A closer look at DfID’s open access to research policy

The U.K. Department for International Development is among the latest aid groups to open up more of its research to the public.

The department introduced an open data policy last month, as Devex reported. It takes effect Nov. 1 and will cover all new research programs that DfID will fund in full from the said date. Outputs expected to be available online under the policy include reports, journal articles, books and book chapters, audio and video files, images, data sets, websites and computer software.

The policy is a formalization of DfID’s push to make the research studies it funds more accessible to those who could benefit from it most. These include nongovernmental organizations, government officials and practitioners who don’t typically have access to expansive libraries the way most academics or research institutions do.

DfID has steadily increased its research budget over the years. It allocated 221 million British pounds ($346.5 million) for research in 2011-2012, up from 203 million pounds for 2010-11 and 177 million pounds for 2009-10. In 2008-09, the department spent 12 million pounds on research.

Some 28 percent of the research budget is set aside as core funding for research institutions such as the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research, while 18 percent is invested in product development partnership like the Medicines for Malaria Venture and the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines. Other channels of DfID research spending include funding for research consortia, direct funding to specific organizations, research councils and collaborations with other U.K. government agencies and fellow donors.

As for sectors, DfID typically funds studies on human development (roughly 33 percent), agriculture (29 percent), global statistics (10 percent), climate and environment (8 percent), governance, conflict and social development (6 percent), and growth (3 percent). DfID’s research portfolio also covers impact evaluations, research uptake, systematic reviews, policy research and evaluation.

Within these sectors, studies funded by DfID often focus on an extensive variety of issues. For instance, the agency funded a study that uncovered the main causes of absenteeism and school dropouts in Swaziland — lack of money and teenage pregnancy — which contributed to debate around the country’s education system.

Addressing concerns

The open access policy, Devex has learned, enjoyed overwhelming support within DfID — but the department does recognize concerns around plagiarism, intellectual property violations and the prospect of some of the work being criticized by the public. The agency has promised to protect intellectual property rights and design outputs in a way that would require minimal data download.

All DfID partners who will be covered by the policy will have to complete a plan outlining opportunities to maximize the use of their research outputs and any associated cost. The plan will be part of requirements DfID will ask for and asses during the tender process for research grants. Similar plans may also be required even when funding is not provided through a competitive process. A template of the plan is provided with the policy implementation guide.

DfID’s new policy broadly aligns with open access policies recently introduced by the Wellcome Trust and Research Councils U.K., both of whom fund some development research. The agency’s business, innovation and skills department has been taking the lead for DfID.

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About the author

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributes to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.