Can Open Access pay the bills?

24th October 2019

For over 20 years, Eldis has provided free access to relevant, up-to-date and diverse research on global development issues. The Eldis database now includes summaries and links to over 60,000 full-text research and policy documents from a growing global network of several thousand research organisations and networks.  

Open Access has always been at the core of our values but through our long engagement in this area we are also well aware that Open Access isn’t free. For smaller research organisations, the costs required to build the technical capacity and maintain the systems required to adopt open access publishing methods can be difficult to meet. This in turn means that they might not benefit from the increased visibility and reach for their ideas that open access approaches potentially offer.  

For this reason, a large part of what we do has revolved around supporting smaller research producers to make their knowledge, visible and accessible to audiences online. 

But Eldis currently receives no core funding from any donors so continuing this support, maintaining our collection online, and keeping our services free for users, is a constant challenge for us too.  

Our solution is to offer bespoke, cost-effective products, alongside our free services, designed to help research projects and programmes to introduce their knowledge and evidence to the broad global audience of development practitioners, decision-makers and researchers that we have established over the years. 

This kind of hybrid model is common in other parts of the “Open” sector – open source software products, for example, are often maintained by selling licenses for proprietary spin-offs. 

It’s a compromise position that we’d rather not have to take (if you’re a billionaire benefactor looking for a good cause do get in touch!) but, in the current funding environment, it works well for us. By buying these products programmes can bring their research to an audience that is already established, engaged and contactable through Eldis’s social media channels (Twitter and Facebook) and newsletter. And in creating new content with us, projects and programmes are helping us to secure the future of the site, continue our support for smaller research producers globally and keep our services free for nearly 500,000 users in 228 countries worldwide. 

Key Issues Guides are a mixed media online resource that creates an engaging narrative, guiding users through a particular topic. The Guides highlight recommended reading and related content to encourage users to delve further into the issues and build a more detailed and informed picture.  

The Guides particularly target non-academic development professionals working in the formulation of good policy and project design. To create Guides, Eldis has worked with networks, programmes and projects such as Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South AsiaThe Impact Initiative and Health Systems Global

In turn, Collections can be used to provide more comprehensive access to research content relating to a particular network, project or programme, for example, the International Centre for Tax and Development’s Ethiopian Tax Research Network Library

If you are interested in highlighting your research on Eldis, please get in touch with Alan Stanley ( and Alice Webb (  

Photo credit: Mato Grosso, Brazil | Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0