Eldis - our end of year review

12th February 2015
Eldis Senior Editor Alan Stanley reviews our year and looks ahead to some of exciting developments expected in 2015.

It's been a good year here at Eldis Towers. We set ourselves the challenging target of adding more than 3000 new research documents to the Eldis collection over the past 12 months and are tantalisingly close to that total - 2977 is the figure at the time of writing (it's gone up by 23 since I started this article). Our user base has grown to over 600,000 visitors annually. To borrow a phrase that our weather forecasters seem to have used a lot this year - that's the highest since records began!

This is a great achievement for our team of editors and summary writers, our partners and our contributors, so thank you all for your excellent work.

A spotlight on developing country-based research

Of the 3000 (ish) new document records we've added more than 46% are sourced from research organisations, knowledge brokers and networks based in developing countries. This is really important for us as we firmly believe that research from developing countries still lacks the visibility and reach that it deserves and that development decision making and practice are poorer as a result. For more than ten years we've worked to increase this visibility and to make diverse perspectives on development more accessible. But the problem persists and the reasons for this are complex. Back in June this article by Saleem Huq and Clare Stott from ICCCAD highlighted this beautifully by looking at how under-represented Bangladeshi research institutions were in the IPCC Working Group report on Climate Change Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation. We're very pleased to be working with ICCCAD to support their response to this specific issue through their Gobeshona platform.

The high proportion of documents from developing country based knowledge producers is, in large part, the result of our new "Spotlight" initiative to profile the work of specific research organisations. Since we began this series in March we've added new research from over 20 different institutions and we're beginning to see significant increases in the reach and use of that research with approaching 12,000 downloads to date.

Our top 10 downloads

On the subject of downloads it's that time of year when we traditionally publish our "best sellers" list of which new documents have been downloaded the most times in 2014. Over 22,500 documents have been accessed via Eldis this year with over 150,000 downloads in total. Here's the Top 10...

Joining the data revolution

Come In We're Open - photo by Bryan BirdwellOne of our core values at Eldis has always been the belief that development research, which is for the most part publicly funded, should be freely available to those that can make use of it. This has led us, over the years to advocate for the adoption of Open Access publishing models and, more recently to embrace the emerging "Open Knowledge" agenda. Back in 2010-11 we followed the lead of big institutions like the World Bank and FAO and made the decision to open up access to all Eldis content. Firstly we licensed it for re-use under a Creative Commons license and then, borrowing ideas from the Open Data movement, we provided an interface (an API) and various widgets to allow other website managers and developers to easily take out content to re-package and re-use on their own websites and applications. We did this because we recognised the tremendous potential in these approaches to increase both the reach and relevance of the development research we profile.

What we learned though is that it's not easy. Adopting "open" approaches takes a certain amount of technical capacity and resources - even for IDS (our host institute) this presented challenges and when we talked to our partners we found that, for many, realising the potential of "Open Knowledge" was a long way off. So, back in October, with colleagues at IDS and with a core group of global partners we launched the Oriel Open Knowledge Hub with support from DFID. The Oriel Open Knowledge Hub is an Open Data platform for sharing and downloading digital content about development. It supports knowledge producers and knowledge brokers, particularly those in developing countries, to improve the availability and accessibility of development research by developing a new open and collaborative “Hub” that builds on emerging approaches from the Open Access and Open Data movements. What we hope is that through peer support and shared learning, Eldis, IDS and our partners will increase our capacity to engage and innovate in this exciting new world of Open Data and Open Content.

What next?

So what of the year ahead? You don't need me to tell you that 2015 will be a landmark year for international development and I'll leave it to others, better qualified than myself, to provide that commentary. Rest assured we'll be covering that commentary on Eldis via all the usual channels!

For 2015 we've set ourselves even more ambitious targets - to keep increasing our coverage of research from developing countries, to focus more on making high quality evidence for policy and practice accessible and to broaden the reach of our content through the Hub and our social media channels. Working in this new "Open" way presents many technical challenges and also requires us to rethink some fundamentals about how platforms like Eldis work - our business model; how we measure impact and, therefore, how we communicate the benefits of these new approaches to our users, contributors and funders. In 2015 we need to show that it works and convince others that our continuing work is worthy of their support. Thankfully we're not alone. We have a new vision and structure for IDS that will put digital development at the heart of it's research agenda. We have a strong group of global partners. We can draw on the excellent pioneering work and learning of organisations like the Open Data Institute and Open Knowledge and we can ride on the wave of public and government interest that the recent UN Data Revolution report is generating. It's going to be a huge year!