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Discussion paper

This paper discusses the ways in which the internet has profoundly changed how we produce, use and collect research and information for public policy and practice, particularly focusing on the benefits and challenges presented by grey literature. The authors argue that grey literature (i.e. material produced and published by organisations  without recourse to the commercial or scholarly publishing industry) is a key part of the evidence produced and used for public policy and practice. Through surveys of users, producing organisations and collecting services a detailed picture is provided of the role, importance and economic value of grey literature. However, finding and accessing policy information is a time-consuming task made harder by poor production and management of resources and a lack of large-scale collection services able to host and make available  relevant, high-quality resources quickly and efficiently. The paper makes recommendations for changes that would maximise the benefits of grey literature in the public interest and seeks feedback from readers to inform the final report of the research project.

Public policy work increasingly relies on a wide range of resources — some are traditional scholarly publications, but the majority are ‘grey literature’. Reports, discussion papers, briefings, reviews and data sets produced by government, academic centres, NGOs, think tanks and companies are heavily used and highly valued in policy and practice work, forming a key part of the evidence base.

The huge amount of information and research published online provides unprecedented access to knowledge, from a wide range of sources, enabling a much greater level of understanding and participation in public interest issues. It also brings a number of challenges: searching, sifting, evaluating and accessing information and research are time-consuming and often frustrating tasks occupying a large portion of the work hours of those engaged in policy work.

Online publishing also creates a new paradigm for those whose task it is to support policy and practice work through effective resource provision and information management. As a result, digital curation of policy resources, particularly grey literature, is dispersed and fragmented, creating a digital black hole of resources that are lost from online access over time.

The aim of the Grey Literature Strategies research project is to investigate grey literature’s role and importance in policy work and find ways to enhance its value. A key method used was online surveys of producers, users, and collectors of information and research for policy and practice, conducted during 2013.

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