How funders can change the academia seamlessly by sharing conference literature openly

How funders can change the academia seamlessly by sharing conference literature openly

Many funders do not share the deliberations of the academic events they fund. The funders are generally concerned with approving proposals, disbursing funds and documenting utilisation of funds. Santosh C. Hulagabali argues that the conference deliberations have become highly private affairs as funders seem less concerned about sharing conference literature online. He calls funders to mandate the beneficiaries to share the conference literature as to make the best use in academia.


The academic gatherings such as conferences, seminars, workshops have great value in the scholarly communication. They are the dynamic platforms for knowing new ideas and  trends. They potentially trigger new discussion, influence ongoing research studies and give birth to new research areas. However, they are one of the highly scattered and inaccessible academic sources.

Every year thousands of academic events take place worldwide. University of Cambridge alone hosted about three hundred plus academic events in 2017. A multi-faculty Univerity organises not less than a hundred academic events in a year which are almost funded by funding bodies. As per UGC’s Annual Report 2017-18, UGC funded ₹ 81 crore to 6937 beneficiaries between 2012 and 2019, but how many of the beneficiaries have shared the conference literature online? The ICSSR funded 86 beneficiaries and approved 219 proposals in 2017-18 to organsie academic events. Again the question is, how many beneficieries of ICSSR funds have shared the conference literature online?

Questions

The funders supporting host institutes to organise conferences- but are they concerned about the proceedings of the events? Are these deliberations shared by the organisers made accessible to the public, if not full-text but at least glimpse of it? If not, are the academic events becoming private affairs confining only to the host organisations?

It is found that most funders do not share the conference reports online if not the formal full-text proceedings. They not even share the conference metadata online, such as title of the academic event, date, theme and sub-themes, organisers, speakers, deliberations, etc. Funders seem least interested in putting the conference metadata, event reports and  proceedings on a centralised platform openly accessible to all. Perhaps many hosts do not consider conference reports and proceedings of significant use.

The conference reports and proceedings, other allied forms of documents such as posters, Power-Point presentations, keynote addresses, etc., remain inaccessible although they hold great value in scholarly communication. For instance, Medicine and health care disciplines are the major users of posters but how many of them reach the non-attendees of the academic gatherings? In fact, the conference deliberations have become highly private affairs and thus remain inaccessible.

Some more questions

This inaccessibility of conference literature poses certain questions. Who should archive the proceedings or reports- hosts or funders? Don’t they hold academic value in scholarly communication? If at all they are being published by the hosts and funders- how many are publishing them with the legitimate publishers? When there is a great demand for open access to publicly funded research works why not for the public-funded conference proceedings or its reports? Shouldn’t the academic deliberations reach our libraries, research institutes, researchers, academics and the public for their effective use?

Issues and way ahead

  • As journals are indexed- similarly conference proceedings need indexing. Thomson Reuters is already offering the Conference Proceedings Citation Index- Science (CPCI-S) and the Conference Proceedings Citation Index- Social Science and Humanities (CPCI-SSH). But how many conferences are being indexed by the indexing firms.
  • Like journal rankings, there exist conference listing/ranking agencies such as All Conference Alerts, WikiCFP, Conference Ranks and many others. They list the events and link the hosts but how long would they keep the old lists?
  • Many of the academic events are funded by the funding agencies, statutory bodies, research organisations, etc. It seems that many funders mandate/expect the event reports and certificate of utilisation of funds from the hosts. The reports hold value for them only till the financial audit is made and account is settled.

In India, some proceedings are archived in well-conceived National Digital Library of India but not all of them are placed there. In fact, these proceedings are sourced from different platforms such as arXiv.org, CiteSeerX, Paperity, etc. and not all of them are openly accessible. The researcher or the academician who is interested to know what all was discussed in these events in his domain– where and how will he find this data? The only option to get this data, in the Indian context, is by filing Right to Information application (as per RTI Act, 2005) with the funder (like UGC, NAAC). However, the information officer will share the data with the applicant only.

It seems there are no takers for datasets on funded academic events which are the best informants of changing trends, influencing research and new discussions. They have great potentiality of influencing academic discourse- be it teaching, research and publication activities. Therefore, the onus is on the funders to have a centralised platform to facilitate all conference literature at one place for public access.

To make it a reality, all the statutory academic funding agencies may make it mandatory for the organisers/beneficiaries to upload the event report online. Or they may archive the ‘event reports’ if not full proceedings on their portals. If not reports, at least the funders should not undervalue the metadata of the events (such as title of the academic event, names of the keynote speakers and title of paper presentations, list of events hosted theme-wise, contact details of the hosts, dates, venues, etc.). This metadata would be a reference tool for the absentees to explore. This metadata or conference literature has great value in terms of knowing the ongoing trends and discussions in a particular domain. Eventually, the proceedings will gain weightage, the experts would be noticed, intra-institutional tie-ups may go up, bring transparency, come hard on predatory meetings/gatherings, support free flow of information, and get more citations and gain wide acceptability. Hopefully, our funders and beneficieries collectively work on this and make the event literature accessible openly.

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Note: Views expressed are personal. This article is licenced under Creative Commons: CC-BY. Article image courtesy: pixabay

About the author
Santosh C. Hulagabali is an Editor of Open Commentaries and Moderator of Open Interview. He heads Central Library of Central University of Haryana. He is passionate about teaching, blogging and anything that is creative, challenging and positively impacts self and others. Email: santosh[@]cuh.ac.in; editor[@]opencommentaries.in

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