Publishers: how are you working with developing countries?

Last year INASP published some principles for publishers concerned to do business responsibly in developing countries. To recap, these principles include:

    • Making the effort to understand the country context
      – understanding local needs and going beyond the capital city
    • Respecting a country’s wish to negotiate as a consortium or purchasing club – looking for alternative routes or withdrawing access during negotiations can damage relationships and reputations
    • Not making sudden changes – explaining plans early and giving consortia time to prepare
    • Thinking medium to long term on pricing – budgets won’t have increased just because countries are willing and able to deal directly
    • Being realistic about sales expectations – so where increases are needed, making these affordable, incremental and predictable

We discussed these with a number of you during a lively session at last year’s Publishers for Development conference (see this video of my presentation or view all the sessions here) and there was a general sense of agreement. We’ve heard of some good business approaches – publishers that are clear that consortia or their local equivalents make the most obvious partners for them, are willing to invest the time to develop those relationships and price appropriately, and recognize the importance of taking a five-year view. There are some good examples of attempts to understand the country context too. A number of publishers with which INASP works have visited consortia, while others have provided practical support, such as running short training events or sponsoring promotional activities.

But we’ve also heard of several instances where major publishers, seeking to sell directly to a country, have bypassed the consortium to establish business with government or directly with university heads. This creates considerable and unnecessary problems for consortia and bypasses the systems and structures that countries are trying to build – structures which are designed for long-term, sustainable access.

The pace of change

Access to research – at affordable rates, and at rates that will still be affordable into the future – is a major challenge.

INASP works with library consortia or other national bodies to ensure that researchers and students have the journals and books they need. This is as important now as ever as major efforts are underway to strengthen research and higher education systems across Africa, Asia and Latin America. We hear on a weekly basis how challenging this continues to be. The pace of change from philanthropic schemes to direct sales, and increases to subscription rates in the process, too often outpaces a country’s ability to respond.

Let’s be absolutely clear – INASP and our partners welcome the progressive shift to direct relationships between countries and publishers. In the long term, it is this which will better serve countries’ needs and enable them to develop the information collections that they most need. But we’re also clear that it needs to happen at the right pace. Countries need the time to develop their systems and processes, and to build the relationships they need with decision makers to ensure the right levels of future funding.

Building strong consortia, which can increase purchasing budgets and extend access to new institutions, takes time. Our partners are working hard to grow their consortia, to develop stronger relationships with university and research leaders, and to demonstrate the importance that access to information plays in building robust research systems. But too often the effort and energy that is needed to develop strong and sustainable structures is dissipated as consortia grapple with unaffordable pricing and the imperative not to let their users down.

Share your stories!

So, seven months on from the publication of our principles of responsible engagement, we’d like to hear from you. We’re keen to celebrate good practices and show what can be achieved when consortia and publishers build mutually productive and trusting relationships.

If you’ve got good examples to share – where you’ve followed these principles, and have developed good relationships – let us know. We’re keen to collect these stories – perhaps you’d be keen to write a post for the Publishers for Development blog. Or perhaps you’d like to share some of the challenges you’ve encountered too, when trying to put these principles into practice. Send us an email – we’re happy to share stories anonymously too.

You can see the principles here and can read more about why we think these are important here. My colleagues Anne Powell and Mai Skovgaard will be at UKSG next week so please do seek them out. They’d be glad to discuss these further with you.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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Power cuts and empowerment in Tanzania

maaike1Maaike Duine is a VSO Professional Volunteer working on a pilot project to raise the quality of academic publishing in Tanzania. Here she discusses a number of workshops conducted as part of the project, which is supported by INASP, VSO, COSTECH and the Elsevier Foundation.

After the launch of the Consortium of Academic Publishers of Tanzania in June, the project’s partners have continued their efforts to strengthen academic and online publishing in Tanzania by organizing workshops for Tanzanian university presses and publishers. To facilitate these workshops, INASP, VSO and COSTECH have partnered with the Elsevier Foundation. In total, eight Elsevier volunteers have been recruited to co-facilitate workshops on many aspects of academic publishing, including online formats, open access, peer review, acquisition, commissioning, copyright, marketing and sales.maaike2

We organized our first workshop on journal publishing at the University of Dodoma, one of the fastest-growing universities in Tanzania on an enormous campus overlooking the city of Dodoma. The workshop was targeted at editors of the academic journals published by the different universities in Morogoro, Iringa and Dodoma. There were even representatives from a prospective journal at the University of Tanzania. The three-day workshop focused on various aspects of academic journal publishing: how to establish an editorial board, where to find reviewers, and what exactly an editor does. Practical sessions on how to load content on African Journals Online were included too and the hands-on workshop sessions proved popular with participants.

Although the workshops were hampered by poor internet connectivity and power cuts, INASP’s Sioux Cumming managed to demonstrate the uploading of articles on a single laptop. These network issues were even more pronounced during our second journal publishing workshop at Mount Meru University in Arusha. At one point, after an extended power failure, all the other computers in the room had run out of battery power and so around 14 people stood behind Sioux angling for a glimpse of her screen. In a way it was good to experience this, as these are exactly the type of challenges Tanzanian researchers and publishers are dealing with in their day-to-day business.maaike3

The workshop also had at least one direct result, with one of the editors present cancelling the printing order for his journal’s next issue. After having received guidelines on how to improve the quality of the journal, he thought it best to implement changes before sending the issue to the printer. Several participants mentioned the importance of keeping an eye on workshop gender participation, as only 7% of participants were female. It was good to hear that gender mainstreaming was of interest both to participants and organizers, as INASP and VSO also recognize the importance of this issue.

Although capacity building through external trainers such as INASP and staff from Elsevier is an important part of the project, academic publishing knowledge can also be increased by the consortium members and workshop participants sharing their own experiences and expertise with each other. This happened at the journal publishing workshop, where editors from different journals and universities exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. This was even more pronounced at the two book publishing workshops we organized in Dar es Salaam, which were attended by staff from university presses and commercial publishers. Views from people with different backgrounds – such as graphic design, libraries, scientific editing and children’s books – led to interesting discussions about publishing. For example, how do you measure success: through the number of publications sold, or the number of people that those publications reach?


Another session during the book publishing workshop included formulating strategy, which remains a challenge for many commercial publishers and university presses. Main obstacles are budget planning and a lack of knowledge about how to reach and research markets. Practical sessions with an Excel spreadsheet helped participants see how revenue was affected by pricing, production costs, print run and royalty share.

Formulating goals, dividing them into smaller steps and writing these on spreadsheets also helped participants to clearly formulate their strategies. Goals defined during the workshop included uploading all journal back issues by the end of 2015, bi-annual publishing, and reminding peer reviewers on a regular basis. Participants were also taught to rethink strategy from time to time, reflecting on whether core audiences are being reached, and what other products might best serve Tanzanian readers.maaike5

For more information about the project, please see the articles by Liesbeth Kanis, Mary Ann Zimmermann and Shirley Decker-Lucke. My next blog will focus on Tanzanian intellectual property and digital publishing training sessions.

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Evidence-informed policy making brings challenges and opportunities in Zimbabwe

VakaYiko consortium members ZeipNET and INASP have recently begun a training programme on evidence-informed policy making (EIPM) in partnership with the Zimbabwe Parliament and the Ministries of Youth and Industry and Commerce. This is part of the VakaYiko strategy to build capacity at individual and systems level, as well as to encourage a broader enabling environment for evidence-informed policy.

As the new Programme Manager for EIPM at INASP, I took part in two VakaYiko pilot trainings recently in Harare led by ZeipNET. It was great to meet our partners at ZeipNET and hear first-hand about the EIPM environment in Zimbabwe. Developed jointly by INASP and ZeipNET, the EIPM course will build on participants’ experience to develop practical strategies to gather, assess and synthesize robust evidence to inform policy development.

The needs assessments and sensitization workshops had already given the team an initial picture of some of the challenges government researchers face (see reports here). We heard much more about these during the training. Although they are working in different contexts, parliamentary and ministerial researchers encounter some common barriers faced by colleagues working in EIPM throughout the Global South. These barriers are also familiar to INASP and in particular to ZeipNET, whose founders Ronald and Gilchriste come from government and think tank backgrounds respectively.

Some of the main challenges are:

  • Policy making is a fundamentally political process that is subject to many competing interests and motivations that are beyond researchers’ control. This means that the ideal ‘policy process’ can be subverted, undermined, or in some cases entirely skipped in favour of a single pronouncement from a senior political figure. It can also create an environment of ‘organizational resistance’ to EIPM.
  • A second major challenge that emerged was lack of IT infrastructure: few or no computers; limited access to internet; and no data analysis software such as SPSS. Researchers from the ministries described how they have to go to a colleague’s office (sometimes their boss’ office) in order to access the internet.
  • Research takes a long time and is sometimes out of step with policy processes that can overtake the evidence gathering process. Parliamentary researchers told us they can wait up to two months for information from ministries, while ministry researchers described experiencing delays at their ministerial records offices.

As one participant from Parliament pointed out, getting evidence to influence policy is often a case of exploiting windows of opportunity that open up in the complex policy making process, rather than following a linear process. Other participants emphasized the importance of personal relationships in navigating organizational resistance and facilitating communication between Parliament and line ministries, and between researchers and MPs. Partly in response to the need for better communication between Parliament and the line ministries, liaison officers have recently been appointed to facilitate effective channels of communication, although participants felt that this intervention was not yet reaching its full potential.

The researchers and librarians that ZeipNET works with through this training occupy a critical space between evidence and policy. It is they who provide policy makers with lists of recommendations and expected benefits of particular policies, from special economic zones to tariffs on the leather industry to youth economic empowerment.

For example, researchers in the Ministry of Industry and Commerce are involved in making recommendations on national positions on multilateral trade agreements. Participants from the Ministry of Youth are part of a new unit formed to improve research, policy coordination and impact assessment of the Ministry’s activities, which reach 36% of the Zimbabwean population.

In Parliament, researchers act as the first line of technical advice to parliamentary committees. They brief MPs on advantages and disadvantages of proposed policies, enabling them to ask informed questions during parliamentary debates and propose amendments before new policies are passed. Participants’ experience reminds us that there are a number of different possible points at which evidence can and does feed into the policy making process—not only in written briefs but also at consultative stages, in workshops, and during reviews of existing policies.

To take advantage of these opportunities and effectively address the many challenges in Zimbabwe and other contexts, INASP and its partners must continue building on their systems approach.This approach explores connections between different stakeholders and their roles in highly complex, dynamic policy environments, going beyond skills training for individuals to address the broader environment.

At the organizational process level in Zimbabwe, ZeipNET is engaging directly with senior management in the Ministries and Parliament, reporting back after each module is piloted. ZeipNET will also be working on jointly developing recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of existing EIPM processes, as well as handing over a number of practical tools such as directories of online open-access resources and the training toolkit itself.

The mentoring programme that follows the training course will build on the importance of personal relationships. Participants are identifying ‘champions’ within each institution who will support these recommendations and implement changes at process level, with guidance from senior management, ZeipNET and local research networks. The plan is to foster a more collaborative relationship between researchers and policy makers, maximizing the potential of Zimbabwe’s rich research community.

And in a similar vein, ZeipNET is running a series of policy dialogues and more informal knowledge cafés, held at popular Harare nightspot The Book Café. These events are aimed at building an enabling environment of engaged citizens, media and civil society. Open to the general public, they will provide an opportunity for policy makers to showcase their existing work on EIPM as well as bringing all the different parts of the evidence-informed policy cycle together, from the researchers who produce the evidence to the policy makers who use it and the media which communicates policy developments to the public.

I’ve joined INASP at an exciting time for the VakaYiko Consortium as we start the implementation phase of our work, and I’m looking forward to the journey.

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AuthorAID workshop participants gain free editorial support through new partnership

INASP’s AuthorAID and the author communications company Research Square have struck a new partnership (see Pilot brings free editorial services to sample of AuthorAID community) to offer free editorial services to selected AuthorAID workshop participants. We ask INASP Associate Ravi Murugesan and Ben Mudrak, Business Development Manager of Research Square, about how the partnership came about and how AuthorAID researchers will benefit.

What do Research Square and AuthorAID do?

Ravi: Both AuthorAID and Research Square support researchers in communicating and publishing their work.

AuthorAID is a non-profit programme with a small team, and we rely a lot on partnerships and volunteers to fulfil our mission. For example, we work with universities and research institutes in developing countries to embed training on research-writing skills and we have mentors in our online mentoring scheme who provide one-to-one support.

Ben: At Research Square, we provide services and tools designed to assist researchers around the world with preparing their manuscript (through our AJE brand), evaluating its strengths (Rubriq), and finding the right journal to submit to (JournalGuide).

In many ways, our support for the publishing process meshes nicely with AuthorAID’s expert focus on mentorship and training for researchers in developing countries. While AuthorAID lays the groundwork for a lifetime of research and publication success, Research Square can put its network of experts to use helping individual manuscripts get published.

How did you begin working together?

Ben: I joined Research Square to help develop an author-education programme and quickly became aware of AuthorAID. I was very impressed by the project’s mission and its efforts to empower international researchers. In 2012, Research Square dedicated a fund to donate to organizations that support research, and AuthorAID was an obvious choice.

Ravi: The donation from Research Square through its AJE brand was a pleasant surprise. We decided to use it for workshop grants in the second half of 2012. After that, we have been in touch to discuss how we could further work together to support developing-country researchers in publishing their work.

How did this partnership come about?

Ravi: Soon after its donation in 2012, Research Square offered a 50% discount on the price of its editing service to a small group of researchers that had completed AuthorAID online courses. We later found out that there was very low uptake of this offer. This wasn’t surprising because even a 50% discount can keep a professional editing service out of reach for most developing-country researchers.

Ben: The 50% discount programme didn’t take off as we’d hoped. When the time came to direct our funds for donation in 2014, we wanted to revisit the concept of assisting AuthorAID workshop alumni. That led us to reach out to Ravi for some initial discussions around providing free editing, and we are delighted to be launching the new programme offering free services to a select group. At Research Square, we are always looking for ways to reach researchers directly, and AuthorAID’s strong position as a source of training and mentorship in developing nations has enabled us to maximize the impact of these free services.

Ravi: Many years ago I was an English language editor of research manuscripts, so I know how intricate and time-consuming this task can be. A lot of researchers need pre-submission editing of their manuscripts, yet many don’t know they need it, and even if they did, not all of them would have the money to pay for it. It is wonderful that Research Square is going to provide this important service free of cost to a group of researchers in the AuthorAID network.

Through our partnership we hope that hundreds of researchers in developing countries will benefit from a valuable editing service that will make their papers stronger before the peer-review process.

What editorial services are included?

Ben: In this pilot, selected AuthorAID workshop participants will be able to receive our Standard Editing service for one research manuscript. This service involves careful editing of the manuscript for language errors and improvements to word choice by a highly qualified editor with research experience in the appropriate field.

Who will benefit from the new pilot?

Ravi: For now, we will be rolling out the free editing offer to about 260 researchers from various developing countries. Each of these researchers has completed an AuthorAID workshop or online course since April 2014. They have also shown an acceptable improvement in their score from the pre-assessment quiz to the post-assessment quiz so we feel they know the basics of research writing and scholarly publishing. With this knowledge they will hopefully be able to write up research manuscripts that are focused and well-structured. However, many of these manuscripts would certainly benefit from English editing before they are submitted to journals, and this is what Research Square editors would provide.

What do people need to do to take advantage of this opportunity?

Ravi: This opportunity will be made available to a specific group of researchers, as described above. We will be contacting them by email and giving them a coupon code and instructions on how to use it. Unfortunately we cannot make this opportunity available to the entire AuthorAID network because of the significant work involved in editing even a single manuscript.

Ben: Thanks to Ravi’s efforts, participating will be simple for those selected for the programme. They will receive instructions and a coupon code by email. When an author has a research manuscript ready, participation is as easy as signing up at the AJE website and entering the coupon code when submitting the manuscript. Our dedicated Customer Support team is always available for questions about using our website.

How do you hope people will use this opportunity?

Ravi: At the outset, I hope we will see many people making use of the coupon code. The coupons will expire at the end of this year, so they need to write up a paper by then. It is very likely that not everyone will make use of the coupons – some people might be in the middle of doing research or they may not even be working on a research project this year. Later this year, we may roll out the offer to more AuthorAID course alumni depending on the uptake of the coupons.

Ben: We hope that researchers use the coupons to help them reach their publication goals more quickly and easily. Many of us at Research Square came from the research world, and we know that there are enough hurdles to get through without having to worry about the writing in a paper. Perhaps the deadline for the opportunity can spur some researchers to press forward with the important work they are doing, ensuring that their manuscript is ready for submission later this year. When research is communicated more quickly, we all benefit.

What insight do you hope to gain from this?

Ravi: We hope that this wonderful opportunity will help many developing-country researchers cross the final mile of the journey to publication. If this happens, it will be a major contribution to the AuthorAID mission, and we will be able to confirm our hypothesis that researchers in developing countries will benefit from a free editing service. We will speak with our partners at Research Square regularly about how many coupons have been used, and we might adapt our strategy as we go along.

Ben: We’ll be providing regular updates to AuthorAID and INASP about the usage of the coupon codes, letting us get a better sense of who is benefitting most from the programme. This information will allow us to make changes to the system if needed. More importantly, we gain insight into the path to publication for researchers in developing countries: Where are the major hurdles? How much of their valuable time can be saved by providing language-editing services?

Will this be offered to attendees of 2015 AuthorAID workshops too?

Ben: We hope to be able to continue the programme for participants in this year’s AuthorAID workshops, but we will carefully analyse the results for the first set of researchers to ensure that we’re providing a clear benefit. And even if changes need to be made, there are many other ways that Research Square can collaborate with AuthorAID to support our missions.

What other possibilities are there in the future for working together to support research writing in developing countries?

Ravi: I think it would be good to provide more one-to-one support to developing-country researchers. Perhaps we can think about combining training, mentoring, and English editing: researchers can start by getting trained on writing and publishing, then be mentored to write up a paper, and finally have their paper edited.

Ben: At Research Square, we are actively developing ways to support researchers from start to finish in the publication process. For example, we have launched a free tool called JournalGuide to help researchers find appropriate target journals for their research. As this tool is built out, we could easily provide instructions for using the tool that could be shared as part of AuthorAID workshops. Future collaborations might also involve other services, either existing ones (like figure preparation or peer review) or new ones designed to help authors create manuscripts and share them with the broader research community.

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Research access initiatives to support think tanks’ research

In a post that first appeared on the On Think Tanks blog, Jon Harle discusses the academic publications that may be available to think tanks in developing countries

Think tankers probably have quite different information needs from those of academics or research scientists – perhaps drawing more on policy reports and evaluations than they do journal articles. Nevertheless, there are likely to be instances where valuable information – perhaps an assessment of the effectiveness of particular policies in different countries, or important research in agriculture or climate or social security – is found within a journal, and as a result, behind a paywall.

The good news is that think tanks in developing countries have the potential to access much more of this literature – at more affordable rates – than many probably realise.

INASP negotiates with over 50 academic publishers for free or discounted access to substantial collections of journals. In total something like 65,000 journals are available, and the licensing terms mean that this access can, in most cases, be extended to any non-profit making research institute or local NGO in the country (once the subscription is paid where this applies). This includes the collections of well-known publishers such as Wiley, Springer and Taylor and Francis, as well as smaller, specialist publishers such as Policy Press. Currently around 1,700 institutions access journals via INASP this way.

To find out what is potentially available to institutions in your country, follow the links from INASP’s country pages to ‘research literature’. The next step would be to contact the consortium in your country and see if there are opportunities to join.

In addition to INASP’s scheme, the Research4Life initiative provides access to around 45,000 journals in subjects related to health, agriculture and environment. And it is worth exploring these carefully even if these are not your focus areas – there are often other economics or social-policy titles available through these collections.

In recent years, INASP has begun to work more concertedly with national purchasing consortia, groups of institutions that come together to pool funding and purchase collectively, making use of these national licences to extend access across a network of libraries. Typically these consortia are made up of libraries of universities, colleges, scientific research institutes, or government agencies, but there is often provision for other research organisations to join. The journal collections they subscribe to are dependent on how much money they can raise locally so additional members, able to contribute to the central pot are often welcomed.

A quick email to some of our partners revealed that a few think tanks are currently involved. In Uganda, the Makerere Institute of Social Research accesses journals through its parent university. In Ghana, there are no such members at present, but they are able to join the consortium, and at a reduced rate.

I would be interested to know how many think tankers reading this post do need access to journals, but struggle to get that access. If you can’t find your local consortium, get in touch; we may be able to help make the links.

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Next generation of library leaders supported by INASP grants

Leadership is a critical part of building stronger research systems. To play their part – by ensuring researchers have access to the latest information – libraries and national library consortia need good leaders too. INASP is supporting partner consortia to develop the next generation of library leaders through a small-grants programme, enabling key individuals to build skills, knowledge and networks. These individuals will go on to provide leadership in their own institutions, and support the development of the consortia and national bodies they belong to.

Both institutions and consortia stand to benefit, as winners bring back what they have learned. Feedback from grant holders demonstrates some of the positive changes and improvements they are making in local systems and practices as a result of their own professional development.  There is also clear commitment to share learning with a wider audience, as a winner from Bangladesh reported, “My hopes are to share my experiences with members of my consortium. I hope to achieve this by facilitating training and workshops.”

In the 2013-2014 grants cycle, eight professional development grants were awarded. The winners were Senior, Assistant and System Librarians as well as Consortium Coordinators from countries around the world including Bangladesh, Nicaragua, Ethiopia and Uganda. Winners also felt the wide geographical reach of the programme with one beneficiary commenting, “I extended my intellectual network from Windhoek to Accra and from Stockholm to North Carolina.”

Nominees were identified by consortia, who were invited to consider their own strategic objectives, and identify individuals committed to supporting the consortium, as well as their individual institutions.  Grants were used for activities such as attending workshops or conferences and regional learning visits.

We hear below from two of the latest grant holders.

Robert Stalone Buwele – Senior Assistant Librarian, Kyambogo University, Uganda – member of the Consortium of Ugandan University Libraries

I was fortunate to receive a grant from INASP to attend the Standing Conference of Eastern Central and Southern African Librarians in July 2014.  This conference is for Librarians and information workers to learn and share experiences with each other.

I was delighted to be one of the delegates at the conference.  The most memorable experience was being selected to present my paper [which related to strengthening the information service that the library provides to students and researchers].  I received so many insightful comments following the presentation that I intend to include to enhance the final paper.  This has helped to increase my profile in the scholarly world while meeting and sharing experiences with new colleagues and distinguished professionals.

I have been greatly inspired to continue doing research, writing and publishing.

Ivan Joseph Mmari, Assistant Librarian, Mwenge University College of Education (MWUCE), Tanzania – member of The Consortium of Tanzania University and Research Libraries

I received an INASP professional development grant to conduct educational visits to three university libraries in Tanzania and Kenya. The study visit was guided by an interview guide that I and other colleagues at MWUCE prepared prior to the learning visits.

As an assistant librarian, the primary purpose of my role at MWUCE Library is to ensure that information resources at the library are fully accessible to library users and also they understand how to utilise such resources. It has been extremely valuable to connect with other professionals and learn from them.  I have gained new knowledge and skills about innovative practices at other libraries in East Africa – including how they disseminate information to users – and I can now take what I’ve learned and apply it myself; for example I have proposed that we replace outdated systems and software and I am upgrading our training for staff and users.

I plan to begin an interlibrary loan project at MWUCE – an initiative I had never heard of before.  I realised that the NWUCE Library has a long road to travel.  We have about 24,000 books, whereas most university Libraries have up to 800,000.  Hopefully we can all share in the positive results of my training, and the resulting growth of our library. I envisage that the knowledge and skills I gained as well as the personal connections I’ve made in my visits will assist in the development of MWUCE.

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