Making information available

Making information freely available

Here are some approaches for making information more readily available.

No copyright

Some organizations (often, but not always, NGOs) explicitly do not copyright their materials in the hope that others will translate and adapt it. An example is the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, which has an excellent series of manuals on sustainable agriculture and natural resources conservation.

One way of making material available but restricting certain rights is to use one of the Creative Commons licenses.


Another approach is to produce books and give them away to certain people and organizations. CTA does this for agriculture in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Commercial publication

Many organizations publish their own books and manuals and distribute them free (or sell them themselves). That means that they have to cover all the preparation and printing costs, and then have pay for marketing and distribution too (often more expensive than the printing). The result is short print-runs, poorly marketed and distributed to relatively few people.

An alternative is to work with a commercial publisher. The publisher takes on the entrepreneurial risk of printing and marketing the book, and in return takes any of the profits. Unless you have a guaranteed best-seller, the publisher is unlikely to pay you for the rights to the book. Publishing can make you famous, but probably won't make you rich. You can negotiate for:

  • Royalties on each copy sold (if you insist on this, it may push up the price of the book).
  • A certain number of 'free' copies, which you may have to 'buy back' from the publisher at a discount.
  • Rights to sell the book in certain countries (eg, the developing world).
  • The copyright (enabling you to republish the book later or put it into a different form, such as a CD-ROM).
  • Translation rights (so you can translate the book into another language)

Development-oriented publishers who may be interested in such arrangements include Practical Action Publications (in the UK) and LM Publishers (in the Netherlands).


The International Rice Research Institute and various other CGIAR international agricultural research centres encourage co-publication and translation of their materials, and design many of their publications to ease the adaptation into local languages. Contact Gene Hettel at IRRI for details.

Putting information on the Internet makes it available to anyone with a computer, a reasonably fast modem, the skills to use it, and of course electricity and a phone line. While internet-capable computers are spreading fast, they're rare in many countries, and rarer still in remote areas. Even if the technology is available, there's still the problem of giving people access, and training them how to use the equipment and search for information. And not least, many people can't speak English, the language of the Net. To be fair, that's a problem with many of the other approaches on this page, too.

Compact disks

DVDs and CD-ROMs can hold enormous amounts of text, in a searchable and editable format. Probably the best example of development-related material on CD-ROM is the Humanity CD-ROM: more than 1200 publications (books, reports, magazines) in a browser-driven format, on a whole range of development topics, available for around $10 in developing countries. The original publishers gave permission to scan in their publications, including the pictures. It's worth buying a computer just so you can use this one CD-ROM.


It may not be enough just to republish existing material. It often needs to be rewritten or adapted for local use, converted from academic jargon to easy-to-understand language, or generated from local experience. This is often best done through a writeshop that includes both experts (scientists, indigenous specialists) and members of the intended audience.

Mass media

Rather than do it all yourself, work with the mass media to get your message out. Get to know reporters and editors of radio, TV, newspapers and magazines. Give them briefing materials and press releases. Arrange visits for them to interesting sites, and make sure they have a 'news peg' to hang their story on (an award, a human-interest success story, or whatever). Introduce them to experts who can talk about the topic: an expert may be a scientist or a farmer, not just the boss. A newspaper story can reach 100,000s of people; a radio or TV story can reach millions.

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