Scientists from Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India and South Africa have set guidelines for developing countries to freely access publicly funded research.
The success of their draft national policy will depend on whether the relevant governments, funders and research institutes adopt its recommendations.
The guidelines were agreed at a workshop in Bangalore, India earlier this month (2-3 November) where 44 international participants — including scientists and policymakers — discussed ways to promote open access.
Open access is the free online availability of digital content, especially of peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly journal articles.
Scientists in the developing world have long complained that their work is invisible to scientists in North America and Europe, said Alma Swan, co-director of Key Perspectives Ltd, a UK consultancy company for scholarly information.
"Now the developing world has the opportunity to create the level playing field it has so long cried out for," she told SciDev.Net.
While participants agreed on the policy, there was lively debate on how to make governments adopt it, Barbara Kirsop, secretary of the UK-based Electronic Publishing Trust, told SciDev.Net.
The participants said financial barriers prevented researchers in developing countries from accessing the research information they need.
Their policy urges governments to require all publicly funded research published in peer-reviewed journals be deposited in an institutional digital database as soon as publication is accepted. This should be a condition for research funding for any papers partly or fully funded by the government.
Eve Gray, a fellow at the Open Society Institute in South Africa said that policymakers in governments and institutions have the power to determine the reach of scientific research.
"They can make [the research] instantly visible, or they can fail their staff," she told SciDev.Net.
Large research funders in rich countries such as the Wellcome Trust and Research Councils United Kingdom, she argued, have recognised this and shown the way.
The workshop revealed that Bioline, an online publisher for developing countries, saw a huge increase in requests for scholarly papers when it became open access.
This shows "how much information was unused, unknown, un-accessed before open access", says Kirsop.
She added that developing nations should lead the way towards promoting open access as "they have so much to gain and so much to contribute".The workshop was funded by the Open Society Institute and organised by the Indian Academy of Sciences, the Indian Institute of Science and the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation.