Monday, April 02, 2018

Dramatic Growth of Open Access March 2018

As usual open access is showing strong growth in many directions; more open access archives, documents, journals, articles, and books. This quarter focuses on the large number of indicators of growth beyond the usual background growth of scholarly journals and articles of 3 - 3.5% per year. Newcomer bioRxiv, with 21% growth this quarter (equivalent to 84% annual growth) is far above this background growth. This quarter, DOAJ added a net total of 378 journals, or more than 4 journals per day, for a total of 11,105 journals. The number of journals searchable at the article level has increased by 236 for a total of 8,045 journals. The number of articles searchable at the article level is just under 3 million.  The number of documents searchable through BASE grew by 3.5 million for a total of just under 24 million (about 60% of these, over 14 million, are open access). BASE added 121 content providers for a total of over 600 content providers. The percentage of PubMed records for a search for "cancer" that retrieve full-text is 27% overall, with a high of 45% for records published in the last 5 years. The percentage of full-text retrieval is rising at a steady rate.

The overall growth rate for scholarly articles and journals has been fairly steady over the past few centuries, in the range of 3 - 3.5% growth annually (Price, 1963; Mabe & Amin, 2001). As noted in the following chart, in the past quarter alone there have been 43 indicators of growth above that level, at least 1% in the quarter (equivalent of 4% annually). 
Quarterly growth percentage Item 03/31/18 Quarterly growth numeric
21% bioRxiv articles 22,780 3,958
13% DOAB books 11,685 1,370
10% SCOAP3 article 19,778 1,736
9% Internet Archive Video 4,128,556 328,556
8% Internet Archive Collections 338,578 25,578
8% Internet Archive Recordings 4,094,506 294,506
7% Internet Archive Television 1,607,000 107,000
7% DOAJ # of articles searchable at article level 2,984,612 192,911
6% DOAB # publishers 261 14
5% PubMed keyword search: cancer- last year - free fulltext 59,695 3,083
5% Internet Archive Texts 15,760,271 760,271
5% RePEC chapters 49,294 2,376
5% Internet Archive Webpages (billions) 325 15
4% Internet Archive Images 3,865,878 165,878
4% RePEc journal articles 1,659,120 67,779
4% PubMed keyword search: cancer- last 5 years - free fulltext 367,509 13,048
4% Internet Archive Software 206,098 7,098
4% DOAJ # journals 11,105 378
3% PubMed keyword search: cancer- last 2 years - free fulltext 142,572 4,723
3% RePEC downloadable articles 2,354,480 75,341
3% ROARMAP # OA policies 916 27
3% DOAJ # articles searchable at article level 8,045 236
3% PubMed keyword search: cancer - free fulltext 980,174 28,288
3% BASE # documents 123,932,954 3,549,531
3% PMC journals with some articles open access 682 18
2% DOAJ # countries 124 3
2% arXiv  articles 1,375,438 32,713
2% PMC select deposit journals 4,588 94
2% BASE # content providers 6,159 121
2% RePEC books 35,263 626
2% PubMed keyword search: cancer - last 5 years - all results 810,024 13,629
2% RePEc working papers 807,624 13,499
2% OpenDOAR # repositories 3,517 53
2% Elektronische Zeitschriftenbibliotek - # journals that can be read free of charge  60,129 889
1% chapters (OECD ilibrary) 60,300 840
1% PubMed keyword search: cancer - all results 3,639,629 47,117
1% PMC journals with immediate free access 1,852 20
1% ROAR # repositories 4,643 46
1% RePEc software components 4,068 40
1% OECD ilibrary tables and graphs  175,500 1,650
1% PMC actively participating journals 2,466 20
1% OECD ilibrary working papers  5,600 40
1% PMC journals that submit all articles 2,108 15


Mabe, M., & Amin, M. (2001). Growth dynamics of scholarly and scientific journals. Scientometrics, 51(1), 147-162.

Price, D. J. d. S. (1963). Little science, big science. New York: Columbia University Press.

This post is part of the Dramatic Growth of Open Access series.  Full data can be downloaded from here.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Dramatic Growth of Open Access December 31, 2017


As usual the open access movement has much to celebrate as 2017 draws to a close, and the whole world has much to look forward to from open access in 2018. As of today there are 4.6 million articles in PubMedCentral, thanks in large measure to constantly increasing participation by scholarly journals; sometime in 2018 this is likely to exceed 5 million. DOAJ added a net 1,272 journals (3.5 / day) and showed even stronger growth in article searchability; a DOAJ milestone of 3 million searchable articles in likely to come in 2018. The Directory of Open Access Books nearly doubled in size and now has more than 10,000 books from 247 publishers. Bielefeld Academic Search Engine, the best surrogate for overall growth, continues to amaze with over 120 million documents, growth of 17.3 million in 2017, a 17% growth rate on a very substantial base; a 20% growth in content providers is an indication of the overall growth of the repository movement. arXiv's growth rate was 10% while newcomer arXiv clones socRxiv grew by 187% and bioRxiv by 151%. REPEC grew by 13%, SCOAP3 by 32%. Internet Archive grew by 31 billion web pages, 4 million texts, 2.4 million images, 800,000 movies, and 600,000 audio recordings. Following are selected details indicating the content numbers at the end of 2017, 2017 growth by number, percentage, and where warranted, by day.

Full data can be downloaded from here:

Details (selected)

Totals are from December 31, 2017. Annual growth: Dec. 31, 2017 - Dec. 31, 2017

Free journals

Directory of Open Access Journals

10,727 journals
  • 2017 growth: 1,272 journals (3.5 / day), growth rate 13%
7,809 journals searchable at article level
  • 2017 growth:  1,175 (3.2 / day), growth rate 18%
2,791,701 articles searchable at article level
  • 2017 growth: 391,443 (1,072 / day), growth rate 16%
Milestone to watch for in 2018: 3 million articles searchable at article level

Electronic Journals Library 

59,240 journals that can be read free of charge (2017 growth: 3,678 (10 / day), 7% growth)

Free books

OECD ilibrary

11,690 e-book titles (2017 growth 640 (2 / day), growth rate 6%

Directory of Open Access Books

 10,315 academic peer-reviewed books, 247 publishers
  • 2017 growth: 4,713 (13 / day), growth rate 84%, increase of 80 publishers
See also Internet Archive below
Bielefeld Academic Search Engine

120,383,423 documents
  • 2017 growth: 17.3 million documents (47,000 / day), growth rate 17%
6,038 content providers
  • 2017 growth: 1,015 (3 / day), growth rate 20%

3,464 repositories -- 2017 growth 179, (.5 / day), growth rate 5%

Registry of Open Access Repositories

4,597 repositories - 2017 growth 232, 1 / day), growth rate 5%


4.6 million items - 2017 growth 500,000, (1,370 / day), growth rate 12%

2,446 journals actively participating in PMC - 2017 growth 120, growth rate 5%

1,832 journals in PMC with immediate free access - 2017 growth 112, growth rate 7%

1,478 journals in PMC with all articles open access - 2017 growth 52, growth rate 4%

664 journals in PMC with some articles open access - 2017 growth 95, growth rate 17%

2,093 full participation journals (deposit ALL articles in PMC) - 2017 growth 120, growth rate 6%

329 NIH portfolio journals (deposit NIH funded article in PMC) - 2017 growth 5, growth rate 2%

4,494 selective deposit (deposit some articles in PMC) - 2017 growth 421 (1 / day), growth rate 10%

33% of articles keyword "cancer" freefulltext within 1 year of publication (41% at 2 years, 45% at 5 years, 26% with no date limiter)

Milestone to watch for in 2018: 5 million items


1,342,725 items - 2017 growth 123,501 (338 / day), growth rate 10%


1,814 preprints - 2017 growth 1,183 (3 / day), growth rate 187%


18,822 article - 2017 growth 11,322 (31 / day), growth rate 151%


2,279,139 downloadable items - 2017 growth 257,605 (706 / day), growth rate 13%

Internet Archive

310 billion webpages - 2017 growth 31 billion webpages (85,000 / day), growth rate 11%

3.8 million video (movies) - 2017 growth 800,000 (2,192 / day), growth rate 27%

3.8 million audio recordings - 2017 growth 600,000 (1,644 / day), growth rate 19%

15,000,000 texts - 2017 growth: 4 million (11,000 / day), growth rate 36%

3.7 million images - 2017 growth: 2.4 million (6,575 / day), growth rate 185%


18,042 articles - 2017 growth: 4,410 (12 / day), growth rate 32%

 This post is part of the Dramatic Growth of Open Access series.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Dramatic Growth of Open Access September 30, 2017

Happy Open Access Week!

In brief:  best guesstimate - there are approximately 70 million OA documents today (subset of BASE's 115 million, about 60% OA), with OA documents at BASE growing at a rate of about 1,800 OA documents per day. Where do these come from? Thousands of OA archives - with PubMedCentral the largest by far at 4.5 million articles and active participation by thousands of journals. This quarter by the numbers the DOAJ team set a new record with a net growth of 689 journals of 7.7 titles per day. However, percentage wise the most remarkable quarterly growth was all about archives, with BioRxiv and SocRXiv topping the growth list by percentage, and as usual several sections of Internet Archive well up on the growth list. On an annual basis, Directory of Open Access Books was the fastest growing in terms of both # of books and # of publishers.

To download the raw data, go to the DGOA dataverse.


Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE), in addition to a great OA search engine, provides the best (if rough) guesstimate of how much we are achieving together, added 2.7 million documents this quarter for a total of 115 million. About 60% of the content in BASE is OA, so this is roughly growth of 160,000 open access items over the past quarter, or about 1,800 documents per day, with a total of about 6.9 million open access documents.

While the growth of open access is always amazing, sometimes it's more evident by the numbers, other times by the percentage.  By the numbers: this quarter DOAJ net growth was 689 titles - that's 7.7 titles per day, a record for DOAJ! As of September 30, DOAJ included
10,114 titles. As the chart shows, growth in DOAJ at the searchable article level is particularly remarkable, growing from just over 60,000 in 2004 to close to 2.5 million articles today. Over at PubMedCentral there are now 4.5 million documents with close to 7 thousand journals actively contributing content.

By the percentages, it was a particularly good quarter for open access archives. Newcomers bioRxiv and SocArXiv top the quarterly growth by percentage with growth rates of 25% for bioRxiv (equivalent to doubling in a year) and 22% for SocArXiv (just under doubling in a year). bioRxiv now has 15,000 preprints, SocArXiv close to 1,500. As usual growth at Internet Archive was very impressive, 14% growth in texts (now 14.5 million free texts), 12% growth in the recently added collections category (now close to 300,000 collections) and 9% growth in software (close to 200,000). The RePEC book collection grew by 12% to over 33,000*.

On an annual basis by percentage, Directory of Open Access Books is at the top for growth both in # of books (65% growth, now close to 9,000 titles) and # of publishers (40% growth, 225 publishers). BASE continues to amaze with a 23% increase in content providers over the past year (edging up towards 6,000), and 15% growth in content (now at 115 million documents).

* The RePEC book chapter category also showed amazing growth, but perhaps this is an artefact due to a recent clean-up project as numbers were significantly down last quarter.

This post is part of the Dramatic Growth of Open Access series.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Dramatic Growth of Open Access June 30, 2017

Correction: DOAJ will soon surpass 2.5 million articles, not a quarter of a billion as originally reported. 


Open access continues to demonstrate robust growth on a global scale, in terms of works that are made available open access, ongoing growth in infrastructure (new repositories, journals, book publishers), strong growth for new initiatives such as SocArxiv, BioRxiv, the Directory of Open Access Books, SCOAP3, as well as ongoing strong growth in established services such as BASE, PubMed / PubMedCentral, Internet Archive (check out the new Collections including a Trump archive and FactChecker), DOAJ (almost 2.5 million articles searchable at the article level), RePEC and arXiv. Ongoing growth in infrastructure and OA policy give every reason to expect this growth to be ongoing.

Open Data Version

Morrison, Heather, 2014, "Dramatic Growth of Open Access", hdl:10864/10660, Scholars Portal Dataverse, V17,


This edition of the Dramatic Growth of Open Access highlights two of the new kids on the OA block - SocArxiv and BioRxiv, modeled on early OA success story arXiv, topping the quarterly growth by percentage with percentage growth of about 30% each! SocArxiv now has 1,200 documents and BioRxiv 12,800.

Similarly, a relative newcomer, the Directory of Open Access Books, is in both first and second place for annual growth by percentage with 68% growth for OA books and 40% of OA publishers in the past year for a total of 8,172 open access books and 217 OA book publishers.

SCOAP3, a global initiative to transform high-energy physics publishing to open access, is showing remarkable growth, 39% in the last year and 8% in the last quarter for a total of 15,790 articles funded.

To celebrate the growth of all OA services two pictures are presented of the growth of the largest collective OA search engine that I am aware of. Together, the 5,000 content providers who contribute metadata to the Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) have made available over 112 million documents. Around 60% of these are open access, so the number of OA documents in the world can be said to be somewhere about 67 million. BASE also posts their own online statistics table and chart - check it out here.

I wish I had the time to applaud and celebrate the growth of each and every OA service, but with 5,000 services contributing to BASE (and others that don't), if I worked on this 365 days a year I would have to cover 14 initiatives every day. So please feel free to help out by applauding and celebrating the services most relevant to you - the journals in your discipline, your institutional repository, the services you find most helpful to search.

Below you will find tables listing the top services by quarterly (5% or more) and annual growth (10% or more). For the full numbers download the open data version (link above). As usual Internet Archive is well represented, with 5 items in the list of the top 13 services by quarterly growth and the top 18 services by annual growth. Internet Archive also offers 2 intriguing new services under Collections - a Trump Archive with over a thousand videos and a Fact Checker collection with over 400 items, available at

Of course PubMed and PubMedCentral are up there in the growth charts, in this quarter for total number of items (5% quarterly growth) as well as what looks (to me) like hesitant new steps by a substantial number of journals, with a 26% increase in the number of contributing journals that provide some OA and a 14% increase in the number of journals that provide OA to selected articles. The number of journals providing immediate free access and/or all articles open access continues to increase, so this is clearly growth, not backsliding.

DOAJ is included in the top growth services with 14% growth in the number of articles searchable at article level. DOAJ now has over 2.49 million articles searchable at the article level and should soon surpass 2.5 million articles.

arXiv and RePEC are on the list for strong growth in articles, and ROARMAP for growth in OA policies.
Quarterly growth (percentage) June 2017
32% SocArxiv preprints 1,200
29% BioRxiv all articles 12,280
18% # of academic peer-reviewed books (DOAB) 8,172
18% # publishers (DOAB) 217
8% SCOAP3 articles 15,790
8% Internet Archive Software 178,635
7% Video (movies)  (Internet Archive) 3,437,542
7% Texts  (Internet Archive) 12,821,051
5% Images (Internet Archive) 1,476,743
5% # of content providers (BASE) 5,621
5% Audio (recordings)  (Internet Archive) 3,477,033
5% Webpages (Internet Archive) (in billions) 298
5% PubMedCentral (number of items) 4,400,000

Annual growth (percentage) 06/30/17
68% # of academic peer-reviewed books (DOAB) 8,172
40% # publishers (DOAB) 217
39% SCOAP3 number of archives 15,790
34% Video (movies)  (Internet Archive) 3,437,542
33% Internet Archive: Software 178,635
29% # of content providers (BASE) 5,621
27% Texts  (Internet Archive) 12,821,051
26% PMC journals some OA 609
25% Internet Archive: Images 1,476,743
20% # of documents (BASE) 112,458,360
17% Audio (recordings)  (Internet Archive) 3,477,033
17% RePEc journal articles 1,491,037
14% # of articles searchable at article level (DOAJ) 2,493,835
14% PMC select deposit journals 4,296
13% RePEC downloadable 2,143,844
13% Total Policies (ROARMAP) 872
13% PMC # items 4,400,000
10% arXiv 1,278,739

 This post is part of the Dramatic Growth of Open Access Series

Feel free to copy and share - with love.  Note that images are compressed by the software to reduce file size, and they are also quickly outdated. You are welcome to use the images, but my recommendation is to download the data and make your own graphics. It's easier than you think with tools like modern spreadsheet software.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Critical Data Literacy, why and how: an Open Education Resource (OER)

This OER was developed for presentation at the Data Power 2017 conference held at Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario June 22 - 23. This is primarily a framework for how to go about teaching critical data literacy in the student-centered tradition of Freire, supplemented by the work of Tygel and colleagues. A sample introduction developed for Canadian university students, and a few references, are included. My definition of critical data literacy as used in this OER is: 
critical data literacy is the ability to understand and critique how the beliefs and values of people and groups (including government) influence what data is created, how it is shared and how it used by to tell compelling stories by storytellers whose beliefs and values shape the kind of stories they choose to tell and how they tell the stories. Critical data literacy also means having the ability to create and tell one's own stories using data. 
This OER is released under the terms of copy and share - with love, my latest statement on sharing which can be found at the bottom of this post. The Freire tradition of popular education involves starting with the lived experience of students. In this context, following is what I recommend for anyone who wishes to develop a full critical data literacy program based on the framework. I think that this framework could be adapated for teaching at any level, from community-based learning (led by community groups or organizers or as a participatory action research project) to graduate classes (that's where I teach). Some of the details would change. For example, if you are teaching at a university, some parts of the process are likely to involve formal evaluation (marking), but if you are teaching to the general public or a community group, this would not make sense. Please adjust as needed for your own context.

The overall approach:
  1. Identify your student group. Think about what kinds of issues or problems they might have that could potentially be helped by data, the kind of data stories they might be familiar with. 
  2. Develop an introduction to critical data literacy. Tygel and colleagues (2015, 2016) found that this was necessary. One way to think about the difference between critical data literacy and basic literacy (reading) is that people who do not know how to read in recent history are likely to be aware of the existence of reading as something that other people do. Data literacy / critical data literacy is not at this point in time as broadly understood as reading.
  3. Plan the 3 phases of the framework that follow directly from the Freire tradition: investigation, thematisation, and problematisation. In these phases, students should lead the learning process (active learning), pursuing problems and questions of their own devising. The teacher's role is to provide support. 
  4. Plan a systematisation (synthesis) wrap-up approach that makes sense for your student group. In some cases this might be left for the students to decide the approach, and the teacher only helps to guide the students towards this closure. In a formal educational setting, this might involve a pre-determined assignment.
  5. Implement!
The 5 phases are: introduction, investigation, thematisation, problematisation, and systematization (synthesis). Details follow. The introduction section is the most fully developed as this is the only teaching portion that involves imparting knowledge; all others begin with the student.


As noted above, it will not be obvious to everyone what data literacy or critical data literacy is or why they should learn about it, as discovered by Tygel and colleagues (2015, 2016). For this reason, an introduction to the topic may be helpful. In this phase one might invite in guest speakers from the community who use data in their storytelling and/or to provide examples of data storytelling. This is also where definitions of critical data literacy could be introduced. In addition to my definition (see above), I like this definition of data literacy from the Data Journalism Handbook  because it includes the element of critical thinking; not every definition that I have seen includes this, to me a significant omission.
data literacy is the ability to consume for knowledge, produce coherently and think critically about data [emphasis added] (Grey, Bounearu & Chambers (2012)
Following is a sample introduction developed for an audience of Canadian university students. If you are teaching a different type of student group, I recommend that you develop your own introduction tailored to your group. If you do and you are willing to share this with others, please send me a link (via e-mail to Heather dot Morrison at uottawa dot ca) or as a comment to this post and I will include a link to your work in this post. If you would like to use this introduction as is, please see the link to the full presentation.

Introduction slide 1

This slide presents two conflicting stories that are told using basically the same underlying data. One of these (tax freedom day) will be very familiar to the audience, while the other will not as it is relatively new. 

This slide illustrates two very different perspectives on taxation in Canada. On the left, we see the Fraser Institute’s Tax Freedom Day. The Fraser Institute, a right-wing think tank, uses data to tell their story of over-taxed Canadians, working more than half the year for the government before earning a dime for themselves. The idea of tax freedom day has been very effective in Canada over the past few decades. On the right, we see one of the images from the Broadbent Institute’s report The Brass Tax which was published very recently. The left-wing Broadbent Institute challenges the numbers behind the Fraser Institute’s analysis, argues that Canadian taxation is pretty reasonable compared to other countries, and presents a different picture. In this case this graph illustrates Canada’s progressive approach to taxation and makes the point that people with little to no income pay no income tax and only a small percentage of Canadians age 25 to 54 are in the top income tax bracket, paying more than 30% of income in taxes. These are 2 groups of people with a different vision of what society should be like, using the same underlying data to tell 2 very different stories. If we go directly to the data source, will this eliminate the impact of the storyteller? Let’s see.

The following two slides might be more effective as a live demo or in-class lab activity. 

One of the underlying datasets used by both groups is the statistics provided by OECD. If you go to the OECD website there are some neat online tools that let us quickly visualize data in different ways. One of the elements of the data story told by the Fraser Institute is that individual families pay too much in taxes. I wondered if there has been any change in the portion of tax revenue contributed through personal and corporate taxes over the years. Here is what I found using the OECD website. It seems that more tax is gathered from personal rather than corporate taxes, but over the past few years the portions don’t seem to have changed much. This is the default view that shows trends from 2000 – 2015. If this had fit what I already believed, I suspect I would have stopped here. But I seem to recall a relative decrease in corporate taxation over the past few decades so I decided to slide the years covered…

And this is what I found. If we slide the start date of the visualization tool back to 1965, it does appear that there has been a relative increase in tax revenue from personal sources and a relative decrease in tax revenue from corporate sources. This shows how easy it would be for two people with different perspectives on what a data trend is likely to be to go to exactly the same dataset and make a slight change to how the data is visualized to tell two very different stories. 

Kaulfuss uses OECD data to tell a story about U.S. health care spending on a blog called Beyond Economics. The story  is that the U.S. spends two and a half times the OECD average on health. It doesn’t surprise me that the U.S. spends more than the OECD average on health, but I am surprised that the difference is this much. What I found even more intriguing is the author’s claim that U.S. public spending on health is above the OECD average. Who knew? Disclaimer: what I am doing here is presenting stories told through data, I have not examined the data itself so cannot comment on the accuracy of the story.

Wikipedia has a section called Health Care in Canada. Here in Canada many of us – I include myself – think highly of our public health care system, and I think I see this perspective here. This section states that “most health statistics in Canada are at or above the G8 average” in a paragraph that is followed by the table pictured above. The table draws from a number of data sources and appears to me to demonstrate above-average data literacy skills. However…

When you look at the statistics that are presented and calculate the averages, Canada is above average on 3 of 8 measures. This is not “most”. This suggests a need for data literacy. If you look at the specific measures where we are above average, an argument can be made that being above average in life expectancy is a good thing. However, an above-average infant mortality rate is probably not such a good thing. We are also slightly above average on % of government revenue spent on health, but what does this mean and is it a good thing? Looking at some of the areas where we are below average –such as the  # of doctors & nurses per population & % of health costs paid by government – might give one reason to re-consider our narrative that we Canadians are above average in public health. This illustrates a need for critical data literacy. In other words, our beliefs might be getting in the way of understanding what is our existing data tells us.

Some approaches and suggestions  for creating a meaningful introduction     

The reason for the introduction section is because as Tygel and colleagues found there is a need to start with some explanation about what data is and how people use it. There are many potential approaches to introducing the topic such as having guest speakers come to explain how they make use of data and data visualization. 

Suggested sample activity

One activity that would fit here is to have students create their own demonstrations. In the case of tax data, students could do a google search for tax data and limit to images. This search will yield lots of material to work on. The idea is to have students find out who created the visualization and what the story behind the visualization is. If this is done for evaluation purposes, I recommend a pass/fail approach because student success will depend a lot on which images are selected. Being there to hear the findings of all the students is sufficient for this learning exercise. A teacher in an area where computers are not readily available could bring in copies of materials to work with. This introductory phase may be more relevant for some student groups than others, for example university students. If this doesn’t seem to fit, you could skip this stage. 

Investigation, Thematisation & Problematisation

Two key points to keep in mind in these 3 phases: 1) the core focus should be lived experience not imparting abstract knowledge and 2) teaching involves helping people seek and find answers. This is important because in teaching data literacy one might be tempted by starting with the data, teaching people how to understand and work with data. Keynote speaker Gwen Phillips (and BC First Nations data activist) at the Data Power 2017 provided a brilliant example of why not to start with the data: the existing data might not be what is wanted at all. As Gwen said, we should measure what do want (e.g. youth vitality) not just what we don't want (e.g. teen suicide). This introduces a challenge to develop new metrics, but one that seems worthy of pursuit. If we start by teaching about existing data we risk missing the opportunity to identify gaps like this.

Disclosure: in understanding the following 3 phases, it may be helpful to know that although I teach at a university and am very engaged in pedagogy, I do not have an education degree and do not consider myself an expert on pedagogy. If you would like to know more about how to teach in the Freire tradition, I suggest starting with the Tygel references below and if desired supplementing with general educational books and articles covering the Freire tradition. My contributions below are limited to providing a very quick introduction and making the connection with critical data literacy.


The investigation phase is the first of 3 phases that follow the Freire tradition. The idea is to begin with lived experience, with real-world problems. If this approach is used for self-teaching by community groups independently or with an academic consultant as a participatory action research project, this is closest to the classic Freire scenario and the best example of a pure investigation stage. To modify this for an education setting, students could either choose problems or issues of direct interest to them, for example student debt, or they might brainstorm a particular target group whose problems they are familiar with such as First Nations, a salient issue here in Canada as many of us struggle to implement the recommendations of our Truth & Reconciliation commission. Classroom activities could include a brainstorm session, individual or small group reflection, and/or presentation of the results of the investigation stage.

Thematisation is the first analytic stage. Before searching for what data is available, the idea is to focus on the real-world issue and figure out what kind of data might help to understand or resolve the issue. Examples based on today’s case studies on taxation and health spending could include learning what sorts of taxes are collected and by which governments, or comparing public collective health spending with individual spending.

After thematisation, with some back-and-forth, comes problematisation. This is where we get into research on what kinds of data actually exist that is relevant to the problem, who collects the data and why. Some examples of the types of data sources students might look into at this point if they choose to focus on taxation and spending:
  • Canada Revenue Agency
  • OECD
  • Federation and provincial budgets
  • Academic Research 
  • NGO / Think Tank research (e.g. Fraser Institute and Broadbent Institute) 
One question that might be raised is whether the existing data is actually sufficient or not, that is, the scope of the inquiry is not focused just on understanding what data is available. but rather what is needed to understand and resolve the problem of interest. 

Finally, in the systematization stage we put what we have together to come up with an action plan. The nature of the action plan might vary quite a bit depending on the students. An activist community group might want to develop an action campaign or an infographic or other data story to facilitate an existing action campaign. One approach to action could involve citizen data collection. In a graduate class on information policy, like the classes that I teach at the University of Ottawa's School of Information Studies, developing a policy briefing and recommendations for evaluation as academic work might make sense. 


Fraser Institute (n.d.). Tax freedom day calculator. Retrieved June 9, 2017 from
Grey, J., Bounegru, L., & Chambers, L. (2012). Data Journalism Handbook. OKFN. (as cited in Tygel & Kirsch 2016)
Kaulfuss, R. (2017). Health care: human right or expensive entitlement? Beyond economics. Retrieved June 15, 2017 from
OECD (2017), Tax revenue (indicator). doi: 10.1787/d98b8cf5-en (Accessed on 15 June 2017)
Shillington, R. & Shaban, R. (2017). The brass tax: busting myths about overtaxed Canadians. Ottawa: Broadbent Institute. Retrieved June 9, 2017 from

Tygel, A.; Campos, M.; De Alvear, C. (2015). Teaching open data for social movements: a research strategy. The Journal of Community Informatics 11:3. Retrieved June 19, 2017 from
Tygel, A.; Kirsch, R. (2016). Contributions of Paulo Freire for a critical data literacy: a popular education approach. The Journal of Community Informatics 12:3 pp. 108 – 121. Retrieved June 19, 2017 from
Wikipedia (n.d.). Healthcare in Canada. Retrieved June 15, 2017 from 

Terms:  Please copy and share with love.

What does this mean? In brief, I have no interest in using intellectual property law to prevent anyone from using or re-using my work with intentions such as furthering the collective knowledge of humanity (truth with justice and compassion), protecting or restoring the environment or making the conditions of life of humanity better. That is what I mean by with love. If your motives in using my work are something other than love, such as making a profit for yourself or a corporation that you work for, subverting truth, justice, or compassion, then note that I reserve all rights under copyright. Please use attribution as appropriate. For example, if you use my work in an academic or journalist context, you need to acknowledge me as author in order to avoid plagiarism (and confusion).

This post is part of the Creative Globalization series