Corporate Social Responsibility

Improving Lives Around the World through Easier Access to Knowledge

Corporate Social Responsibility

Improving Lives Around the World through Easier Access to Knowledge

Research4Life empowers universities, colleges, research institutes and government ministries, as well as non-governmental agencies and hospitals, with free or low-cost access to scholarly, professional research and peer-reviewed content at a level never before imagined, much less achieved. The publications include subscription-based and open access resources. The program’s intent is to reduce the knowledge gap that exists between high-income and low- and middle-income countries.

The origins of Research4Life date to 2000, when it was becoming increasingly clear that doctors, academics and students in most of the world’s poorest countries were suffering from a severe lack of access to up-to-date information in biomedicine. Most university libraries and research organizations in low-income countries did not have the budgets to pay for important peer-reviewed journals. This severely hampered the delivery of health care, as well as essential research into medicine and disease.

Research4Life empowers universities, colleges, research institutes and government ministries, as well as non-governmental agencies and hospitals, with free or low-cost access to scholarly, professional research and peer-reviewed content at a level never before imagined, much less achieved. The publications include subscription-based and open access resources. The program’s intent is to reduce the knowledge gap that exists between high-income and low- and middle-income countries.

The origins of Research4Life date to 2000, when it was becoming increasingly clear that doctors, academics and students in most of the world’s poorest countries were suffering from a severe lack of access to up-to-date information in biomedicine. Most university libraries and research organizations in low-income countries did not have the budgets to pay for important peer-reviewed journals. This severely hampered the delivery of health care, as well as essential research into medicine and disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) teamed up with six of the largest international scientific publishers to explore ways of closing this critical information gap. That led to the birth of Hinari, a public–private partnership designed to provide those working in institutions in the world’s poorest countries with this essential access.

Over the next decade, other UN agencies with WHO’s support launched similar programmes: FAO for Research in Agriculture (AGORA); UNEP for Research in the Environment (OARE); WIPO for Research for Development and Innovation (ARDI); and ILO for Research for Global Justice (GOALI) – eventually uniting them under the Research4Life initiative.

Since 2002, Research4Life has provided researchers at more than 8,900 institutions in more than 120 low- and middle-income countries with free or low-cost online access to up to 90,000 leading journals and books in the fields of health, agriculture, environment, applied sciences, and law.

THE KNOWLEDGE GAP

Historically, researchers, policy-makers, practitioners, students and teachers working in lower income countries couldn’t access up-to date scientific information. A lack of funding or insufficient technology infrastructure often left a substantial knowledge gap between those working for the more affluent countries and their less well-resourced peers in poorer countries.

Also, in today’s digital world, educators, researchers and government ministries rely on the internet to communicate and collaborate with their peers around the world. The ability to share findings, teach, practice or effectively develop public policy in these poorer countries can be severely hampered by the lack of access caused by funding or technology challenges – and often, both.

One glaring example is the availability of subscription-based journals, the largest source of high-quality scientific information. It is often beyond the reach of educators and researchers in low- and middle-income countries. Too frequently, these critical resources have been extremely cost-prohibitive for libraries and research organizations in those countries.

Until Research4Life opened the gates to this knowledge nirvana, only institutions with the budget wherewithal to afford paid entry to these resources could benefit from them. That left researchers and educators in lower-income countries on the outside looking in. Research4Life’s publishing partners also faced challenges in providing access, according to Barbara Aronson, the WHO librarian who launched Hinari in 2001.

The goal of Research4Life is to reduce the knowledge gap between high-income countries and low- and middle-income countries by providing affordable access to scholarly, professional and research information.

Research4Life is a public-private partnership of:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO); The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) and International Labour Organization (ILO); The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
  • Cornell and Yale Universities
  • The International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM)
  • 155 international publishers

“What was missing was a structure to allow the distribution of content for free or at reduced costs, without our publishing partners taking on the burden of guaranteeing the information was only going to the intended Research4Life partners,” said Aronson. “We needed to make it easy for new users of all sizes of institutions to join, and at the same time use modern authentication solutions to protect publishers who were willing to give away this information to those most in need in lower-income countries.”

Safeguarding that intellectual property is critical – the total value of access granted to those resources is estimated to be in excess of $10 million annually, according to Research4Life’s 2020 Strategic Plan. Meanwhile, the world of information continues to evolve, constantly presenting additional technical challenges, as noted by Gerard Cheng, co-chair of the Research4Life Technology Team.

“The information world hasn’t stood still while Research4Life worked to ensure viable access to publisher literature in these lower income countries,” Cheng said. “There are significantly more sophisticated and complex publication websites that stretch traditional proxy environments to the limit, and an increasingly prevalent use of mobile devices and smartphones even in lower income countries around the world.

We needed to make it easy
for new users of all sizes

of institutions to join, and at the same time use modern authentication solutions to protect publishers who were willing to give away this information to those most in need in lower-income countries

We needed to make it easy
for new users of all sizes

of institutions to join, and at the same time use modern authentication solutions to protect publishers who were willing to give away this information to those most in need in lower-income countries

“Also, there is a growing use of SAML Single Sign-On (SSO) and federated authentication, so it is important to understand how well or how badly those solutions would work with our discovery tools. Then you have the transition to the IPv6 communications protocol and serious security concerns presented by spammers, phishers, spoofers, and the other malicious nuisances on the internet. “Both our end users and publishers need to be shielded from this increasingly complex and challenging authentication environment.”

Research4Life turned to PortSys to help manage the complex trade-off between simple seamless access and strong security. With Total Access Control (TAC), Research4Life has the benefits of a single, scalable solution that manages access across all programmes and makes the lives of end users around the world easier.

Since 2002, the five programmes of Research4Life have provided researchers at more than 8900 institutions in more than 120 low- and middle-income countries with free or low-cost online access to up to 90,000 leading journals andbooks in the fields of health, agriculture, environment, applied sciences and legal information.

Since 2002, the five programmes of Research4Life have provided researchers at more than 8900 institutions in more than 120 low- and middle-income countries with free or low-cost online access to up to 90,000 leading journals andbooks in the fields of health, agriculture, environment, applied sciences and legal information.

Research4Life’s programmes include:

Since 2002, the five programmes of Research4Life have provided researchers at more than 8900 institutions in more than 120 low- and middle-income countries with free or low-cost online access to up to 90,000 leading journals andbooks in the fields of health, agriculture, environment, applied sciences and legal information.

Since 2002, the five programmes of Research4Life have provided researchers at more than 8900 institutions in more than 120 low- and middle-income countries with free or low-cost online access to up to 90,000 leading journals andbooks in the fields of health, agriculture, environment, applied sciences and legal information.

Research4Life’s programmes include:

MUCH MORE VIABLE AND RELIABLE

Lenny Rhine, Ph.D, is the coordinator of the E-Library Training Initiative, a Librarians without Borders®/Medical Library Association project funded by the Elsevier Foundation since 2007 and part of Research4Life. Rhine conducts workshops and develops and updates training material for Hinari, which provides access to 15,000 health journals, 47,000 eBooks, and 100 other resources to institutions in lower-income countries. He also updates training material for AGORA, OARE and ARDI. Rhine said the SSO authentication that PortSys implemented for Research4Life is the most significant technological change he’s experienced in the last five years of working with the programmes.

“End user access became much more viable and reliable with the new authentication using SSO,” he said. “Before, when the SSO option regularly broke down, people could often only see abstracts of articles when they would use PubMed or Research4Life’s Summon Search tool, even though they should have had access to the full article if SSO had worked properly. Also, the previous authentication solution couldn’t accommodate the HTTPS protocol, which is the best way to search because more and more publishers are switching their platform access to those encrypted websites. Now, Research4Life users can access the full text without thinking they have to pay for that content because SSO failed.”

The streamlined access created through TAC enabled Dr. Rhine to significantly change his training programmes and make them more valuable to end users. Now, he focuses less on teaching attendees the cumbersome workarounds to gain access or how to install patches. Instead, he spends most of his time showing them how to get the most tangible value out of Research4Life’s programmes.

“In three or four days of training, I can now cover evidence-based medicine, search strategies, eBook resources, and authorship skills – instead of spending valuable time discussing how to work around access issues or waiting to log in to our different programmes during a live demonstration,” said Dr. Rhine. “Also, TAC is more mobile-friendly, which is important when so many of our users’ locations are remote from wired Internet availability, and yet they may have good data plans on their phones.”

“Now if they need to research an evidence-based medicine issue, they can access PubMed or Cochrane’s evidence-based medicine library right on their smartphones. That helps to greatly expand the use of Research4Life’s resources across all of our programmes.”

THE STUDENTS ARE NOW THE TEACHERS

Kimberly Parker, Chair of the Research4Life Executive Council, proudly talks about the importance of the longevity of the programme. Research4Life is now seeing a second generation of users – those who first accessed the resources as students are now teachers, sharing with their own students the rich evidence and information available through the five programmes under the initiative. “Not many programmes remain active – and growing! – that long,” Parker said.

In Nepal, Chandra Bhushan Yadav, the library/ information officer at the Nepal Health Research Council, travels around the country to provide training on Research4Life to librarians, students, physicians and nurses in hospitals and academic settings. His class sizes can range from one or two people to as many as 20 attendees. Although his training programme initially focused on Hinari’s resources, especially those provided by Elsevier and PubMed, Bhushan said users now also benefit from information they are finding through training he provides on the AGORA programme as well.

“I have a great deal of optimism about how we can use the technology, research and databases through Research4Life to transform the quality of life in Nepal,” Bhushan said. “I believe in the betterment of society through research, so I am eager to continue to teach our students, healthcare workers, researchers and academics on how to get the maximum value out of these wonderful knowledge resources.”

Edda Tandi Lwoga, Ph.D., is an associate professor at the Muhumbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Tanzania, where she teaches information literacy, e-learning, and Web 2.0 technologies. Lwoga is Tanzania’s contact for Digital Access to Research for the United Nations’ Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries.

In that role last year, she trained more than 100 researchers across the country on Research4Life’s programmes. She has also trained lecturers, technical personnel and librarians on Research4Life at universities and colleges throughout Tanzania.

“One of my top goals is to improve information literacy in Tanzania, and the five programmes offered through Research4Life were ideally suited to meet this challenge,” said Lwoga. “The availability of these knowledgebases and the ease of use of the digital resources has had a tremendous impact on me and the people who have gone through my training across Tanzania.”

Lwoga credits TAC’s SSO authentication capabilities with making it easier for users to remember and recover their credentials without having to maintain different user names and passwords for each of Research4Life’s five programmes. Another challenge was internet bandwidth, which is slow in some of the more remote locations where Dr. Lwoga conducts training sessions.

“If attendees were in the Hinari programme and they needed to access resources in the AGORA programme, it took a long time with the slow bandwidth – they had to log out of Hinari and log in to AGORA using a different username and password,” said Lwoga. “Often it required clearing their cache or opening a separate incognito tab in the browser. With SSO, the same credentials work across all five programmes. We can focus more on the specifics of searching to get the most value out of the programmes, instead of spending so much time on technical issues that are hard for many of my older students to absorb.”

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

Higher education, the work of practitioners, and public policy decisions all continue to benefit from Research4Life’s efforts to provide free or low-cost access to scientific research across its programmes. This is especially true for higher education, which is at the forefront of developing emerging ideas and philosophies around the world that offer significant potential to improve the quality of life in low- and middle-income countries. Also, the availability of up-to-date knowledge resources tremendously enhances the ability to train the next generation of leaders across both the public and private sectors in these countries.

Andrea Powell, Outreach Director for The International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM), recognizes that Research4Life’s value is its flexibility.

“Our unique approach to collaboration ensures very tiny non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have the same level of access to information through our programmes as the large universities, government offices, research institutions, teaching hospitals, and agricultural extension centers,” said Powell. “That balanced approach helps encourage our publishing partners to collaborate and offer their content through Research4Life. With that kind of scale, the synergistic impact of Research4Life creates the potential to transform development and improve the quality of life in lower-income countries around the world.”

Partially because of the efforts of Research4Life, research conducted by not-for-profit institutions in lower-income countries continues to reap greater appreciation through collaboration within the greater global research community. Research4Life has had a tremendous impact on improving not only the quality of the rigorous research being conducted on the ground in these countries, but also on increasing the overall capacity of the findings being generated, as Powell cited in feedback from a registered Research4Life university in Cambodia.

“I have seen that the programmes will be very useful and beneficial to all of the students in the university, faculty members, and others,” the local university partner wrote. “Research4Life is the best way of building knowledge for young Cambodian students who are the main resources for the development of this war-torn and poverty-stricken nation.”

Partially because of the efforts of Research4Life, research conducted by not-for-profit institutions in lower-income countries continues to reap greater appreciation through collaboration within the greater global research community. Research4Life has had a tremendous impact on improving not only the quality of the rigorous research being conducted on the ground in these countries, but also on increasing the overall capacity of the findings being generated, as Powell cited in feedback from a registered Research4Life university in Cambodia.

“I have seen that the programmes will be very useful and beneficial to all of the students in the university, faculty members, and others,” the local university partner wrote. “Research4Life is the best way of building knowledge for young Cambodian students who are the main resources for the development of this war-torn and poverty-stricken nation.”

PortSys CEO and President Michael Oldham said the company looks forward to working closely with Research4Life in the future to further its mission around the world. “PortSys is proud to be able to help serve hundreds of thousands of people around the world by providing easier access to critical resources through Research4Life’s programmes,” said Oldham. “This impressive global initiative is transforming the quality of life in low- to middle-income countries and we are thrilled to be a part of it.” Going forward, Powell said Research4Life is focusing on transforming the user experience to make it even easier and more seamless.

“We want to make it even easier for publishers to participate, by being able to accept data feeds from their platform interfaces similar to what they provide to regular paying customers in more developed countries,” said Powell. “We want to keep our eyes on both the ease of use and currency of experience for users, and the simplicity and ease of participation from the publisher partners. “Staying true to these original principles will help ensure that Research4Life stays vibrant and relevant, and continues to improve the quality of life in low and middle-income countries around the world.”

data sheet

Improving Lives Around the World
through Easier Access to Knowledge

Improving Lives Around
the World through Easier Access to Knowledge