Gracian began by explaining the purpose of the session i,e, to consider specific examples of efforts to better connect information with decision-makers.
He then introduced Alan Stanley, from Eldis (www.eldis.org) who gave a brief overview of how their approach to promoting access has changed since 1996, when the service was first set up.
Ananya Raihan from DNet gave the second presentation, focusing on how Bangladesh Online Research Network portal (www.bdresearch.org) had improved the access to resources within the country since its establishment in 2001.
Lastly, Faye Reagon from HSRC (www.hsrc.ac.za/) spoke about their work promoting open access as a response to the need for curation of quantitative data.
Interestingly, although all three speakers were discussing access issues, in each instance it became clear that access was more than accessibility, but rather was often wrapped up in other political processes, and dependent on power relations surrounding research production and consumption.
For example, Eldis have recently begun to employ tools to ‘democratise’ the site much more, including social networking tools, and are seeking to decentralise some of their decision-making and activities.
Although BORN provide free access to most of their resources, they have continued to offer a pay-per view as those producing some research felt this would bring extra credibility to some resources.
HSRC have successfully established the NEDIC Network of Data and Information Centres with a number of other South African organisations, through which they share expertise and knowledge in this area, design common standards for data sharing, preservation innovations and technology, and lobby others to make data available too. However, they continue to struggle to persuade researchers and research managers to let go of their data and make it available to others.
After the presentations some interesting questions came from the floor, including about whether the presenters knew to what extent policy-makers actually use their services to inform pro-poor decision-making,
The panel generally felt that it was hard to tell whether policy makers were actually reaching for information provided, and whether they were basing policy on evidence, or looking for evidence to support the policy decisions they wanted to make.
Ananya from DNet suggested that it is important to realise that sometimes policy-makers and politicians may be more receptive to advocacy messages from NGOs than they would be from similar recommendations from intermediaries, depending on the context and their own agendas.
The main messages from the session were:
1) Using both online and offline media is still important in reaching policy people
2) Measuring to what extent policymakers actually use us (i.e. how does what we do lead to pro-poor outcomes) is particularly challenging – we’re only beginning to learn about this
3) Open access / availability creates an enabling environment for access, but sometimes local cultures of research producers mean providing pay-per-view content is important for credibility.
Adrian Bannister, IDS
• Bangladesh Online Research Network, Dr Ananya Raihan, D Net , Bangladesh;
• Changing approaches to supporting access the Eldis story, Alan Stanley, IDS, UK;
• NEDIC Data curation project, Faye Reagon, HSRC, South Africa
Discussant and chair: Gracian Chimwaza, Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa (ITOCA), South Africa/Zimbabwe