April 10, 2012 - Two years after opening its vast storehouse of data to the public, the World Bank is consolidating more than 2,000 books, articles, reports and research papers in a search-engine friendly Open Knowledge Repository, and allowing the public to distribute, reuse and build upon much of its work—including commercially.
The repository, launched today, is a one-stop-shop for most of the Bank’s research outputs and knowledge products, providing free and unrestricted access to students, libraries, government officials and anyone interested in the Bank’s knowledge. Additional material, including foreign language editions and links to datasets, will be added in the coming year.
And, in a bid to promote knowledge-sharing around the world, the Bank has become the first major international organization to require open access under copyright licensing from Creative Commons—a non-profit organization whose copyright licenses are designed to accommodate the expanded access to information afforded by the Internet.
The repository and Creative Commons licenses are part of a new open access policy that takes effect on July 1 and will be phased in over the next year. The policy formalizes the Bank’s practice of making research outputs and knowledge products freely available online, but now much of that content can be shared and reused freely, if the Bank is credited for the original work.
In addition, the author versions of articles published by commercial publishers and currently available only to journal subscribers will be made freely available via the public repository after embargo periods elapse, though their reuse will be more restricted than Bank-published material. Articles from 2007-2010 that appeared in the World Bank Research Observer and World Bank Economic Review (published by Oxford University Press), for example, are now in the repository.
“Knowledge is power.” World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick said. “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."
“I think it’s an important and extremely valuable signal,” said Lawrence Lessig, Harvard law professor and a founder of Creative Commons, of the Bank’s open access policy. “The objective of Creative Commons is simply to make it easier for people to signal the freedoms they intend their work to carry, and that seems consistent with the model the World Bank is trying to do. We’re happy they are taking the lead and making that a part of their mission.”
Peter Suber, director of the Harvard Open Access Project, said the Bank’s new policy is “pioneering” in its adoption of Creative Commons licenses. “I’m delighted to see a major institution like the World Bank push the boundaries and not just make their work free of charge, but also free for use and reuse.”
Optimized for Search Engines and Text Mining Tools
The new Open Access policy is the latest in a series of initiatives in the last two years to make the Bank more open, transparent and accountable. The Bank decided in April 2010 to stop selling its World Development Indicators data and instead make it freely available, along with more than 60 other datasets, encouraging their use by innovators around the world. That move helped the Bank become a transparency leader among institutions last year. The Bank's open data site has attracted over 11.5 million visits since April 2010 and is now the Bank's most popular website, accounting for almost one-third of all web traffic.
“This new policy is a natural extension of our other efforts to make the Bank more open,” said Caroline Anstey, World Bank Managing Director. “Anyone with Internet access will have much greater access to the World Bank’s knowledge. And for those without internet access, there is now unlimited potential for intermediaries to reuse and repurpose our content for new languages, platforms and media, further democratizing development by getting information into the hands of all those who may benefit from it.”
While most of the Bank’s research outputs and knowledge products have been freely available, online in the past, “the good news is this initiative will give access to a much larger number of people, particularly in developing countries, to the published versions of our research articles,” said Adam Wagstaff, research manager in the Bank’s Development Research Group.
The effort includes enriching the content with metadata to optimize it for search engines and technologies like text mining and data-mining, which allow information to be tracked and analyzed more easily. The repository will be fully interoperable with other major international repositories such as RePEc (Research Papers in Economics), SSRN and Economists Online. This means that the World Bank publishes just once in its own Open Knowledge Repository while its research is also “harvested” and made openly available through many other searchable online repositories, increasing the number of people able to find World Bank content.
“I’m really delighted the World Bank is making its content available in this widespread way,” said Jean Sykes, chief information officer at the London School of Economics and chair of Nereus, a European consortium of top economics libraries whose flagship service is the open access Economists Online repository. LSE, together with 16 other Nereus member libraries, contributes its research to Economists Online and RePEC, providing between them access to more than 900,000 bibliographic references, many with links to open access full text. World Bank content will in the future also appear in Economists Online.
“To get so much content freely and instantly available on the Internet, searchable through a number of different international “gateways” and with no embargo period on content published by the World Bank, is going to make a fantastic difference to economics researchers,” said Sykes. “Perhaps the World Bank will set an example for other economics publishers who currently impose access restrictions.”
The Bank is working with journal publishers to determine fair embargo periods after which peer-reviewed journal articles, as accepted for publication, will be added to the repository. The working paper versions of journal articles are available in the Open Knowledge Repository under a Creative Commons attribution-only (CC BY) license without any embargo period.
World Bank Publisher Carlos Rossel expects embargo periods on journal articles to shorten as more organizations opt for open access and the academic publishing industry adapts to the Internet age. “The changes have been tremendous already, but I think there is a groundswell that is saying that frankly part of the value added by journal publishers can be accomplished through other means, and really what’s most important is for our knowledge to be readily accessible,” he said.
Open Access and Benefits for Developing Countries
With more people around the world accessing the Internet through multiple devices, institutions increasingly are adopting open access policies. According to OpenDOAR Directory of Open Access Repositories, there are currently 2,180 open access institutional repositories worldwide.
“Open access is especially helpful for developing countries,” said Suber. “What you want is for everybody to have access to everything, and not just the north making its research available to the south or vice versa. Open access should be a two-way street.”
One of the biggest benefits of the Bank’s new policy is a “leveling of the playing field,” said Heather Joseph, executive director of Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). “You’re opening up access to information that up until now was available only to those people who could afford it. And when you’re an organization that’s committed to furthering the development agenda, creating a level playing field for everyone to get access equally should be the name of the game,” she said.
Michael Carroll, director of American University’s Program on Information, Justice and Intellectual Property, said he sees the Bank’s open access policy “as a very important step in the process of really embracing the Internet for its potential.”
“Particularly for an institution like the World Bank, where the audience for the publications is around the world—countries at various stages of economic and technological development—removing the barriers to access is a significant practical and symbolic step,” he said.
Adds Nick Shockey, director of student advocacy of the student-founded Right to Research Coalition: “By fully unlocking its resources with a Creative Commons attribution-only license, the World Bank will not only allow all students to view its data and analysis, but truly build upon them as fully as possible, due to the reuse rights that come with open licensing.”
Creative Commons License Allows Reuse
The Bank has adopted the most liberal attribution-only Creative Commons license (CC BY) for research and knowledge products published by the Bank, including major flagships such as the World Development Report and Doing Business and work by outside researchers funded by the Bank. People can reuse CC BY-licensed research for no charge and without having to ask for permission, including for such purposes as translations or Wikipedia contributions, as long as the Bank’s original work is credited. The CC BY license helps the Bank to maximize its impact while simultaneously protecting the Bank's reputation and the integrity of its content.
Author versions of articles published outside the Bank will be licensed in the OKR, after the embargo period has elapsed, under a CC-Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (CC BY-NC-ND) copyright license, unless the publisher agrees to the more liberal CC BY. The CC BY-NC-ND license allows the work to be downloaded and shared, but not built upon or used commercially, as long as the Bank is credited for the original work.