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Addressing the visibility of african research - 2012

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  • 1. LINKConnecting Commonwealth librarians Issue 16 August 2012 Visibility, access and impact
  • 2. Addressing the visibility ofAfrican research: towards anexpansive view of open accessHow can African universities find innovative ways to share their research to meet local papers, policy briefs and research reportsdevelopment needs, while still seeking global research recognition? Michelle (often generated in the course of consultancyWillmers and Henry Trotter discuss the work of the Scholarly Communication in work) remains invisible in the bibliometricsAfrica Programme, which seeks to address this challenge. and formal studies on scientific output, even though the ‘impact’ of these outputs may well exceed that of journal articles. Most of this he Scholarly Communication in Africa ultimate metric) and raises difficult questions research remains invisible to the globalT Programme (SCAP) engages the Univer-sities of Botswana, Cape Town, Mauritius, and in terms of which terrain the institutions are authentically engaged in. scholarly community, often not digitally- captured, archived or curated in any sense. It isNamibia in an action research process aimed at this wealth of research output – output whichincreasing the visibility of African research. How significant is African scholarship ‘lurks beneath the surface’– that the SCAPJointly hosted by the Centre for Educational in the global research arena? programme seeks to make visible. It does soTechnology and the Research Office at the The Worldmapper image (Figure 1) shows the through working with partner institutions toUniversity of Cape Town, the programme is proportional output of research papers in the articulate content-management strategies thatfunded by Canada’s International Development biosciences in 2001. The most striking aspect can service the need for exposing multipleResearch Centre. of it is that the large ‘landmass’ of Africa is forms of academic output which have never SCAP research is focused on understanding represented, metaphorically, as quite a tiny been systematically curated, managed, orthe current research communication practices ‘knowledge mass’. This image can be interr- made cohesively available to users.of academics from the participating univer- ogated from numerous perspectives in terms In order to interrogate the concept ofsities, and on exploring the concept of of global power dynamics and output regimes, impact, the programme has developed a‘impact’ as it relates to scholarly visibility. This but it also begs two questions. First, does research strand focusing on alternative metrics,means getting a sense not only of the Africa really make so marginal an impact on with the aim of speculating on methodologiesacademics’ research processes, but also academic scholarship? And second, what can for evaluating research impact in Africaninterrogating the value systems that different we do to expand the profile of African scholar- universities. This is linked to a cost-benefitstakeholders (university academics, managers, ship so that its impact is more commensurate analysis which aims to explicate costs aroundlibrarians, etc.) attach to scholarly comm- with its demographic and territorial size? new, open forms of scholarly communicationunication, and the reward and incentive The Worldmapper image is by now ten and make an argument around the efficacy andstructures that drive it. years old, but more recent studies show the impact of the open access approach. Within the SCAP study sites, the instit- proportion of African-published output in the The programme’s core research strands –utional mission statements of participating sciences remains consistently low. A UNESCO research communication practices, scholarlyuniversities reflect the strong desire for (2005) report1 indicates that Africa’s world research values, impact metrics, and theresearch to respond to socio-economic imper- share in publications has remained stable at costs/benefits of more open communicationatives. But, as of yet, these institutions have not around 1.4%, with 1% of that total generated processes – therefore exist in a dynamicbeen able to align their values (for, say, dev- in sub-Saharan Africa. The bibliometrics need relationship with each other, drawing on andelopment) with their rewards and incentives to be considered in relation to a number of informing the ‘implementation’ component ofstructures (which promote publication in ISI- contextual factors – such as R&D expenditure SCAP activity. These strands mesh with therated overseas journals). and dynamics around the ‘consultancy programme’s implementation under SCAP’s The issue of what we reward in the culture’2 in African research – but the question methodological framework – cultural histor-academic enterprise is a subject of global remains as to whether counting journal ical activity theory (CHAT). Through a seriesdebate, but it presents an acute challenge for articles is an appropriate measure for the of site visits, focus groups, seminars andAfrican universities striving to navigate the knowledge imperatives of the continent. change laboratory workshops, the researchtension between prestige and relevance. That The SCAP programme perspective is that process is focused on person-to-person inter-is: their quest, on the one hand, to produce the bibliometric count is not representative of actions in order to bring into focus the voicesscholarly outputs that earn the esteem of the broad range and large volume of import- and ambitions of academics in relation toacademics worldwide; and their desire, on the ant research work happening on the continent. institutional infrastructure, available technol-other hand, to produce research that is locally A lot of valuable African research – which has ogies, policy environment, and availableuseful. The notion of ‘impact’ in Africa has the potential to make a profound impact support structures.different implications than in other regions locally – is not captured in this ‘fisheye’ In this ‘ecosystem’ approach, SCAP treats(which often regard citation counts as the perspective. The vast number of conference every site as unique, with each having its own4 LINK August 2012
  • 3. © Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan) Figure 1: Worldmapper image depicting the global spread of journal output in biosciences3culture, histories and practices that must be infrastructure are central to this vision – as is our context by the impact of technologyunderstood before they can be stimulated open access. disrupting traditional research and teachingproductively. Our approach is that there is no If the ambition is to have a map or image silos) poses significant questions about thesingle open access solution, no standardised which does justice to and reflects the wealth role/identity of content repositories and ontechnological intervention that will improve a of African research output, we require the open access model at work.system. The sheer complexity of a scholarly mechanisms that can make that content openly The current global open access ‘strategycommunication ecosystem calls for a judicious available; if not in full text, then at least in wars’ appear to focus largely on delivery ofengagement with academic research practices, metadata. Additionally, it requires that we look content via journals, with much of theadministrative processes and institutional at mechanisms for sharing research content – conversation revolving around the distinctioncapacity constraints, for it is within these or rather ‘objects’ – other than just journal between Green and Gold route deliverycomplicated – and often misaligned – struct- articles. This is in line with the rapidly evolving strategies. This poses a conundrum for theures that a technological intervention must be semantic publication models, as well as Africa’s SCAP approach, which advocates sharing aembedded. development imperative which requires broad range of scholarly outputs for the digestible, empirical research that is focused purpose of societal impact. What is the open “What does this mean for our vision on real-world solutions to real-world problems. access model for sharing scholarship inof open access? This expansive approach of sharing mult- formats other than journal articles? How doOne of the ways in which SCAP is dealing with iple content types (influenced additionally in we facilitate and incentivise the production ofthese visibility challenges is to promote a good quality development-impact research?strategic, professionalised approach to content The open access strategy wars playing outmanagement and curation as core enterprises The issue of what we in the Global North appear to be precipitatedfor African universities. This is crucial for to a large extent by speculation around all-competitive reasons – and rankings – but also reward in the academic ocation of government or European Unionin terms of staying abreast of the evolving e- funding, which has spurred publishers, acad-research innovations that can improve research enterprise is a subject of emics and institutions to organise themselvesand administrative productivity. global debate, but it so that they are eligible for these revenue Communication is at the heart of the Web streams. While numerous African countries2.0-driven research environment. In approach- presents an acute have made progress in charting open accessing pilot implementation activity, SCAP strategies, the policy space is nascent in challenge for Africanpromotes the perspective in which the designof e-infrastructure and processes for sharingor profiling content (such as repositorydevelopment) falls squarely within the domainof wider-scale research management. Webelieve that the automation of processes andthe interoperability of platforms and e- “ universities striving to navigate the tension between prestige and relevance. comparison. There is also a sense that the prospects for open access in Africa will remain limited until governments open the space for dialogue on realistic business models for covering the costs entailed. As economies in the North set the agenda around open access and articulate revenue August 2012 LINK 5
  • 4. streams based on relatively large coffers forresearch expenditure, it raises the question ofwhat this means for the African content-sharing agenda. Large amounts of research in RSS mashups:Africa takes place under the aegis of inter-national research funding, so there is littledoubt that systems and protocols around open a tool for automaticaccess will filter into the local researchenvironment; but what does this mean for theAfrican scholarly communication agenda? delivery of content Without the funding incentives being usedin the North as ‘carrots’ for shifting practice, Shamprasad Pujar considers RSS ‘mashups’ as a potential tool for promoting library services.will the development agenda come shortagainst the power of the journal article and themight of the global publishing industry? How he internet has brought new avenues of library website or portal. It can make ado we, as Africans, articulate our own modelof open access knowledge sharing – a model T dissemination for the producers and distributors of information. The so-called Web valuable addition to a library website and assists in promoting library services. An RSSwhich allows our research to be globally 1.0 era enabled the delivery of content mashup may also present an opportunity tocompetitive, while still being locally relevant through emails and websites, allowing indiv- expand a library’s web services with a lowerand stimulating the production of diverse iduals and organisations to get information demand on manpower and material resources.outputs that meet our educational and through search engines, by Libraries who wish todevelopmental needs? subscribing to services, or by incorporate such a service These are the challenges before us – on this visiting websites. The Web 2.0 might include feeds frombig continent that looks so thin on the research era has opened up a plethora of newspapers, journal tables ofmap. And while they coincide in many ways new services and tools which contents, event listings,with the issues facing universities in the enable users to get the discussion forum posts, andNorth, the developmental contexts in which information they desire on their blog posts. They might alsothey operate demand a more innovative – or computers or mobile devices include feeds from their ownlocally attuned – response in order to develop without even having to visit the websites, digital repositories,sustainable, participatory scholarly commun- website or portal from which and catalogues. The selection ofication networks and structures. L the information originates. RSS (‘Really Simple sources may be according to users’ interests in Syndication’) enables the syndication of web a discipline or disciplines, and it may vary1 UNESCO, ‘What do bibliometric content, and is one such tool used for the from one type of library to another. However, indicators tell us about world scientific distribution of content on the internet. It is the methods followed to build the mashup output?’, UIS Bulletin on Science and Technology now pervasive practice among website would remain the same. Statistics, II, (2005). http://bit.ly/NC5f04 developers to make their content available in Let us take the example of ‘news’, which2 Mahmood Mamdani, ‘Africa’s post- the form of RSS feeds to enable others to reuse many libraries opt to add to their website to colonial scourge’, Mail & Guardian, 27 May this content and enrich their own websites. keep clientele better informed about the latest 2011. http://bit.ly/PQahIk Two or more sources can be mixed and developments in particular disciplines. This3 Covers articles published in 2001. matched using a ‘mashup’, enabling providers might include RSS feeds from newspapers, ‘Scientific papers’ category covers physics, to create a tailored information service. magazines, websites, portals, etc. In the case of biology, chemistry, mathematics, clinical business and economics libraries, incorporat- medicine, biomedical research, What is an RSS mashup? ing news feeds related to economy, govern- engineering, technology, and earth and An RSS mashup is a combination of two ment economic policies, industries, stock space sciences. Data source: World Bank services, mixing and matching different RSS markets and companies can make a valuable 2005 World Development Indicators. feeds in order to create an integrated list of addition to the library website and can help http://bit.ly/9znzcM feeds. The results are something similar to the bring more clients to the library. ‘content alert’ services traditionally offered by Another example which may be of interest libraries. The exception here is that content is to libraries is the delivery of journal contents. Michelle Willmers is Programme delivered and updated automatically to the end Owing to changes in the format of journals Manager at the Scholarly user, as long as the feeds from each source are from print to electronic, most publishers Communication in Africa available. A mashup feed may be restricted to a provide RSS feeds of their journal’s table of Programme, University of Cape particular subject area, a group of subjects, or contents on their website as soon as the issues Town, South Africa. a type of content – such as newspaper go online. By identifying the feed URLs of headlines, blog posts, or journal tables of journals and combining feeds, libraries would Henry Trotter is a Researcher at the contents. be able to deliver lists of articles of interest to Scholarly Communication in Africa their clients. They might even group these Programme, University of Cape RSS mashups and libraries based on a particular subject or topic. This Town, South Africa. Libraries, as disseminators of information, helps to improve effective utilisation of library www.scaprogramme.org.za may use an RSS mashup to provide service resources, as well as alerting end users to the updates and awareness, integrating it with the latest developments in their field of research.6 LINK August 2012