State of Open Access and its Implications on African Researchers: Notes from a webinar and an interview with Joy Owango

Joy Owango, Photo borrowed from Africabusinesscommunities.com

Recently, I attended a webinar on the state of open access in Africa where I had a particular use of every presentation, focusing on support for early-career researchers like myself. See my notes with links below. The program was organized by the Training Center in Communication and led by its founding director Joy Owango. After the webinar, I made an interview with Joy Owango and will share some of the highlights of out 45-minute call, but I have cut out our children in both Kenya and Sweden joining us!

  1. What is Training Centre in Communication, (TCC Africa )?

We are a center that supports researchers’  in increasing their research output through training in scholarly and science communication.  In addition to this we host monthly thought leadership webinars on capacity building for early career researchers with a focus on open science.

In the beginning, the focus of the center was supporting researchers communicating among themselves, particularly how to write academic papers that could be understood at multidisciplinary levels. Within five years, we broadened the scope and started supporting researchers on how to communicate with non-scientists, even as we are going through this process, I increasingly noted the challenges early career researchers faced in the process of academic publishing. 

Before we start crucifying researchers about not being able to write, we need to ask, how are they getting resources for their research discovery? Just by answering this question, our model transformed, which, included providing open access discovery solutions to support their research lifecycle. We do not just offer training, but also advisory services, where we guide institutions on how to set up research and grant offices and also guide governments on ways they can improve on monitoring their research output especially with the support of open data. Before the COVID19 Pandemic hit Africa, we were in Malawi and guided the Government of Malawi through the National Commission of Science and Technology on how they can use  Scientometrics and open access data in monitoring research output from the country.

2. What is your funding model?

We are a not for profit organization with a self-sustainable business model, where we charge for our services, and as a result, funding is one of the revenue streams.

3. Do you apply for grants?

Yes, we compete for grants as well, however, it is not our main revenue stream, as it comes with the objectives of the donor and rarely in line with our objectives as such we work with donors who support early career researchers regardless of research background in improving their research output.  As a result of this, the donors we have chosen to work with support multidisciplinary research backgrounds and are not restricted to the research interest areas of the  African continent (namely research in, health, agriculture, and climate change). This decision was deliberate and  15 years later, we have survived and are self-sustainable. We have seen programs similar to ours come and go as they are 100%  reliant on funding and we did not want that as we wanted a more sustainable approach to supporting early career researchers in improving their research output through training.

4. What do you see as the most important issues for higher education on the continent?

Open Science. In its totality from data, infrastructure to academic publishing. Open science is the glue that holds together good quality scientific output from research discovery, academic publishing to dissemination. When a researcher is unable to complete his research due to paywalls, you understand their academic fatigue. Taking a postgraduate course is not easy and limited access to resources to conduct your research can be very frustrating. It was because of the frustrations and academic fatigue  I noted in researchers we trained that we thought of getting research industry partners, who supported open science.   So when we tell researchers, “you need to be involved in the process of scholarly communication”, it is really the whole research life cycle, from research idea, writing the paper,  and the whole process behind it, that helps you write that paper!

5. You founded TCC already in 2006, what is your own journey to where you are now?

From experience, I remember in the early 2000s’  I was studying for a postgraduate certificate in Mass communication research and the only library in Nairobi that had the latest resources in my research area was at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). For five days I sat in that library until 8 pm when they shut down, I  would sit outside until midnight as I needed access to the library Wi-Fi and the resources. Fortunately, ILRI is within a campus full of early career researchers, so no one bothered me.  This was a typical scenario that early career researchers may face in pursuit of resources for their research discovery process.

If your own university does not have subscriptions to the journals you need, as a student, you are stranded. Even then, I did not understand how bad it was until I got to work with Clarivate Analytics, then Thomson Reuters, and I was like “hold on! this is what I have been asking for… Access to data. But  all the good data is behind a paywall!” 

When we are talking about open access it is not just journals, it is the whole system! It’s not just “Oh, I want the full-text journal!”, no, it is the research discovery system that needs to be open. I understand there is a business model to it, but it needs to be open because a majority of self-sponsored researchers who may not have adequate support systems fall through the cracks and are unable to complete their education due to lack of resources. In essence, open science democratizes education.

You can watch the Webinar which was broadcast live on Facebook here.

Joy Owango, TCC

Plan S, an initiative for making open science a reality

Dimensions.ai open access publication data

Elizabeth Merincola, African Academy of Science Open Science

No charge, funded by grants directly.

Main point: The impact factor is not a valid quality measure!

Osman Aldirdiri, AfricArxiv

This is a preprint platform, so no peer-review, no charge!

Sherpa /Romeo, data on journals!

Preprint, Postprint, Open access journal, Predatory Publishing

Matt Hodgekinson, Hindawi

Open access journals since 2007 (220 peer-reviewed journals)

Better access to research for researchers in resources limited situations

Article processing charge (APC), payment when published (Waivers for Africa based researchers and others)

Other models: Open Library of Humanities , CIELO

***

My own reflections from the seminar are that sitting in the middle of the information age exploding, it is easy to just get tired and not research well where you “host” your research, however, it is as important as ever. All the links I shared above are mindblowing in their own way, it is actually as exciting as it is tiring! But you need to understand how to make your research visible and readable to the constituencies you write for! As Joy shared, open access publications in the last two years are many (44%) and growing fast from Africa, however not all fields are well-represented.

The movement toward open science is in a way a “going back” to the foundations of science – sharing progress for the common good – and public and private funders are now going back to this ideal. As a researcher believing in the public good of science, I believe all of us have a responsibility to publish our data and findings open access.

Impressive Kenyan Official Use of Twitter

As the horrible events at the Westgate mall in Nairobi still unfold, I want to highlight the impressive use of social media by Kenyan authorities like the police and ministry of interior. Many can learn from them!

  1. 1. Timely information

    – information too late is no information.
  2. We would like to confirm that, the official record of those who died because of the cruel act stands at 62.
  3. Through our operations this morning, we have killed 2 terrorists and we will be giving you finer details going forward.
  4. 2. Messages to the public

    – Twitter is an excellent direct channel
  5. This is a plea, keep off #WestGateMall for your own security. This is a scene of crime and it’s for your own safety.
  6. The ongoing speculations online are going to jeopardize the efforts to rescue the remaining hostages. Please heed and be calm. Pls RT
  7. 3. Personal professional accounts (here Inspector General of the Kenyan Police)

    -Creates calm as we see real people are out there doing their best
  8. Thumbs up to our multi-agency team, we have just managed to rescue some hostages. We’re increasingly gaining advantage of the attackers. IG
  9. 4. Collaboration between agencies

    – Creates calm as we see agencies work in tandem
  10. We urge those of us who have posted graphic images to remove them so as to observe solidarity with the affected families~ @InteriorKE
  11. 5. Understanding the basics of Twitter, eg. verification of accounts, hashtags

    – Creates confidence in the agency
  12. Thank you @twitter has verified account, so we continue updating and encourage you. As we said: One love!
  13. We plead with you to keep off #WestGateMall if you aren’t a security agent,volunteer or a member of the media fraternity.WG is a crime scene
  14. …though there are things to learn, we must keep a critical mind. Also official accounts do best to stick to facts, details and general warnings, and avoid judging the situation as it unfolds.
  15. The security forces are in control of the entire West Gate building and we are doing what must be done to end this.
  16. Fire shows Kenya police has lost control of situation, they seem to do their best to cover their failure. Quite hostile to journos #westgate

This Is Africa – A New Culture Website

My friend Emilie pointed me to the This Is Africa site. It is a spanking fresh culture site that trumpets “Africa for a new generation!” and sports subheadlines like “city life”, “music” and “art&fashion”.

It looks great, slick and graphic in a very modern way. The page has a lot of cool links, for instance to the Ghana based (?) DJ and contributor Akwaaba Music / Benjamin Lebrave. It also features African artists’ music videos in a unique and cool format called The White Room – here Ghana’s Wanlov the Kubolor is one of the artists featured.

But then there is something that makes me suspicious: The website is designed for the specific purpose of connecting Europe a.k.a. “the West” to Africa:

This Is Africa is a media organisation that brings Africa and the West closer together via African contemporary urban culture.

As such, it is funded by the EU. It is managed from Amsterdam as the Director, Editor and Web-manager all live there.

So I cannot help but to ask myself: This Is Africa?

Why Ghana’s MPs Should Be Grateful for their Grades

Photo of the Floor of the Ghanaian Parliament from www.parliament.gh

From Graham, I got the tip about Ghana’s Members of Parliament having been assessed in an Political Performance Index performed by the African Watch Magazine.

Out of the 230 parliamentarians, 24 received F’s. Others received  As and Bs. There were also Cs and Ds. See the full list of grades for Ghanaian MPs here. From a teacher’s point of view, I know that grades sometimes create “learning moments” – reflection and insight could come out of a low grade. This seem to not have happened here. This morning, some of the politicians are lashing out on the grading exercise.

One Member of Parliament that was upset was, Honourable Abayatei from Sege constituency (rated ‘C’), he said to Citi News:

“they sit down and talk rubbish and write rubbish. If they have no work to do, they must shut up…What right has he got to grade us? What assessment has he got the right to do? …Those of you in the Media must call your friends to be sensible. Criteria don’t even come in because he has no right. Worldwide has there been any grading of any Parliament?”

It seems the rating has been done by independent professionals looking at several criteria. According to Ghanamma it was “MP’s Knowledge of Law Making and the Constitution”, “Participation in Legislative Business”, “Contribution to Parliamentary Debates”, “How The Ideas and Suggestions of MPs Reflect Societies Need” and “Interest and Tolerance of Divergent Political Views”. Although this might not be the best and fairest rating, I applaud this survey.

And this is why I think MPs should also be grateful for their grades:

1. The parliament is weak in Ghana, the only way of getting more power is getting more public support, then we need to see you are working.

2. You were probably rated high in the public eye. Only yesterday, the news of laptop computers with Internet connections being given to MPs was shared (following the car loan etc.), and Ghanaians were heard muttering about not having water in their houses. That’s an F grade the Ghanaian people have given to you already (although I personally think the laptops was the best investment the Government of Ghana could do at this point, but that is another post, I guess).

3. Discussion and information sharing should be encouraged by politicians so that you who work hard stand out and get reelected. Someone has done your work for you!

4. It is a PR opportunity. Maybe you initiated something we haven’t heard of, this is your chance to inform us!

5. A hardworking MP loves accountability. Do you really want to share benches with people who do not do their part?

On this note, I have for some time been thinking about how to introduce something similar to Mzalendo, The Eye on the Kenya Parliament. It is a website that publishes information on MPs and their parties. There are also sections for what MPs do; questions, motions and bills they are involved in hence “grading” can be done by the Kenyan people using the facts available. Through such an innovative parliament watch, we can judge for ourselves.

Now with such information available, it would be easier to do a fair assessment. But regardless of that and regardless if a politician feels we have the “right” to do so, we will grade MPs performance.

Isn’t it part of the political game?