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.

Back to Basics: Blogging as a way of Dealing (with Crisis, with Life!)

WFH desk made from a ironing board
DIY WFH desk, made from an ironing board and a computer stand.

My blog has been quiet for a long time, more or less for a year with a few professional updates. I have gotten a few questions on this, and it is not due to lack of content! Actually more has happened in the last year than in previous years: I changed jobs, moved my family to a new (that’s how it felt, but it is my native) country. On top, I revisited everything I knew about relationships. Despite these upheavals (or maybe because of them?) I was no more sure about how to write on the blog or even what the point of it was. Every now and then, I’d read another blog and remember –  with a deep sigh –  my own was dormant, but still, I would not know how to return.

If last year was humbling and full of change and surprise, the Corona virus and ensuing world crisis add a whole new dimension of uncertainty and dread…but also new experiences and hope.

I cannot promise anything, but I will try to return to the blog. I think I can see now how having a presence online is helpful to my professional pursuits, maybe especially when the world – and with it, my career – is changing. It is a place to write about what I see, read, and do. It is a place to practice my writing – as I would say to my students, you can always get better! Writing about something is also a way to learn. And having a blog is a basic and practical way to approach life and its constant challenges. So, let see how it goes. For starters I updated the look and made it easier to read on your handheld device.

Now, what do you want to read about? Drop me a comment!

Where is Africa on Open Data? Some answers from #AODC17

African Open Data Conference 2017, or #AODC17 for short, was a five-day affair in Accra last week (or up to a week if you included some pre and post arrangements). I was there for two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, mostly because that is what my schedule allowed, but also because those days had the least of high-level dialogue – which is often not very productive – and I was more interested in African Open Data on the ground.

My observations:

1. The field of open data is exploding, the conference was a major to-do with buy in from Ghana’s president and many international organizations as well as several hundred delegates.

2. The networking was out of this world, among the most interesting people I met were academics Umaru Bah,  Jeanne Holm, activists from BudgITng and Connected Development, blogger Chioma Agwuegbo, tweeps  …students…old friends like Nnenna Nwakanma of World Wide Web Foundation, Nehemiah Attigah of Odekro (links for organizations or linked in profiles), Dorothy Gordon…

3. The individuals involved in Open Data are in much renaissance people, it is programmers-entrepreneurs-governance experts, professors-public servants, accountants-activists, story tellers-national security etc. I felt at home and got inspired to stop forcing expertise and continue on my “wide” career.

4. The base level of what constitute best practices in the open data space is not yet set, exemplified by that Government of Ghana can sponsor such a conference and yet not have passed the rather basic Right to Information bill (I learned at #AODC17 similar have been passed already by Nigeria: Freedom of Information, and Sierra Leone for instance). GovLab‘s “periodic table” (interactive link or see below) of Open Data captures what is needed beautifully. I just have one question: Now how do we go from talk shop to action?

 

5. The events held about town were a good attempt at integrating the conference objectives with its surroundings, so to speak opening the data of the conference, something often overlooked in conferences.

In all, these were intense days for me, days I feel have impacted my life in a number of important ways both with inspiration, and network. See tweets and next steps/links below.

Tweets from #AODC17

 


 

Next steps

Procrastinating Progress

Today was supposed to be the first day this year devoted to research. Between breakfast, laundry, Facebook,  a few old Grey’s Anatomy episodes, fixing my car and lunch not very much has been done. Sunny Saturday and I am sitting inside.

But I have to get a grip, ‘cos if I do, my husband will take me walking on the beach tomorrow morning. So I try to visualize that walk with a clean conscious and seawater on my feet and it feels good.

A Day at the Institute of African Studies

University of GhanaToday I am spending my day at the Institute of African Studies (IAS) at University of Ghana, Legon campus. Not so strange as this now is “my” department and I “their” PhD student!

Likely, you’ll be able to find me in a quiet corner of the IAS library. Around lunchtime, I might pass by the newly opened Photo and Stamps exhibition. In the afternoon, I will go “to the hill” or central administration to find out more about Career Counseling at University of Ghana.

Photo taken last week during the beautiful hour when the sun is low and shadows long…

Visiting A Swedish Blogger

Yesterday, I went to see fellow blogger Nina, just 5 minutes drive away from my parents’ house.

I read her blog every week as she writes on a couple of topics I am interested in like Gotland (the beautiful island I am from), feminism, photography, home decor and parenting (well, I can learn even though I am not there yet, can’t I?). Her blog is very professional AND personal, which is a difficult combo.

As I read her blog often, I felt I already knew her!

It was a strange and wonderful feeling as I walked through her beautiful home, played pek-a-boo with her son and had a lovely discussion about everything from relationships to racism, cupcakes to career, loving to living…

It is wonderful what connections blogging can bring! Hope to see you next summer too, Nina!

See Nina’s post (in Swedish) on our meet-up here. (or pic above).

Why Blogging is Good for Your Career

KajsaHa's Blogging School

Had lunch with an old friend today and we came to talk about blogging.

My friend feels it could benefit her career to start a personal blog and, not very surprisingly for you my dear readers, I agreed. We had a very inspiring talk and I hope to send you to her blog in a few months time when she has gotten started properly. Of course this is no new topic, Fast Company wrote an article on how a blog can launch a new career a few years a go, for example. But my friend and I talked more about how a blog can improve the career path you are already on.

From our discussion: The seven top aspects of blogging that  could benefit your career are:

  1. Your blog becomes a log of your ideas for yourself. Keeping a blog means constant writing and having a log of what you have accomplished is inspirational. In addition, a blog is a record where you can keep track of your past events, thoughts, reads, projects and so on. (Inspiration and record keeping)
  2. Your blog is like an extended business card. When you promote yourself in person or on social media, you often so not have much space or time to expand on everything you do, but a blog is an almost limitless depository and can serve as an extension of you. I link to my blog on social media and tell people I am a blogger. (Personal branding)
  3. Looking for materials for posts makes listening and reading more active. I feel that I experience the world differently as a blogger: I must have the agenda of any meeting and I pay attention to details such as where all speakers work or what order they get to speak. When something annoying happens to me, I try to take it all in as well, all is content for the blog! (Focus)
  4. Researching for posts is educative. When I write a blog post I almost always have to look up additional details, spellings, websites, organizations, historical facts to make my post complete. This education that comes out of exploring topics both teach me about what is available online and expand my horizons. (Life long learning)
  5. Posts can be used to claim intellectual property rights. When I have written about something, I have logged my own idea online. While some people worry about ideas being stolen, I feel more protected as my ideas are out there with my name attached to them, with a (Intellectual property protection)
  6. Interaction with idols, readers and others. Writing about a personality, a book, a play, an event almost certainly will get someone close to the epicenter reading your words. I have had interactions with people I would never otherwise have come close to because of my blog. Readers input in my work has also made a major addition to my life. (Networking)
  7. A blog makes you visible online. When someone makes a search for me online, my blog and interactions around my blog makes search results that come up mostly be penned by myself. This means a blogger controls his or her web presence much more efficiently than many others, you should too! (Controlling web presence)

What aspect of blogging for your career would you add?

Comic strip made by myself with the help of Toonlet. Updated: Nov 11, 2016.

 

On Becoming an Artist

I am happy to announce that yesterday was the first day of my career as a visual artist.

Even though I have been drawing, painting and sculpting since I was a child, cheered on by my parents, and even made paintings for official spaces as a university student in Uppsala, yesterday marked something different.

I was ASKED to partake in an upcoming exhibition curated by famous Ghanaian painter Kofi Setordji at Nubuke Foundation. The exhibit which focus on Ghanaian public space will be called “My space, your space”. Together with my friend, Miss V, I had prepared a concept note which we presented to Kofi. He liked it and invited us to work on the project for the net few weeks.

At this stage, the project is TOP SECRET, but I have the feeling that in the near future it will do very well in a blog format.

Now I’m curious to know, what is your second career?