The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD; http://www.oecd.org), the leading international organization of developed countries, issued a Final Communique on Jan. 30, 2004, supporting open access to publicly funded research data. The communique reflects a consensus on a number of issues discussed at a meeting of the OECD Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy at Ministerial Level, held in Paris. Representatives of 34 countries signed the document that incorporated a "Declaration on Access to Research Data from Public Funding" as Annex 1. The OECD has taken a leadership role throughout its history in "deciphering emerging issues and identifying policies that work...[to help] policy-makers adopt strategic orientations." Though lacking legal authority to mandate its recommendations, "dialogue, consensus, peer review, and pressure are at the very heart of OECD." This represents just one of several European-based government initiatives for open access that are underway.
The Declaration recognized "that open access to, and unrestricted use of, data promotes scientific progress and facilitates the training of researchers," as well as maximizing "the value derived from public investments in data collection efforts." It also recognized that domestic laws in different countries, e.g., on national security, privacy, intellectual property rights, etc., may dictate constraints on open access, with "disparities in national regulations" affecting the uniformity of access.
Nonetheless, the final agreement of the conference was a commitment to "work towards the establishment of access regimes for digital research data from public funding in accordance with" the objectives and principles of openness, transparency, legal conformity, formal responsibility, professionalism, protection of intellectual property, interoperability, quality and security, efficiency, and accountability. To those ends, the Declaration urged members to:
- Seek transparency in regulations and policies related to information, computer and communications services affecting international flows of data for research, and reducing unnecessary barriers to the international exchange of these data
- Take the necessary steps to strengthen existing instruments and—where appropriate—create within the framework of international and national law, new mechanisms and practices supporting international collaboration in access to digital research data
- Support OECD initiatives to promote the development and harmonization of approaches by governments adhering to this Declaration aimed at maximizing the accessibility of digital research data
- Consider the possible implications for other countries, including developing countries and economies in transition, when dealing with issues of access to digital research data
The OECD itself will work to develop a set of Principles and Guidelines on Access to Research Data from Public Funding that will "facilitate optimal cost-effective access." For the full text of the Declaration and the Final Communique, go to: http://www.oecd.org/document/15/0,2340,
en_21571361_21590465_25998799_1_1_1_1,00.html; for details of the meeting (participants, program, etc.), go to: http://www.oecd.org/document/22/0,2340,
Some confusion arose as to whether the "open access" advocated by the OECD signatories included the research results usually published in journals or was restricted to the large digital data sets of raw research material used by multiple researchers, e.g., the Human Genome project. Daniel Malkin, head of the OECD Science and Technology Policy Division of the OECD Directorate for Science and Technology in Industry, when asked for clarification, indicated that the focus was on data sets. However, when asked if the Declaration specifically excluded finished research products, as in published material, he earnestly pointed out that there is no such thing as a "finished" research product. He quoted professor Ryoji Noyori, president of RIKEN and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, who attended the conference and stated, "Science is a never-ending journey."
David Prosser, director of SPARC Europe, an alliance of European research libraries, library organizations, and research institutions, and an advocate for open access, commented that "the language and the logic would seem to apply to both data and its interpretation in research results." Prosser also noted that the U.K. House of Commons Committee on Science and Technology would be holding hearings in March on a range of issues connected to open access, expanding beyond publicly funded research. As of Feb. 12, the Committee will have received all the written submissions from interested parties. (For information, see: http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/
Further definition of OECD's intent should emerge this spring when the OECD meets to discuss implementation. Malkin expects they might move to set up a dedicated working group to work on the next stage of open access policy making, one that would involve concerned countries and "relevant stakeholders."