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Grey literature in Australian education

Gerald White discusses the need to better organise the proliferation of non-commercially published reports and documents of particular importance in the area of public policy.

The work of education and training in Australia is informed by reports, research, policies, white papers, discussions papers, inquiries, investigations, surveys, evaluations and guidelines undertaken by governments and educational agencies. Collectively known as ‘grey literature’, some of this information is never commercially published.

Although these resources may be readily located at their time of publication, some may fall into obscurity over time because they have not been catalogued or preserved. The websites that host grey literature are inherently unpredictable, with URLs subject to change over time.

Unlike commercially published materials, grey literature typically does not go through a rigorous quality control and production cycle before being made available to its intended audience, raising a number of practical issues, especially for educators who seek evidence for supporting national projects of innovation, change and improvement.

Grey literature may also be undated, the author not known and the body taking responsibility for the document obscure. Given such issues of accessibility, reliability and quality, the usefulness of grey literature has often been questioned.

Nevertheless, as internet usage increases, so too will the production of grey literature addressing educational change and innovation. As such, there is a need to ensure grey literature can be readily located, accessed and retrieved from an organised source that has the capacity to manage and preserve electronic resources.

A collaborative research project is currently investigating best practice guidelines for producing and managing grey literature in Australia in order to realise its benefits and use in public interest research. Issues that are foremost for the project are the collection and management of research and reports produced by non-commercial bodies such as governments and research organisations.

Funded by an Australian Research Council linkage grant, the Grey Literature Strategies project is a partnership between ACER, Swinburne University of Technology, Victoria University, the National Library of Australia, the National and State Libraries Australasia and the Eidos Institute.

The aims of the Grey Literature Strategies project are to:

  • define the role and value of grey literature and establish ways in which its impact can be measured and evaluated;
  • improve the way grey literature is produced and published in Australia in order to maximise its quality, use and impact;
  • improve the access, retrieval and preservation of grey literature by collecting institutions, universities and other organisations, and;
  • build collaborative networks across sectors that are active in producing or managing policy-oriented grey literature in order to build capacity for shared administration and technological development.

In order to explore these opportunities and challenges the Grey Literature Strategies project in October 2012 convened Australia’s first national grey literature conference. Following the success of the inaugural conference, a second national conference will take place in November 2013.

The increasing proportion of grey literature emanating from education and training innovations and research, although important, remains obscure and difficult to access, is of mixed value and is used in limited ways. However, major national projects have compounded these characteristics through a lack of attention to archiving and systemic preservation, contributing to the loss of an important body of material on which education could build and advance.

The importance of grey literature in education and training cannot be underestimated. As the take up of digital technologies in education escalates, there is an expectation that the use of digital publishing by educators and for educators will increase and have an impact on online professional learning and awareness of educational research and practice. ■

Further information:
This article is based on a paper presented at the International Grey Literature 14 Conference in Rome in late 2012 that was subsequently published in The Grey Journal in August 2013. The full paper can be accessed from the ACER Research Repository.

RD

About the author

Dr Gerald White is a former ACER Principal Research Fellow. 

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