How open access can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Open Access and the SDGs

Access to information, and libraries as institutions that deliver it, are key to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is clearly pointed out under target 10 in SDG 16 “Target 16.10: Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”, but it is true for many other SDGs and their respective targets.

IFLA’s advocacy efforts for a better recognition of access to information and libraries’ contribution to development are consistently underlined by initiatives such as the International Advocacy Programme (IAP) and the Development and Access to Information (DA2I) report, and earlier in the Lyon Declaration on Access to Information for Development.

To make this statement even stronger, the library community has contributed practical examples and stories of how access to information through libraries is key to achieving the SDGs, and IFLA has made them available through the “Access and opportunity for all” booklet and handout, and more recently in the Library Map of the World SDG Stories.

There is an obvious link between Open Access (OA) and access to information, and therefore between open access and the SDGs. Open access is key to ensuring that society benefits from scientific knowledge, by informing further research in the area or simply the end user.

At IFLA’s World Library and Information Congress, library professionals have been pointing out several aspects in relation to how open access is key to achieving the SDGs.

Jayshree Mamtora and Prashant Pandey, in their paper “Identifying the role of open access information in attaining the UN SDGs: perspectives from the Asia-Oceania region”, collect a valuable list of case studies in Asia and Oceania on the impact of open access research and open access data with regards to the SDGs:

Pacific Islands

PAIS (Pacific Agricultural Information System), is an online and offline digital repository to share documents and information about activities (projects, etc.) with a focus on agriculture in the Pacific Islands, is directly contributing towards SDG2 along with supporting SDG8, SDG13, and SDG15. Among the prospective contributors targeted to date, there is interest in using the platform to increase communication and sharing of information.  (Peter Walton, personal communication, 22 June 2018).

And talking about the relation between the SDGs and open access, the paper also presents a useful table that matches the contribution that open access can make to each of the 17 SDGs, for instance:

SDG4 “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong opportunities for all” could benefit from “Access to research and data” and “facilitate learning”.

SDG16 “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” could benefit from “access to research and data for awareness and discussion for transparent reporting on government-funded projects” and “Access to research and data for training and skill development”.

In their paper “Open Educational Resources within a Knowledge System for Achieving Quality Education SDG”, Lena Nyahodza and Reggie Raju bring Open Educational Resources (OERs) into the discussion. They point out that “given the challenge of resources in the global south, it is necessary that impetus and attention be given to OERs as an important intervention that could deliver on quality education which is the SDG 4”.

International organisations have already made some steps to recognise this intersection at the policy level, by for instance changing their own internal policies (see for WIPO and for UNESCO), and officially recognising open access as a driver to the achievement of the SDGs (see our blog from yesterday for more). In a joint statement, the Confederation of Open Access Repositories and UNESCO recognise that “as the world enters a new era of sustainable development, openness and inclusiveness in scientific research will become Increasingly critical”.

UNESCO also “believes that universal access to high quality education is key to the building of peace, sustainable social and economic development, and intercultural dialogue. Open Educational Resources (OER) provide a strategic opportunity to improve the quality of education as well as facilitate policy dialogue, knowledge sharing and capacity building”.

IFLA will continue to engage at the international level in favour of access to information, as well as regionally and nationally through its members. Librarians and civil society organisations that work to give access to information need to be considered key partners in national sustainable development plans to achieve the SDGs. We have a duty to ensure that decision-makers understand the role of open access in development, and that its promotion is incorporated in their policies, for the benefit of all.