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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World class universities – or world class systems?

The idea of ‘world class universities’ grips the higher education sector, driven by several big international rankings. It’s an idea that is no less popular when it comes to many of the countries in which INASP works. But when it comes to research and higher education for development, is it world class universities that we should be pursuing?

Different institutions to do different things

Goolam Mohamedbhai argues that what African higher education needs is ‘mission differentiation’, namely a range of institutions doing different things. Rather than focusing on creating new universities, governments should instead be supporting existing institutions in different ways – some to become more research-focused, and some to concentrate more on undergraduate education. ‘It would be impossible, and unnecessary, for most staff in all tertiary institutions on the continent to have a PhD’ he argues. In a similar vein, Lynn Meek argues that our emphasis should be on ‘world-class systems’, not single top institutions.

This is more than just a matter of semantics. An important shift occurred in the last decade or so: higher education has received steadily more attention from international institutions and bilateral donors, and this has in turn helped to improve its place in national policy making. One expression of this has been new funding for ‘centres of excellence’, or in some cases ‘networks of excellence’ between leading institutions. These are certainly important, helping to develop hubs of expertise, postgraduate training and research. But often these are located at leading institutions in growing capital cities, with the danger that, with limited funding accruing to a smaller number of institutions, higher education’s broader base is neglected as a result.

Dangers of distortion?

Of course there’s a compelling argument to focus investments on a smaller number of institutions – resources are limited, and there’s an urgent need to increase research and teaching capacity. But research and training with the potential to support national development takes place in a whole host of institutions. As Jamil Salmi (the World Bank’s former tertiary education lead) warns, the pursuit of world-class institutions can create ‘dangerous distortions in resource allocation in favour of a few flagship institutions, to the detriment of the overall tertiary education system’. There’s also the problem – as this report suggests is the case in Pakistan – that a concentration of research institutions in a couple of centres can mean that needs at a provincial level are not met.

Laying the foundations

One very practical way to ensure this balance, and to help us move towards world class systems, is to focus on the foundations that support this. One such foundation is access to research literature, in the form of e-journal collections. INASP believes that broad, national access to these collections is important precisely for this reason. We work with publishers to achieve this by negotiating for national licenses, and with partner countries to support the development of national purchasing consortia. This means that many universities, colleges, research institutes, teaching hospitals and other research institutes gain access – not just one or top universities.

We’re still learning what a ‘national research and knowledge system’ looks like and what a ‘world class system’ might mean. But by taking a national approach we hope we’re helping to strengthen the network of institutions that will make up a viable system of research and training – providing a foundation on which countries can build their own institutions, as they see fit, to serve their own development needs.

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Maximizing the return on investment: Making research matter

Rose Wilcher is the Director of Research Utilization at FHI 360 where she works to translate public health research findings into evidence-based policies and practices. She has extensive experience supporting the application and scale-up of underutilized and emerging evidence in reproductive health and HIV programs in developing countries. This was originally posted on July 30, 2014 on the FHI 360 blog, Degrees

Earlier this month, the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) released a report that seeks to answer a compelling question: Does research drive international development?

Through an extensive literature review, the authors examined the evidence supporting the commonly held assumption that investing in research leads to positive impacts on socioeconomic development. One of the specific pathways they explored is whether investment in research leads to development through more evidence-informed policy and practice. While the authors provide several examples of how research has led to policy and program improvements, they also conclude that “there are significant gaps in the capacity, incentives and systems necessary to ensure that research is systematically used in decision making.” Continue reading “Maximizing the return on investment: Making research matter” »

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