Bringing African research out of the shadows – part 1

In the first in a series of blog posts, Miriam Conteh-Morgan, Head Librarian, Institute of Public Administration and Management, University of Sierra Leone, discusses how researchers can bring their findings and ideas into global academic conversations

Ylann Schemm’s December 2013 article adds to other studies showing that the number of papers by African researchers published in scientific journals (almost always based in the North) has grown significantly; more than quadrupled between 1996 and 2012. Juxtapose this with this thought by Tim Davies of the World Wide Web Foundation, “it’s still really hard to find scholarship on Africa coming out of Africa…,” and one begins to sense that there is a paradox.

The issue is not necessarily that research from Africa is not produced in significant quantity but that it “has fared badly in terms of the conventional measures of competitive, global publication performance” (Eve Gray). Such measures include appearing in peer-reviewed, high-impact journals, or being listed in citation indexes such as Web of Science and Scopus. So, even as the growing global visibility of African scholarship is being celebrated, being left out of the party are the many researchers whose findings and ideas do not make it into global academic conversations via these time-honoured venues. How to bring their work out of the shadows?

Alternate routes

In today’s world, visibility can be achieved in ways other than through publication in scientific journals and citation index listings. I am not implying that journals do not matter; what I am saying is that they are not the only way to gain recognition in the research community. With many internet-based connecting technologies and services now available, scholars can, for instance, use blogs and various social media tools to spread the word about their publications (which may be journal articles) and reach a wider audience beyond those who may have institutional or personal subscriptions to the source publication.

The reverse, from tweet to blog post to peer-reviewed article, is also possible, as Jessie Daniels attests. New media allow scholars to also engage in meaningful group conversations, collaborate with colleagues across the globe and become part of the new invisible college. Or they can simply hang out in these spaces, listening in and gaining insights from ongoing conversations.

On improving statistics for the visibility of African scholarship, Schemm believes that “the returns could be many times greater over the next decade if awareness, usage and research capacity are tackled in a collaborative and integrated manner by African institutions, access programs and publishers.” One can hardly quibble over that. Of the three suggested prongs for achieving this, awareness raising would be the easiest and fastest to achieve; and, of the sources of support she lists, she left out one important group — scholars themselves who can take the initiative on this. With only a computer and internet access, the agency of scholars themselves as a driver of improved visibility to research from Africa should not be overlooked.

However, even with a raft of free technologies available for profile building and ramping up research output awareness, very few researchers make use of them. Brown (2011) reported that only 9.4% African development studies researchers use Web 2.0 tools for academic purposes.

I will discuss some examples of Web 2.0 tools in my next post, due soon.

A Spanish version of this post is also available on the AuthorAID website.


Brown, Cheryl. (2011). Are southern academics virtually connected? A review of the adoption of Web 2.0 tools for research collaboration by development researchers in the South. URL: Accessed 20/9/2014

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Helping Zimbabwe’s policy makers with evidence informed policy making – Part 2

Following on from Clara Richardspost about defining evidence informed policy making in Zimbabwe, she looks at some examples of this approach in practice

In a recent blog post, I wrote about an online discussion that INASP and the Zimbabwe Evidence Informed Policy Network (ZeipNET) carried out in August and September. The aim of the discussion was to gain an understanding of where evidence has been used in policy making in Zimbabwe and to gather relevant examples in order to help us develop a course in evidence informed policy making (EIPM) aimed at policy makers in Zimbabwe.

In my last post I reported on how participants defined evidence informed policy making and what they saw as the priorities and challenges. In this post I will look at some examples that came out of the discussions about how evidence has been used in policy making in Zimbabwe.

Traffic Management
• Recently, the City of Harare introduced the commuter omnibus holding bays as a way of de-congesting the City of Harare. Aside from using evidence from needs assessments and desk reviews, the city also sought evidence in the form of study visits to other countries in the region to understand the best practices and then localize the lessons learnt to the city’s own environment (“Decongesting Harare’s CBD“, “Kombis to be removed from Harare’s CBD“).

Youth and Education
• The Nziramasanga report (1999) recommended that Zimbabwe should take a paradigm shift from traditional education curricula to a diversified curriculum that provided for learners with different learning capabilities. Consequently, and after carrying out the required needs assessment (which considered regional differences and identified preferences), Youth Information and Career Guidance Centres were created. In addition, addressing the recommendations of the report, some decisions were taken to make higher and tertiary education curricula focused on a system that emphasised on technical skills that will result in entrepreneurs and innovators (“Vocationalization of Secondary Schools: Implementation Reality or Fallacy?”, “National Report on the Status of Education by Zimbabwe“).

• The Ministry of Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI) has set up a 25-member panel to go around the country to solicit views from citizens relating to the reconfiguration of the country’s media and information sectors (“Media enquiry panel launched“).

• The government, through the Ministry of Health and Child Care, has adopted male circumcision as one way of preventing the transmission of STIs and HIV/AIDS. This has been primarily as a result of evidence that suggests that the practice reduces transmission of the virus by approximately 60%. The programme is currently being rolled out country wide (“National AIDS Council: Male Circumcision in Zimbabwe“).

• The Results-Based Management System (RBM) became Government Policy in 2005 as a management tool to improve public sector management. The aim is to focus more on achieving results using given expenditure targets. The adoption of this system is a result of the recommendations from the Public Service Review Commission to introduce Performance Management System in 1999 (“Zimbabwe civil service reform and results based management: lessons learned“, “Zimbabwean experience in implementing RBM“).

These examples and the general consideration of evidence informed policy making raise the following questions for future discussion:

1) Where are the potential areas where research evidence is more likely to be used?
2) When and in what areas different types of evidence are more relevant? Is ‘citizen evidence’ more relevant than research evidence?
3) What are the main obstacles hindering implementation of policies? How can it be improved?

The EIPM course will take place in Mutare, Zimbabwe, starting with module 1: an introduction to EIPM, which is being piloted in November. This will be followed around April next year with pilots of modules 2-5 that will cover how to search, source and assess evidence.

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Libraries help research institutions achieve their goals

Jon Harle reflects on three case studies that demonstrate how African research libraries can support their institutions

Libraries and their staff can play important roles in enabling their institutions to achieve more – to provide high-quality teaching, to undertake rigorous research, and to provide the essential conditions for learning and scholarship to flourish. But to do this they need to understand what it is their institutions are trying to achieve, and to identify what they can contribute.

INASP and the ACU were interested to know how different African libraries were ensuring that they were supporting their institutions to achieve their goals so they put out a call for case studies. Three stood out, and the following case studies show how one Kenyan and two South African institutions have sought to deliver on this potential.

In ‘Enhancing the visibility and accessibility of research,’ Agatha Kabugu, of Kenya’s University of Nairobi, explains how the library took the lead in developing the university’s approach to open access. The library identified the university’s ambition to make its research more visible as an area where it could offer particular support. It specifically saw a role in the development of open-access policies and services. Academics and students are made aware of open-access resources, including through training programmes, and staff have been trained in order to develop a repository of the university’s research outputs. Perhaps most significant has been its success in getting open access on to the agenda of the institution’s senior management, with the library asked to chair a university committee and develop an open-access policy to guide it and the university community.

Training in online research resources, for academics and students, has been made one of the library’s key targets in its performance contract, which forms part of the university’s overall performance contract with the Government of Kenya.

Elisha Chiware, of South Africa’s Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), explains in ‘Aligned: An academic library’s strategic plan in response to institutional goals’ how the university’s library sought to ensure that its own strategic plan responded to the goals set out by the institution. In doing so, the library was stimulated to develop and improve its services. Librarians must continue to address ‘questions of relevance, value and impact of the library’, he argues, articulating and asserting the contribution they make.

For each of CPUT’s institutional goals, the library has replied with a goal of its own. The strategy has then been translated into an annual operational plan for each area of the library’s service. Faculty libraries have aligned their plans with their respective faculty’s objectives. Importantly, the library has actively invested in its staff, to ensure they are best able to deliver on these goals – encompassing skills such as financial management, statistics and data analysis, and research data curation.

Also from South Africa, Avenal Finlayson and Sara Bibi Mitha of the Durban University of Technology (‘Research support for academic excellence’) discuss the library’s approach to making sure that the institution is able to perform in research – including at postgraduate level. As at CPUT, this involved aligning services to institutional goals – developing new digital services, a postgraduate ‘Research Commons’ space, and offering training in research skills and information literacy. Alongside new or re-developed services, the organisational structure was updated to reflect the research focus. New postgraduate librarian posts were created, to work alongside subject specialists, a committee of librarians and academics established to steer the institutional repository, and the research and innovation department refocused to spearhead digital changes. As at CPUT, opportunities for library staff to develop their skills have been a key part of the approach.

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Helping Zimbabwe’s policy makers with evidence informed policy making – Part 1

Clara Richards reports back from online discussions that aimed to define evidence informed policy making in Zimbabwe

INASP, working with the Zimbabwe evidence informed policy network (ZeipNET), is developing a course in evidence informed policy making (EIPM) aimed at policy makers in Zimbabwe. To help develop the content, we held an online discussion during the months of August and September with some relevant stakeholders. Among these stakeholders were senior policymakers from the relevant ministries and Parliament, members of academia and the private sector. The aim of the discussion was to get appropriate examples where evidence has been used in policy making. We also aimed to get an understanding of how evidence is interpreted in the Zimbabwean context.

As part of the discussion, participants defined evidence informed policy making (EIPM) in Zimbabwe. Some described it as the ‘conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current and latest research evidence to inform decision making’. Participants noted that the practice also includes the people’s values, norms and culture that are also supported by the experiences and expertise of the community or group of people.

Summing up this part of the discussion, EIPM has three pieces of the puzzle:
1. Research evidence;
2. Norms values and preferences; and
3. Experiences and expectations.

Some participants thought that the values and preferences were sometimes predominant in the process and found it very difficult to encourage more and better use of evidence in this context. Moreover, the pressures that exist in the process of policy making, such as time and urgency, also make the use of evidence very difficult.

The majority accepted the existence of these challenges but thought that there was a way to overcome them. Like in any country, politics is inherent in the process of policy making in Zimbabwe. However, the group agreed that evidence is used in policy making today, although sometimes very lightly.

Examples of research evidence are mainly found in health, economics and technology issues. Other areas use evidence as well, although different types. The discussion led to the conclusion that, in the midst of partisan politics and negative influences on decision making, one of the major objectives of evidence informed policy making is to promote transparency and accountability in government departments and give the skills to individuals to source the best evidence available, even if the decision is then to ignore it.

The formal and informal processes of policy making were also discussed. Many agreed that usually the informal processes are stronger than the formal ones in terms of policy making. Different stakeholders that are not necessarily “formally” part of the process have a lot of power in decision-making. These stakeholders include lobby groups, the private sector, and international players.

The group thought that, as complex as it may sound, there is need to recognize the informal side of the process, that is, to identify it clearly and include it in the process of making policy. This proposed approach will allow EIPM practitioners to see beyond the conventional linear policy making process, appreciate the realities on the ground and act accordingly. Besides getting policy into use, it’s important to get consensus with all relevant stakeholders; finding this balance is a huge challenge.

Regarding the types of evidence used, many times in the discussion and by the examples provided, participants referred to ‘citizen or participatory evidence’. The process of holding consultations, surveys, interviews and conducting needs assessment came up several times when describing the way that evidence is used in Zimbabwe. Desk reviews and research evidence were also mentioned, especially when talking about health issues. Experiences from other countries are also utilised but combined with internal consultations as well to make interventions relevant to the context. It seems that, depending on the field and the reason to get evidence, one type of evidence may be prioritised over another. It was clear from the discussion that often research evidence does not exist or is not available and therefore, public consultations prevail.

A point that followed on was that, although there are some examples of the use of evidence in the formulation of policies, it seems the implementation mechanism is sometimes inefficient and sometimes it takes quite a long time before such evidence is implemented.

In a follow-up blog post I will look at what the online discussions revealed about some of the ways that evidence is already being used in policy making in Zimbabwe.

The EIPM course will take place in Mutare, Zimbabwe, starting with module 1: an introduction to EIPM, which is being piloted in November. This will be followed around April next year with pilots of modules 2-5 that will cover how to search, source and assess evidence.

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Launch of the Consortium of Academic Publishers in Tanzania

Does Tanzania have a reading culture? This was one of the questions raised at the launch of the Consortium of Academic Publishers in Tanzania, held at the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) on June 16. Although everybody present at the launch was very enthusiastic about the project and the possibilities it will offer to strengthen digital and academic publishing in Tanzania, there was also discussion about the challenges and difficulties of publishing in this country. Children grow up in an environment where reading isn’t stimulated and access to high quality publications is difficult. In addition to this, universities give credits for publishing in international journals, but do not acknowledge articles published in Tanzanian journals. That will be one of the tasks of the newly established consortium: liaising with the Tanzanian Commission for Universities to have a standardized list for all universities of recommended international AND indigenous journals.

Another big challenge that keeps coming up in discussions about publishing in Tanzania, is the lack of English proficiency among university students. Submissions that are being received by editors are simply not good enough and it takes too much time to rewrite all of the papers. Some say the lack of English language skills is caused by the fact that Kiswahili is the language of education for primary schools in Tanzania, but at secondary and higher education, all classes are taught in English. The shifting of language of instruction causes communication problems for both students and teachers along with a lack of native English teachers. After graduation from secondary school, English remains a big challenge for many students at universities. Continue reading “Launch of the Consortium of Academic Publishers in Tanzania” »

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This summer Oxford helped me to realize three things

Dr Haseeb Md Irfanullah is an AuthorAID mentor and an editor of Bangladesh Journal of Plant Taxonomy hosted on BanglaJOL. On 7−18 July, Haseeb participated in a 2-week publishing summer school at the Oxford Brookes University, UK, with financial support from the INASP. This article captures his recent realizations and thoughts on publishing. Working full-time for a UK-based charity Practical Action in Bangladesh, Haseeb is available on and can be followed on @hmirfanullah


I work for Practical Action − an NGO which uses simple technologies to help the poor. Here we believe in ‘small is beautiful’ – a philosophy EF Schumacher introduced several decades back.

In the publishing industry, however, big is better and [the question of size] is becoming unavoidable. In the publishing training I attended, Amazon’s ever-increasing size, its monopolization, and its fight with Hachette came up again and again. Our visit to Lightning Source/Ingram, the world’s largest print-on-demand facility, showed us how you can have 11 million titles in hand and  be ready to print just 1 copy of 1 book if 1 person places a request. Bloomsbury Publishing – the publishers of the Harry Potter books −, on the other hand, acquired 10 smaller academic and professional publishers during 2007−2013 and achieved 300% revenue growth in just 4 years (2010-14). Publishing is [definitely] not dying, if anyone had any doubts!
Continue reading “This summer Oxford helped me to realize three things” »

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