The World Bank

Open Access   ·   Open Data

First, the World Bank first made its data freely available. Then, it launched its Open Knowledge Repository and began using Creative Commons licenses. On July 1, it will implement a new Open Access policy for all of its research outputs and knowledge products.

When an organization as large as the World Bank wholeheartedly embraces openness, many hope the impact will not just be a ripple but a wave.

For being a pioneer in sharing research on such a global scale, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition recognizes the World Bank as its June 2012 Innovator.

“The World Bank has taken a leadership role in opening up access to the wealth of information that it produces and funds,” says Heather Joseph, Executive Director of the SPARC in Washington, D.C. “They have thoughtfully and systematically applied the concept of Open Access to all of their research outputs, which has the potential to greatly enhance its impact. They are in a unique position to demonstrate the power that Open Access can have on their development agenda.”

The World Bank employs 9,000 employees from more than 168 countries. Two-thirds are based in Washington, D.C.; the remaining workers are in 124 country offices in the developing world. They are economists, educators, environmental scientists, financial analysts, agronomists, engineers, information technology specialists, and social scientists.

The journey

In the fall of 2009, World Bank President Robert Zoellick gave a speech at Georgetown University in which he advocated for an environment of openness at the Bank. He set the imperative for the organization to begin a top-down transformation in the way it shared information.

“Knowledge is power,” said Zoellick in a statement after the policy was announced. “Making our knowledge widely and readily available will empower others to come up with solutions to the world’s toughest problems. Our new Open Access policy is the natural evolution for a World Bank that is opening up more and more.”

Since April 2010, the Bank has made its data open online for others to learn from and reuse. Much of the Bank’s material has been available free on the institution’s website, but with the new Open Access policy, there will be an aggregated portal – The Open Knowledge Repository. Here the metadata is curated, content is easily found and downloaded for anyone to use and build on it. The Bank is using the DSpace platform and the repository currently hosts 4,410 documents, in addition to 1,071 links to articles published in scholarly journals.

Mapping out a plan

With momentum from the Zoellick speech, the Bank began taking the steps to become fully Open Accessed. To do a strategic review of its publishing program and recommend changes, the Bank hired Alma Swan and Sheridan Brown in September of 2010. Swam and Brown are founders of Key Perspectives Ltd. based in the United Kingdom. They were chosen among a competitive field of consultants to draft an action plan to move the Bank towards Open Access.

“It was a big shift,” says Swan. “To change from a big publishing operation where they sold their products to the complete opposite, where they were going to give everything away. It was a fundamental change.”

The consultants reassured the Bank that Open Access was the way of the future and it would help the World Bank fulfill its mission.

The Bank is in a unique position – it serves both as a research institution and as a publisher. Drawing up an Open Access policy that would accommodate both functions was a challenge. There were changes needed to systems, infrastructure, procedures and standards that would apply to researchers and to how the Bank would make its information accessible, said Swan. The Bank opted for the most accommodating Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license that allows anyone to distribute, reuse, and build on the Bank’s work, even commercially, as long as the Bank is given credit for its original creation.

Because it was such a transformation, Swan thinks it was crucial to bring in outside consultants. “Major change in a big organization is often better facilitated by an outside change agent,” she says.

But the environment was receptive and there was a “flurry of openness inside the Bank,” says Jose de Buerba, Senior Publishing Officer at the World Bank. The organization did a risk analysis and conducted lots of internal communication to help employees realize the policy would be beneficial to them and not detrimental. “It was a team effort,” says de Buerba. “We had close coordination with different units across the Bank to convey the key elements of the new policy.”

Once draft recommendations were made, the consultants met with Bank employees in groups to explain the roll out. Swan says there were questions from individuals about what the new policy would mean for them and how the procedures would work.

“They reacted extremely well,” says Swan. “It’s a self-selecting group. They are interested in promoting development and they have a set of values that chimed with Open Access. They understood what it was about.”

Overcoming potential barriers

Generally speaking, there was buy-in for making the content free and for the Creative Commons licensing, says Carlos Rossel, World Bank’s Publisher. “We had senior management support. That’s half the battle,” he says. “We got it done very quickly.”

That’s not to say there weren’t some hurdles. It was certainly not a given that the policy would go through all the channels on a fast track, says Rossel. For the World Bank to become Open Access, systems needed to be developed which required financial support. But when the initiative began, the capital budget process was closed for the year, so the project funding was not immediately available.

Meeting with the Banks’ large research department, there was concern about how Open Access would impact their need to publish in peer-reviewed journals. “They didn’t want it to be an impediment to their research. They saw it as another hurdle to getting published,” says Rossel.

Through consultation and negotiation, they found common ground. The Bank agreed to accept publisher embargoes. “That was a compromise,” he says. “I think we will revisit the issue of embargoes in the future.”

The Bank continues to be in dialogue with various publishers over the terms of making content available Open Access. The hope is to work out agreements so ground rules with publishers are established that allow the Bank to retain the copyright.

Another challenge the Bank faced is how to deal with research articles that a Bank employee co-authored with others, says Rossel. “Can we claim we own the copyright? We don’t have the answer to that,” he says. If the lead author is with the Bank, one approach may be for the researcher to work out the terms with the co-authors.

The reach

“The World Bank is a known entity,” says Rossel. “It has the potential to influence the actions of similar organizations so that it is possible that in the long-term other organizations will adopt their own Open Access policies.”

The Bank is working with developing countries interested in promoting open government, transparency, and citizen engagement, says Rossel. The Open Access policy will bring with it the potential for crowd sourcing. “The exchange of knowledge is not down from the Ivory Tower,” says Rossel. “In the context of local development, successful models are not just those of the developed world. No one has the monopoly on wisdom and how to do things right. The flow of information should come from all directions.”

Iryna Kuchma, Open Access Program Manager for EIFL, says the Bank’s Open Access policy, coupled with the use of Creative Commons license will have a significant impact.

“It’s a great development that the World Bank not only cares about access, but also about use and reuse,” says Kuchma. The policy and license will encourage the active contribution of scholars to add to each other’s research, she says.

It is also a good message to research administrators – university administrators and leaders of research at educational institutions – that they should care about Open Access, says Kuchma. “Open Access is as important as their everyday duties. I think this policy will encourage governments in developing countries to pay more attention to Open Access,” she says.

The sharing of new knowledge can be vital – even life saving. Kuchma pointed out the example of Malawi where promising research results related to AIDS in one hospital were not shared with colleagues in another. “With Open Access, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen,” she says. The citizen science movement allows the exchange of valuable comments from researchers or patients who could share their own personal histories.

The Bank has financed a substantial body of research that hasn’t always been accessible in a systematic way, says Leslie Chan, senior lecturer in the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Toronto Scarborough and program supervisor for the International Development Studies program. “Now, not only will the research be accessible, with Creative Commons licensing it will also allow reuse and inspire research possibilities,” says Chan. “It’s something that has been a long time coming.”

Many in the developing world don’t yet know about the Open Access policy, says Chan. “The Bank needs to do more in terms of awareness building,” he says. “They need to provide good use scenarios. It’s one thing when you have repositories. You have to show how they are potentially powerful.”

To get the word out, De Buerba says the Bank is working with its country communication officers around the world. While local Bank staff have heard about Open Access, there is some confusion and the Bank is taking steps to carefully explain how the process works.

Response and next steps

Many are hopeful the Bank’s move will spur larger change.  Chan hopes it may pressure other organizations, such as the World Heath Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to open up their research and develop a clear access policy.

“Where the World Bank goes, we hope other similar bodies will go after them,” says Swan. “They are blazing a trail in the right direction. This had made major headlines around the world. It’s hard to exaggerate the impact.”

The Bank is the first of all major international organizations to adopt an Open Access policy and Creative Commons license. “We are plowing unchartered territory,” says de Buerba.

The Open Knowledge Repository has had over 325,000 hits and 50,000 downloads in just the first two months. “We were expecting quite a bit of support, but the response has been phenomenal,” says de Buerba.

When an organization makes such a transformation, there are costs. But managers at the Bank say there is also a cost of not moving forward toward openness. “As an institution dedicated to the eradication of poverty, we chose to focus on the opportunity cost of not adopting open access rather than on revenue,” says Rossel.

Many in developing countries don’t have the resources to buy access for scholarly journals, adds Chan. “It is costly from a user side,” he says. “You have to think about cost not only from the providing side but also the user side. And look at opportunity lost; there can be a cost to the producer for not reaching a maximum audience.”

As for what these changes will mean for the image of the World Bank? De Buerba adds: “It reinforces the World Bank brand as a leader of openness.”

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