Simon Fraser University in Canada. “The level of traction they have managed to pick up is impressive. They have gotten people to sign up and the whole world to take notice.  It’s starting to change the conversation.”

A collective platform will provide a “one-stop shop” for content being aggregated from different countries in a regional network and help raise the visibility, says Leslie Chan, Associate Professor of media studies and development studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough, who was present at AmeliCA’s launch in Argentina last fall.

“Latin America has the talent, resources and government support to make this work. They don’t want to be dragged into a system of commercial publishing,” Chan says. “I admire the energy and dedication of AmeliCA in trying to bring together different partners. Building this coalition is quite an accomplishment.”

Grounded in the common good

At the foundation of the Latin American approach is a commitment to a level playing field when it comes to access to information.

“Scientific knowledge is a common good, not merchandise. It is our global heritage and maybe the most important way to get out of a global crisis,” says Gabriel Velez Cuartas, Associate Professor at the Universidad de Antioquia in Colombia, an early supporter of AmeliCA.

AmeliCA recognizes the value of diversity in the region’s 20,000-plus journals, says Velez Cuartas. Some help explain the microdynamics of development within different countries that aren’t available elsewhere and those local insights could disappear if researchers are forced to publish only in certain outlets.

“My students will be better researchers if they can access knowledge not only produced in Europe or North America, but in Latin America as well,” says Velez Cuartas. “AmeliCA provides the opportunity to preserve our own formats, develop new metrics, and discover new ways of doing research and circulate their results.”

Exploring new ways to show impact

The idea for AmeliCA emerged, in part, from a crisis of sustainability for nonprofit open access platforms at Redalyc, says Becerril-García. It was necessary for public operations to join forces as commercial pressures began to expand in the Global South. Nearly 1,000 journals are in need of support, and the coalition is working in a variety of ways to build a network to ensure their survival.

Because North America and Europe have dominated much of the open conversation and promotion and tenure are linked to traditional journal impact factors, it can be a challenge for the Global South’s community-driven model to be taken seriously.

“What’s going on in Latin America is what is considered on the ‘periphery’ because it takes place outside the knowledge centers of the world,” says Chan. “Their research outputs, when you look at the conventional measures, are not in the same category.”

As part of AmeliCA, Velez Cuartas is coordinating a team of data scientists trying to propose a different view of metrics. “We have to think of scientists as a community of researchers not as individuals what want to get visibility,” he says.

The coalition agrees with the principles of the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) that recognizes the need to improve the ways in which the outputs of scholarly research are evaluated, says Dominique Babini, Open Access Advisor with CLACSO. “We need alternative research indicators that are developed in the region,” she says. “It will enrich the global conversation and reward local conversations. You can’t imagine research in health, education and agriculture if you don’t reward it.”

Healthy reaction to alternative proposals

Part of what is fueling the momentum of AmeliCA is its concern over aspects of Plan S, the international initiative for that aims to require scientists who benefit from state-funded research organizations and institutions to publish their work in open repositories or in open access journals. While in line with its goals, many in the Global South do not support aspects of its implementation, particularly the use of article processing charges.

“Any ‘flipping’ model should support research infrastructure to make the transition. There is no need for APCs,” says Babini, noting the idea for APCs emerged from a Eurocentric mindset that should change. “AmeliCA is a very healthy reaction to a global proposal that is actually not global.”

Profit margins from commercial publishers that often top 30% are unethical, says Babini and as a result, Latin America is taking a different path to protect its values of scholarship.

Velez Cuartas is also critical of journals that charge $5,000 US Dollars for processing charges when the real cost of production is much lower, because the fee limits contributions to knowledge to those who can afford to do it. “It is a question of possibilities and opportunities that do not depend on the circulation of money, but the circulation of ideas,” he says.

Prompting interest globally

In Africa, Reggie Raju, Director of Research and Learning Services at the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa, says he was excited about the formation of AmeliCA as he works to make content of African researchers more accessible.

“There is so much we can learn from Latin America, and much we can share with them to work collaboratively moving forward,” Raju says.

He is also eager to learn about new metrics being considered and Africa grapples with the how to move away from Global North benchmarks to assessments that reflect local needs.

“We are working toward an Open Access movement with an African identity,” says Raju. “We are currently in a phase of mimicking what works in the Global North and it’s not doing us any good in the Global South.”

Raju says there is an urgent need for diversity and an acknowledgment of the various environments in which scholars publish. APCs do not meet the needs of African academic institutions with budgets that are so limited some have not purchased a single book in the last 10 years, says Raju.

Research should be measured by economic, medical or social impact, rather than prestige of journals. “The whole Open Access movement has to be driven by a social justice paradigm. Researchers want to share their work for the benefit of society and that has been hijacked by commercial publishers who see that as a cash cow,” suggest Raju. “The fact that AmeliCA is looking at different assessment methods, for me, would be a major boon for us on the continent.”

The broadening support for AmeliCA demonstrates the resilience of Latin America’s organic system of open. Instead of folding to pressure to conform and homogenize, its champions are taking a proud stand to promote its unique approach.

Adds Babini: “We can build the future of Open Access together. It doesn’t need to be innovation only in the North.”

-Caralee Adams

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