ICRISAT repositories have ensured tremendous web-wide visibility and access to the research output that the ICRISAT scientists produce

When did ICRISAT first take steps towards making its' information more 'open'?

I joined ICRISAT only in September 2010.  As I don’t have clear records about the proto steps taken prior to my joining, it is very difficult for me to say precisely when the first steps were taken in ICRISAT to make its research outputs openly accessible to all. I am going to answer your questions based on the available records and the interactions with the men behind the Open Access (OA) achievement. 

As far as the OA to research output produced by ICRISAT researchers is concerned, I would say that the initial steps can be identified as events held at ICRISAT during 2006 – 2009. I can point out a few such OA advocacy events.  

Prof Subbiah Arunachalam (OA advocate from India) and Dr Venkatraman Balaji (then director of ICRISAT’s Knowledge Sharing division) together organized a symposium on OA as part of the 93rd Indian Science Congress held in Hyderabad during January 3-7, 2006.   ICRISAT hosted Dr Alma Swan (OA advocate from the UK) who delivered the keynote and the other participants of the symposium as guests.  During that time, Prof. Arunachalam and Dr Alma Swan had a chance to speak to the research managers of ICRISAT about the potential benefits of making research output open access and the legitimate ways of achieving it.  Even though the meeting was so informal, the interaction between the OA advocates and the research managers can be marked as the first step of ICRISAT towards OA.   

Again in November 2006, ICRISAT organized the first AGRIS workshop on OA in Agricultural Science and Technology. Leading OA advocates like Prof. Peter Suber and Prof. Leslie Chan participated through teleconference in the workshop to discuss the necessity for OA to agricultural information and the quick routes to achieve it.  In that workshop, it was formally announced that the ICRISAT repository would be available by January 2007.

Later in September 2009, ICRISAT organized a national meeting on Open Access in Agriculture. Dr Bruce Alberts and Prof Stevan Harnad addressed the participants who are largely from the laboratories of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), agricultural universities and professional societies. 

In fact,  these two events mentioned above not only helped in creating discussion on OA among the scientists within ICRISAT  but also within  the Indian National Agricultural Research System. 

Why were these early steps taken - what was the key motivation?

ICRISAT seems to be well aware of the problems in the traditional journals based science communication system long before.  When I read the article written by   Dr B Jayashree and Dr JDH Keatinge (Scientists of ICRISAT), “Open Access: A Transformation in Scholarly Publishing” published in the Journal of SAT Agricultural Research, I could understand that ICRISAT library was one of the victims of the escalating cost of journals during 1998-2002 the time ICRISAT was going through a fund crunch . ICRISAT had to cancel subscriptions to several core journals.  Perhaps, ICRISAT had understood the difficulties of agricultural research institutions which can’t afford to subscribe to costly journals and how that could preclude the impact of ICRISAT’s research output published in those journals.  This could be a reason why ICRISAT embraced OA.     

How were these early steps taken? Were there barriers to these ideas within the organization? How were they overcome?

In the report Open Access to Scholarly Literature in India, Dr Venkatraman Balaji says, Open Access (OA) was frequently discussed in the committees of research leaders of ICRISAT after the two OA advocates’ visit to ICRISAT in 2006.  He also says that a key research director of ICRISAT agreed that open access was a potential route, however, there was a general concern about the copyright that the scientists surrender to the publishers on acceptance of the research papers. 

In 2008, Dr B Jayashree and Dr JDH Keatinge again had written an explanatory paper in support of green OA in the Journal of SAT Agricultural Research. In the paper “The potential of institutional repositories in fulfilling current research communication  needs”, the authors had explained how copyright and OA through institutional repository can coexist. 

The publications to which ICRISAT owned copyright had been digitized and archived in the repository platform by the library staff.  Library sent alerts about the developments in global OA movement to the scientists of ICRISAT in order to keep them informed. 

I would say the tenacious efforts of the OA interest group in ICRISAT till reaching an institution-wide consensus on the need for OA must be appreciated.  Dr Venkatraman Balaji attributes the achievement to Dr William Dar (Director General of ICRISAT) in the above mentioned report.  ICRISAT was the first CGIAR institution to grab every opportunity and demonstrated OA in an exemplary way. 

Can you explain the full scope of OA policies at ICRISAT - do they extend beyond the ICRISAT repository?

The 2009 OA policy http://oar.icrisat.org/mandate.html  focuses on published research output particularly journal articles to which the authors transfer copyright to the publishers.  There is no problem in providing open access to publications to which ICRISAT owns copyright. 

Recently, ICRISAT endorsed the CGIAR consortium’s OA policy whereby ICRISAT has become committed to open the research data produced in research programs and the datasets that underpins the publications. ICRISAT has already got its repository platform.

What have been the main results and benefits to ICRISAT of the institutional repository and other openness developments?

The repository as on 17th April 2014 holds 7,160 documents including 4,439 journal articles.

In May 2011, the ICRISAT repository platform got some additional features.  A plugin was installed and configured to gather download statistics of contents in the repository.  Since June 2011, the repository has witnessed 626,893 downloads from more than 100 countries.  Of the entire downloads, 60% has come from countries that can be classified as semi-arid tropics where ICRISAT is working on to improve the lives of small-holder farmers.      

The availability of ICRISAT’s Village Level Studies (VLS) data in public domain has made great impact.

ICRISAT repositories have ensured tremendous web-wide visibility and access to the research output that the ICRISAT scientists produce.  This was precisely the intention of setting up such repositories.  The financial barrier between the ICRISAT research output and the possible would-be users has been reasonably eliminated.

What will be the focus in future?

The focus will be more on Open Data in future at ICRISAT. Bioinformatics and Biometrics departments are taking lot of steps to build consensus on institution-wide open data. I would say the Open Data interest group have to focus more on tailoring persuasive outreach programs. I expect that there will be progress in that front in the coming years. Also, I hope, ICRISAT will continue its OA advocacy initiatives in the future.