11 Mai 2021

Realising the Potential of Open for Equitable, Resilient Recovery

At a side-event to the United Nations Science, Technology and Innovation Forum 2021 on 5 May, speakers shared their insights on where work is needed to ensure that openness acts as a driver of sustainable development.

This year’s UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum took place on 3-5 May, focusing on the theme of ‘science, technology and innovation for a sustainable and resilient COVID-19 recovery, and effective pathways of inclusive action towards the Sustainable Development Goals’.

Bringing together stakeholders from across government, academia, business and civil society, it provided a space to discuss progress in realising the potential of science, technology and innovation in achieving the UN's 2030 Agenda.

In a side-event organised by IFLA, along with the UN Library and the Library of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (whose Director, Wouter Schallier, acted as moderator), speakers focused in particular on the promise of open access and science, and the steps needed to fulfil this.

In his introduction, Thanos Giannakopoulos, Director of the UN Library underlined that while at least in some countries and disciplines, large shares of research publications are already open access, this is not the case everywhere.

Moreover, as has been clear, the availability of accurate information is not necessarily a cure, in itself, for the prevalence of misleading information.

Omo Oaiya, Chief Strategy Officer of the West and Central Africa Research and Education Network, highlighted the importance of good internet connectivity to allow for more equitable participation in open science.

He also highlighted the need to develop open science in a way that respected local, national and regional preferences and ways of doing things, in order to ensure a strong sense of ownership.

Ellen Tise, Director of Libraries at Stellenbosch University, focused on the need to reflect further on business models in publishing which risked excluding developing countries, either though high subscription prices, or high article processing charges.

She noted that a key goal was to find a way of sustaining local journals and repositories, for example in Africa, which were best placed to promote local research and innovation.

Jonathan Hernandez-Perez, Researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, echoed this emphasis on promoting models of open access publishing that promote a diversity of contributions, drawing on long-standing work on information diversity.

In particular, action was needed to avoid dominance by one language leading to the devaluing of research in other languages, for example through lower impact factors.

Dilara Begum, Chair of the Department of Library and Information Studies at East-West University, Dhaka, focused on the importance of accompanying the availability of materials with a drive to build information literacy skills.

The need to build such competences had been made clear by the pandemic, and in particular by the emergence of the ‘infodemic’. In addressing this, libraries could play an essential role.

Juan Miguel Diez-Jimenez, UN Information Centre for the Caribbean, presented the Verified initiative, which provided set of resources both to encourage people to double-check what they read, as well as to provide responses to common misconceptions.

The initiative has had a major impact, thanks to its attractive presentation, translation into different languages, and responsiveness to developments. He encouraged libraries around the world to draw on the available resources as part of their own work.

Finally, Thanos Giannakopoulos presented about the work of the United Nations to develop its own repository as an easily used tool for accessing information about the organisation’s work, supporting both research and better information.

The complexity of the task at hand represented a major challenge, requiring careful thought about design and use of the latest technologies, offering valuable lessons about how to facilitate access to quality information.

Overall, there was agreement both on how important open access is as a driver of progress on the SDGs, but also strong awareness that realising its potential will require action and investment in a range of areas.

From enhancing connectivity to consideration of business models and their side effects, and from information literacy skills to the development of platforms and tools to support discovery, many elements need to be in place. Active and well resourced libraries can play a major role in making progress.

With less than ten years to go to deliver on the 2030 Agenda, it is high time to fill these gaps, and so ensure that openness can fulfil its potential as a driver of inclusive growth and resilience.

Watch the session on IFLA's YouTube channel.

Access to information, Development, SDGs

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