The open access movement was launched with the bold vision of “uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge.”[1] When the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) first defined open access (OA) in 2002, we suggested that “an old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good.”[2] Yet twenty years later, while we have succeeded in opening up almost half of all scholarly communications to read, the commercialization of the movement has created new barriers for authors. As a result, today we are witnessing the widening of the North-South divide. 

To realign open access with the original aspirational goals of the movement, last year the BOAI offered new recommendations which highlight that “OA is not an end in itself, but a means to further ends. Above all, it is a means to the equity, quality, usability, and sustainability of research.”[3] Our four high-level recommendations address systemic problems that obstruct progress toward these ends and attempt to refocus the movement on community over commercialization. To do this, the BOAI20 Recommendations call for:

  • Support for community-controlled infrastructure

  • Reform of research assessment and rewards

  • Movement away from APCs and read-and-publish agreements 

When one looks at the global OA movement, the region that pioneered community-driven non-commercial OA is Latin America. The Global North can learn much from this region, which has prioritized community over commercialization. The main drivers toward OA in Latin America have been public universities, scientific societies, research foundations and other government organizations, without significant outsourcing to commercial publishers. Strong publicly funded, scholar-led initiatives have developed infrastructures and capacities to support journals in the region to improve quality, visibility and impact and make the transition to OA without Article Processing Charges (APCs). Regional government agreements and national OA policies have also spurred the development of repositories, which are the required venue to comply with OA policies and legislation approved in several countries in the region.[4] 

The OA movement is at a critical juncture as the troubled APC model, developed in the Global North, is being exported to Latin America and elsewhere around the world. As Juan Pablo Alperin of the Public Knowledge Project and Simon Fraser University has warned, APC-based commercial journals threaten the vibrant publishing ecosystem in the region. [5]

Today the scholar-led not-for-profit OA platforms that have developed in Latin America over the past two decades (such as SciELO, Redalyc, and Latindex) allow researchers from around the world to publish in Latin American journals without barriers. However, Latin American authors must pay to publish in mainstream commercial journals produced in the Global North; a clear sign of the inequities embedded in the current systems. Another sign of inequity is the asymmetry between the funding governments dedicate to supporting subscriptions to commercial journals, including support for read-and-publish agreements, and the still comparatively scant funding  to support community-led OA publishing. 

To push back on the exportation of the commercialized APC model, the global OA movement should be thoughtfully examining how Latin America has developed a community-driven, scholar-led OA infrastructure and asking how such models could be adapted in other regions. Why have institutions embraced and supported the development of OA publishing? What do these institutions see as the advantages of such an approach? What funding streams are used to support institutional publishing? What advice would university administrators give to their peers in other regions regarding the adoption of such models? 

As the lessons learned from Latin America are better integrated into the shift toward open access, South-North and South-South collaborations could thrive. One example of such a collaboration is SciELO South Africa, where the community-driven OA model pioneered by SciELO has been adopted and supported by the South African government. Other regions with a tradition of supporting the production of public goods would be prime candidates for future collaborations.

While there is much to be learned from the publishing ecosystem in Latin America, unfortunately scholars there grapple with many of the same challenges faced by those in other regions with regard to research assessment. As Dominique Babini of CLACSO has highlighted, OA, multilingualism and bibliodiversity are not adequately valued in research assessment in Latin America, which prioritizes publishing in mainstream commercial journals, predominantly those in English.[6]

Of the roughly 20,000 OA journals published in 135 countries in 80 languages, approximately 7,000 require APCs.[7] Yet the difficulty is that promotion and tenure committees often value publication in journals that charge APCs. While scholars in Latin America have their own healthy publishing system, they also struggle with undue pressure to publish in commercial journals. This is a further confirmation that, in addition to the development of non-commercial community-led journals, the global OA movement must address the inequities inherent in the current research assessment process. Thankfully much energy is going into this area, led by such community-driven projects as the Latin American Forum on Research Assessment (FOLEC-CLACSO), the Higher Education Leadership Initiative for Open Scholarship (HELIOS), the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), and the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment (CoARA).  

By examining how Latin America has successfully developed a community-driven OA infrastructure and adopting lessons learned from their experiences over the last two decades, the global OA community will be closer to realizing the original aspirational goals of the BOAI and to reaching a future that prioritizes community over commercialization. 

-Melissa Hagemann, Director, BOAI