This post notes some reflections from a recent meeting of the Community of Practice of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) / University of Guelph's Knowledge Translation and Transfer (KTT) group. My role in this group is that of open access consultant. The OMAFRA / KTT group is doing some very interesting work in the area of developing intellectual property practices to support innovation, including both open access and patenting. Researchers include academics and also grower groups.
One of the projects involves growing the Ontario vegetable crop research repository in the University of Guelph's ATRIUM repository. The University of Guelph's Ridgetown Campus produces a lot of agricultural research, some of which has world level impact, particularly in the area of pesticide management for control of fusarium in corn which is published in the scientific literature. Many other research findings, however, remain in unpublished research reports stuck in filing cabinets. If these reports were digitized and made available through ATRIUM, the research would be useful to many people - including Ministry staff for developing policy and local farmers and gardeners wondering whether to use black plastic on their strawberries.
One of the challenges to developing the repository is dealing with rights issues. Much of this research is owned by growers' groups, who conducted the research for their own community. As agricultural entrepreneurs, the growers will want to retain an edge for competition and so are likely to want to retain commercial rights. Similarly, faculty members at Guelph own their own IP and may want to retain the rights for commercialization when applicable. Strategies to address these issues could include such tactics as defensive publishing.
My thoughts so far as shared in the meeting:
Engaging the growers' groups in open access is a strategy that I would highly recommend in this situation. Don't just ask for the license to their works, rather do some workshops or provide information to link people to some of the many open access resources that are already available to them. A message of people everywhere are sharing their work; won't you join us? strikes me as a message that is a little bit easier to listen to than won't you share your work? Include open access peer-reviewed journals on agriculture, of course - but don't neglect to mention some of the high-quality magazines written largely by people similar to the growers' groups, such as BC Grasslands. Focus on agriculture for sure, but not necessarily just agriculture - farmers and their families are people too, and are as likely as anyone to benefit from all the freely available health information or enjoy the many free texts, movies, and music available from the Internet Archive. Flickr can be a good resource for developing marketing materials, and open government resources can be useful, too.
One challenge for farmers in this area is that many still rely on dial-up access. This suggests to me another avenue for illustrating the benefits of open approaches. It can be difficult for people in rural communities to get the rest of us to pay attention to their issues (such as lack of broadband) and hence to gain political support. This is one area where the internet creates the possibility for a more level playing field; a rural newspaper can create an online presence with the same potential audience as an urban newspaper, and rural individuals, families and community groups can similarly create an online presence with the same potential impact as urban people.
Some potential venues for information sharing include practioners' peer-reviewed journals using tools such as Open Journal Systems - although the growers' groups might be more interested in using social networking tools like ning.
Our Community of Practice is just getting started! Watch for further posts on this topic.