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All  of you who are on our Datassist monthly Resource List just received information from us about an amazing step forward for bridging the data divide.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that in January 2017 the researchers it funds will be required to publish, in whole or in part, only in immediate open-access journals. This means that papers are to be free for anyone to read immediately upon publication. Articles must also be published with a Creative Commons Attribution-only license that allows anyone to freely reuse and distribute the material.

Foundation grantees can now publish in subscription-based journals as long as their paper is freely available within 12 months. Currently about 30% of the approximately 1,400 research papers (resulting from ~ $900 million annually spent by the foundation on global health) are published in open-access journals.

In the foundation’s 2014 Annual Report, using statistics, Bill Gates dispels the myth that progress hasn’t been made, that aid hasn’t helped. He explains how data and sound performance measures show that, over the past 50 years, people have become far better off in terms of health and income. These results are the result of aid generosity, which, among other project goals, funds the development of and sharing of data. This data not only measures performance, but provides quantified measures for decision-making within the scope of the research and development programs, and better understand the real-world benefits and risks sooner.

In a November 20, 2014, article on the foundation website, Trevor Mundel (President of Global Health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who leads the foundation’s efforts in research and development of health solutions) emphasized that sharing information can accelerate global health. He stated that, for this reason, the foundation is committed to, “collection and sharing of data so other scientists and health experts can benefit from this knowledge.”  The foundation joins, “a growing open access movement that includes the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health, the Wellcome Trust, and the Research Councils UK. Many prestigious peer-reviewed journals have also started adopting services that support open access.”

This direction is not new to the foundation, yet this 2017 policy goes beyond their 2011 initiatives to free up access to research and data. In April 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Data Access Program was launched. One of the goals of their Global Access Policy was, and is, to facilitate the broad and prompt dissemination of data and information to the scientific community.

The 2011 FAQ document explained that the foundation at that time was increasing the emphasis it placed on ensuring access, not only to the publications, but also to the data itself. As stated in the FAQ document, “The foundation is committed to global access to the outputs of the activities it funds to ensure that these generate the fullest possible public health benefits. These outputs include data, which, if more accessible, are more likely to lead to innovation, analysis, and insight above and beyond that of the individuals or institutions initially funded to gather it – thereby enhancing our overall prospects for saving lives and improving health.”

This recent development means that a very large amount of data that is collected in developing countries will be released from proprietary silos and become available to other non-profits, data journalists, policy makers and investors. This is a game-changing move from one of the globe’s largest funders.

For a hands-on view, check out one of our projects with CARE and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

And be sure to sign up right now, to receive our monthly Datassist Resource List — stay up to date on how to access this Gates Foundation data as it becomes available, along with other current data science tools and information.

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