How Free is Free?

Open Repositories for the Social Sector

Open Knowledge

May 04, 2016

In celebration of Open Access week, IssueLab shared a number of posts about why, and how, the social sector can be more open about what it’s learning. The full set of posts can be viewed on, but we believe this one about open repositories is worth sharing again as we launch the new and improved version of IssueLab’s own open repository.

Open access isn’t just about open licensing, it’s also about ensuring that the work can be freely and immediately obtained online, without barriers such as subscription fees or institutional paywalls. In order to effectively share the knowledge our organizations fund and produce, we have to make it possible for them to find it in the first place!

Back in 2001, the Open Society Institute (now the Open Society Foundations) convened a meeting in Budapest, Hungary to discuss the potential of the internet to revolutionize the sharing of scientific and scholarly literature. This meeting — the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) — first articulated the idea of “open access”:

“By ‘open access’ to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”
— Budapest Open Access Initiative

In order to achieve open access, one of the strategies that BOAI recommended was self-archiving, or depositing journal articles in “open electronic archives.” The scientific research community responded and today we see open repositories and publishing platforms being used across both governmental and academic institutions, (PubMed and PLoS are just two examples). At IssueLab, we’re proud to follow in this tradition by collecting social sector literature — the reports, white papers, evaluations, case studies, and issue briefs produced by and for social changemakers — in a free, publicly available, digital archive and repository.

The fact that we are an open repository means a few really important things to both the producers of knowledge and to those who rely on this knowledge to further change.

Open archives and repositories, like IssueLab, allow for ongoing, free, and open access to publications and data — not just by human beings accessing websites but also by machines that can mine and share data between repositories. This interoperability, where one repository can harvest data from another, opens the door to exchanging and sharing knowledge across a distributed system of entry points that we as funders and producers may not even know about.

Posting a PDF on your website is a great start to sharing your work, but we are all probably familiar with what archivists call “link rot”: the inevitable broken links and 404 errors that result when, for example, content is moved around due to a website redesign. By contributing your work to an open repository like IssueLab, you are ensuring its long-term discoverability and accessibility — for free.

Imagine what we can learn when we bring together knowledge from different times, organizations, and fields of practice and we do it in a way that makes that knowledge easily accessible and easily shareable, by both humans and machines!

Hopefully by now you are intrigued enough by open repositories to learn more about how they fit into your open access strategy.

For more on open repositories, as well as other open publishing best practices for the social sector, see “Grey Matter(s): Embracing the Publisher Within,” written by Foundation Center’s Lisa Brooks and Gabriela Fitz, published in the Foundation Review in June 2015.