Weekly highlights – 31st July 2015


“Without INASP we wouldn’t have met like this. Now I have many friends and contacts which will be useful for learning and sharing when I get back home. This has been a very rewarding experience.” – Participant in this week’s African Regional Meeting for library consortia

  1. Updates
  • 175 researchers (43% female) from 28 countries have completed the latest AuthorAID online course and received their certificates. 60% of the course completers came from Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Mozambique, Kenya and Cameroon.
  • This week, representatives of library consortia from across Africa have been meeting together in Ethiopia for the African Regional Meeting. Meanwhile in Ghana the VakaYiko consortium held its annual meeting at GINKS’ headquarters. Read discussions from the two meetings using the hashtags #inaspAfrica and #VY2015 respectively.
  1. Upcoming events
  • From 10th to 11th August managers of the Journals Online platforms and INASP staff will meet in Vancouver, Canada.
  • Anne Powell will make a country visit to Lesotho between 10th and 15th August.
  • Anne Powell and Peter Burnett will attend the IFLA conference in South Africa from 15th to 21st August.
  1. Recent publications
  1. External coverage
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Generating and using research knowledge in Malawi

Sue Corbett shares some of INASP’s experience and observations about Malawi’s research system based on a recent visit and many years of working in the country.

Our local partners, Trevor Namondwe and Patrick Mapulanga (of MALICO, LUANAR and Chancellor College) halfway through the 2000km road trip.

Our local partners, Trevor Namondwe and Patrick Mapulanga (of MALICO, LUANAR and Chancellor College) halfway through the 2000km road trip.


Think of Malawi, and you might think of vivid green tea plantations or a sparkling freshwater lake. You probably wouldn’t think about its research and knowledge system – strained, but still alive with new ideas and energy to ensure research is at the service of Malawi’s development.

In March a colleague and I made a five-day visit to Malawi, jointly with a couple of our Malawian partners. It was one of a series of visits that INASP staff members are doing to assess the conditions in our partner countries, discuss progress in current projects and understand readiness for further support in strengthening various elements of the research and knowledge “ecosystem”.

Malawi is a small, poor country. 60% of its population relies on subsistence agriculture. Up to 40% of the national budget comes from international aid so the 2013 Cashgate scandal and the subsequent suspension of funds from a number of donors hit hard. Only 1% of high school graduates is enrolled in higher education, significantly less than neighbours Tanzania and Mozambique. And in January 2015, Malawi suffered its worst floods for 50 years, killing hundreds and displacing thousands.

On a 2,000km road trip, we visited universities, government and related bodies, and development organizations. We stopped off briefly in a village on Zomba Plateau where the effects of the recent rain and hail could be seen in the twisted metal roof of our driver’s family house.

Despite all the challenges, there was an impressive recognition of the central tenet that we hold dear at INASP – that development must include the generation and use of knowledge, evidence and research that is relevant to local needs.

Taking stock

The 50th anniversary of independence has provoked a “stocktaking” and reflection on what universities should be doing and what community engagement should look like. Universities are being challenged to engage with the new public sector reform agenda published in February 2015 and some senior academics lamented the continuing existence within government of “cut and paste” policies from elsewhere that end up achieving little.

And knowledge is being generated, if not always published, from some places that might appear surprising to outsiders. Although Kamuzu College of Nursing has only just admitted its first cohort of seven PhDs, every one of the Master’s students has to do a piece of research on topics such as self-testing for HIV, intimate partner violence, post-abortion care and neonatal outcomes from new approaches to treating mothers.

Chancellor College is currently reviewing the curricula for all the courses it offers and wants every one to include a research component. LUANAR, the newly independent university for agricultural and environmental science, now has 3,500 students on undergraduate, masters and PhD courses. With some new funding, it may now also have the opportunity to establish itself as a centre of regional excellence. If it does, it may be able to start doing larger, locally-led research projects that generate better data for national decision-making than the contract research that has monopolized faculty time until recently.

Building the skills

The development of a body of researchers at various levels is one matter but building the skills they need to get funding, develop good projects and communicate the results is another – and the latter is where we at INASP focus our efforts.

Within the University of Malawi, the Research Support Centre at the College of Medicine has successfully developed a programme of support for researchers in funding, grant management and compliance, data and research methods. Researchers from the diaspora have been attracted home and the College currently has 76 grants with the 17 largest totalling $115m.

The University of Malawi would like to have a similar centre in every college but the pool of expertise is currently small, what works and what doesn’t has to be figured out as they go along and there are many competing calls on the time of trainers and trainees alike. Here, we felt, was a golden opportunity to put training online so that opportunities for learning could be scaled up, and accessed at the point of need.

Better evidence, better decisions

When it comes to putting research into use, Collins Mitambo explained the Knowledge Translation Platform, an IDRC-funded project embedded in the Ministry of Health, which aims to generate evidence-based policy briefs for use in national decision-making. A community of practice that includes policymakers and researchers determines the subjects. They are currently focusing on the areas of HIV and the use of data for managing the supply chain for drugs and, in particular, avoiding the stockouts which have been a problem in Malawi. Members of the community are being trained to write the briefs and they usefully include a list of the policy options and the pros and cons for each, with policy dialogues being held to discuss the results. This echoes some of INASP’s experiences with policy dialogues through the VakaYiko programme in Zimbabwe.

Sydney Byrns of Engineers without Borders has been in Malawi for four years working on water, sanitation and health. She told us how their work has shifted from hands-on infrastructural work to working with local partners to make sure that good data and evidence are being gathered to inform decision-making at district and national levels.

Clement Udedi of DTree International, who is also doing a part-time MBA, told us how a recent AuthorAID course on writing up research for publication had helped him. But we were just as interested to hear that his day job involves equipping health workers with standardized protocols on smartphones. This has been enthusiastically received because it helps health workers reduce the diagnostic errors that resulted from the very basic clinical training that is all that most receive.

Energy for change

As on all our visits, it is not hard to identify those individuals with the energy and commitment to push for change. Some of those individuals also have the ability to motivate colleagues and fund-holders to mobilise the resources they need to get started. But moving from early stage projects to sustained change at a national level is a whole different challenge. This is where INASP’s support within the Strengthening Research and Knowledge Systems programme is designed to help.

In Malawi we work with the Malawi Library and Information Consortium to ensure that universities and research institutions can secure access to the journals and e-books they need – a challenge when foreign exchange is in short supply. We’ve also been working with Mzuzu University to explore how professional training programmes can be strengthened to develop librarians ready to support Malawi’s future research needs. This factsheet gives a snapshot of what has been going on in collaboration with our local partners.

Follow the hashtag #inaspMW for more on our activities with Malawi and sign up to alerts from this blog for further discussions on research systems.

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Library consortia sharing expertise: A small meeting tackling important issues in Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa is used to hosting big and important meetings. The African Union and UNECA are both based here. A few weeks ago the UN Financing for Development conference brought several thousand visitors to Addis Ababa. And on Sunday evening President Obama flew in from Kenya. But this week Addis is also playing host to a smaller, quieter event – but an important one nevertheless.

Seven library consortia have come together in Addis, hosted by the Consortium for Ethiopian Academic and Research Libraries (CEARL) and facilitated by INASP, to spend five days sharing ideas, learning, and collectively identifying solutions to some of the many challenges they share.

But library consortia aren’t just clubs or networks of libraries: they play a key role in enabling a strong and effective research and knowledge system. By enabling their member institutions to collectively purchase online journals and books, consortia are making a critical contribution to improving the quality of research and teaching. That means contributing to more robust research, and better learning environments for students.

Tapping a reservoir of expertise

One of INASP’s strengths lies in its network – a fantastic reservoir of experience and expertise from across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Here in Addis we’re pooling some of that African expertise. What’s distinctive about this network is not just that this brings together individuals and organisations from many countries, but that it brings partners together who have found solutions to problems and done so in situations where resources – financial or people – are strained.

The group assembled in Addis this week – library consortia from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe which share a common ambition – and a common need – to ensure that their countries have good access to research. This requires them to work with publishers who sell journal and book collections (or in some cases offer them free of charge), build a membership base to raise funding, manage the set-up of online access, monitor usage, ensure users are aware what’s available, and offer a host of training and support to their members, and through them to students and researchers. And to do this they need to develop an organisational structure that enables them to collaborate to do this – developing management structures, planning and decision making mechanisms, financial systems, and approaches to communications and advocacy. They’re doing this as a collection of volunteers – all with demanding day jobs serving their institutions.

Critically, we share the aim of ensuring that whatever we develop, it’s sustainable beyond the life of INASP’s current programme of support (Strengthening Research and Knowledge Systems). This will be no small feat – particularly as the environment changes around us rapidly.

Sparking new ideas

A couple of days in, and our hopes for the week – and more importantly, those of the partners we’ve brought together – seem to be being realized. There have already been several examples where colleagues from one country have helped colleagues from another to begin to re-think ways of tackling problems that before seemed insurmountable. Colleagues from the Ghanaian consortium, CARLIGH, have talked about their approach to building a financial reserve, colleagues from the Uganda consortium, CUUL, had managed to secure free office space from a member university, and the Zimbabwean consortium, ZULC, have re-aligned their working groups with their new strategy, and MALICO, the Malawian consortium talked about the progress they’d made in developing a cost-sharing structure.

Solving problems in Addis: KLISC, CARLIGH and MALICO working together

Solving problems in Addis: KLISC, CARLIGH and MALICO working together (Photo: Vanessa Fairhurst)

And some of the conversations are collectively triggering new ideas – tapping into expertise closer to home, from business schools or marketing departments – and working together as a regional group more strategically. Practical sessions on problem solving, M&E and advocacy are all helping to tease out the ideas, and offer new tools and approaches. Sometimes the ideas are simple and the solutions relatively straightforward – but that’s the beauty of it. The simpler the better – it means participants can go home armed with some practical next steps.

A valuable contribution

Particularly impressive was our host’s (CEARL) ability to persuade senior officials of the value the consortium brings to Ethiopian higher education. So much so that this morning we were joined by the Director General for Higher Education from the Ministry of Education, Dr Samuel Kifle, and the Vice President of Addis Ababa University, Dr Jeilu Oumer. It was clear, they said, that quality research and education in Ethiopia’s universities would depend on the work of CEARL, and its partnerships with other consortia in the region.

And of course by contributing to quality research and skilled graduates, they’re also helping to realize ambitions that many African countries share – that higher education and research achieve their potential to enable and advance national development.

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Capacity development for evidence-informed policy making in the Philippines

Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines receives a grant for evidence-informed policy making (EIPM) activities within the INASP-led VakaYiko programme. Anne Lan K. Candelaria discusses why there is fertile ground for EIPM in the Philippines.

There are many capacity-building programmes being offered to policy makers in the Philippines. Of late, the push to eradicate corruption in government by the Philippine president, Benigno Aquino III, has increased the demand for trainings that will enhance transparency among government agencies. Some of these policies are:

These strongly suggest that the current government is supportive of evidence-informed governance and policy making.

What are we doing?

Our project seeks to address the following gaps in current policy making activities surrounding education in the Philippines:

  • The use of evidence in policy making among subnational government institutions
  • The organizational gap between national agencies, the Department of Education and local policy makers.
  • The gap between the local policy institutions, particularly the Local School Board and the Local Councils.

We aim to do this through a two-phased, capacity-building programme. The first phase involves the delivery of four training modules, and the second phase implements a three-month online and face-to-face mentoring engagement between the participants as they go through the adoption and implementation of proposed evidence-informed policies to address collectively identified concerns in education. As a culminating activity, the participants will be invited to present their experiences and EIPM journey in a roundtable.

In designing our programme, we took into consideration two things: (a) a less technical language, and (b) a more informal and interactive design. This capacity programme therefore is framed within a developmental approach, where a combination of workshop-intensive training and a ‘learning-by-doing’ / mentoring was implemented. The two-phased capacity building programme was designed to facilitate an informal but structured dialogue (similar to policy circles) among the participants from the same municipalities and their province and, together, come up with an initial policy commitment that will further EIPM in their respective areas. In addition, ours also provides room for policymakers to try-out and experiment with the use of EIPM without political risks.

We chose two provinces: Nueva Vizcaya located in the island of Luzon and Samar located in one of the islands in Visayas. Each provincial government then selected three municipalities or towns who will be part of this programme.

Our training workshops consist of four modules. The first module introduces EIPM and why it is important in local education governance. Module 2 introduces useful Evidences in Education including the discussion of performance indicators commonly used by the Department of Education. Module 3 discusses the principles of Data Management including an overview of Action-based research and its ethical considerations. Finally, Module 4 introduces the Policy Lean Canvas as an alternative tool for Weighing Policy Decisions and Alternatives. It ends with a special note on ‘Learning from Policy Failures’ as a necessary step towards the improvement of their internal systems and processes of policymaking.

At the end of the project, we expect that all participants would have implemented their EIPM policy commitments, all modules and materials developed will be turned over to the Department of Interior and Local Government’s Local Government Academy for possible mainstreaming, materials for case study development have been collected and stored; and results of the project have been communicated to all other stakeholders in various platforms available.

Why education?

Education has always received the most attention in the national government’s policy tables. For 2014, 18.6% of the budget (approx. US$8.34 billion) went to education. Many reforms have also taken place in the last 20 years to improve the quality of the country’s education system. However, the most recent and radical reform is the K to 12 program, which added two years of senior high school to the current 10-year basic education.

Changes are also taking place within the bureaucracy, such as the rationalization of the Department of Education (DepEd)’s operations and organizational structure, expansion of its online database called Basic Education Information System, and the decentralization of some key instructional and management functions to the schools through its school-based management programme.

Despite these developments however, an evidence-informed education policy at sub-national levels of government is still wanting. This is partly because education is still a centralized function of government; it has never been formally devolved like, for example, health or social services.

However, in reality, education is a shared local responsibility. The Local School Board, a multi-sectoral local board, is mandated to plan and implement education-related policies and programmes that are, on the one hand, aligned with current national policies and, on the other hand, focused on local concerns and needs. It is chaired by the Local Chief Executive (Mayors and Governors) and the local DepEd representative (school district Supervisors and Superintendents). It is therefore not surprising that the cost of financing education locally is increasing over the years. A study conducted by AusAID and the World Bank in 2010 suggests that local governments have been increasingly investing in education by as much as 73% from 2002 to 2008.

Still the reality is that the Department of Education, the national government agency mandated to manage the educational system in the country, dominates the policy environment as well as control of data related to education. Hence, our programme also seeks to address the primordial need for evidence to be accessible across agencies of government.

In addition, we also intend to work on the need for the executive and legislative bodies at the local level to understand what these data mean and how it can be used from a policy perspective. But they should learn together (something that traditionally does not happen often) because the policy experience of one enriches the other. The programme therefore provides for a “safe” (non-politicized) venue where the executive and legislative can collaboratively set policy directions that can be manifested into actual policies and subsequently translated into local projects and programmes.

Local policymakers as priority in capacity development

We strongly believe that local policymakers form the country’s policy making backbone. It has been 24 years since the 1991 Local Government Code empowered the local governments to plan and implement policies and programmes that respond to their local concerns. Locally, they act not only as the glue that binds the local bureaucracy and the community together but, more importantly, as a source of remedy for a wide range of concerns from the mundane to the complicated. We therefore envision our participants to become culture shapers within their own organizations, and hopefully to their larger community, after going through this capacity-development programme.

More than strategic thinking, we believe that transforming the culture of policy making in subnational levels of government is key in institutionalizing change and promoting a more open process of governance.

Anne Lan K. Candelaria, PhD is Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University. She was the former director of the Ateneo Center for Asian Studies (ACAS) and the Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED).  She has worked on research and development programmes on decentralization, public policy, local education governance and citizenship education. 

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Why Obama’s visit wasn’t the only reason for excitement in Kenya this week

The big excitement in Nairobi this week has been President Obama’s impending visit – his first as president. Workers were busy hanging the Stars and Stripes from the lamposts on Thika Road, there were helicopters parked on the lawns of Nairobi and Kenyatta universities, and residents worried that road closures would leave them stranded across the city. As I write this on Friday evening, Air Force One has just landed and the three day visit is finally underway.

But for me Nairobi held a different kind of excitement this week – seeing what some of our partners in Kenya have achieved.

Enabling research for development in Kenya

I spent much of Thursday with members of Kenya’s national library consortium – KLISC. INASP has been working with partners in Kenya since 2001, and with the group of librarians which came together to form KLISC in 2003. In the wings of a meeting of Kenyan librarians, I spent a couple of hours discussing INASP’s partnership with the KLISC executive committee. It was inspiring to see what they and their members have achieved in recent years. My impression was of a confident and strong leadership, with a clarity of purpose, thinking strategically about the future, and with a real energy to support research in Kenya. KLISC is clear that it has a vital role to play in enabling Kenyan research and teaching, and in doing so to enable this to contribute to national development.

Meeting members of the KLISC executive committee at USIU-Africa, Nairobi

Meeting members of the KLISC executive committee at USIU-Africa, Nairobi

Working with INASP, and with the support of academic publishers, KLISC has enabled Kenyan universities, research institutes, hospitals, think tanks and government agencies to secure access to an impressive collection of online journals and books. It expects its membership to reach 150 in the next year, and is providing some 47,000 journals and 1,200 ebooks free at the point of use to Kenyan academics, students and professionals. It is also providing a programme of training to its members to enable these to be accessed and used.

Relevance and quality

KLISC is acutely aware of the need for research to be relevant to local needs, and making sure research undertaken in Kenya is also a priority. They expect demand for access to Kenyan research to grow, and are supporting their members to develop institutional repositories to ensure it is.

Quality is a big theme in African higher education, and particularly in Kenya where rapid expansion creates new challenges. KLISC has recognised this, and in recent years has also built a strong relationship with the Commission for University Education, Kenya’s regulatory body for the sector. Universities now only receive a charter from government when they can demonstrate they can provide access to a good collection of journals and books to support quality teaching and research. The Kenyan Education Network (KENET) which provides affordable bandwidth and IT support to Kenyan universities and colleges is also a close partner.

Investing in the future

Of course the consortium isn’t without challenges. Kenyan higher education is expanding at an incredible rate, and many of the institutions joining KLISC require a lot of support. Some struggle to contribute their share of funding, lack the expertise or budget to set up the necessary IT facilities, and rely on KLISC to provide training and support. The growth of universities also makes the consortium more complicated to manage.

But KLISC recognises that securing its future requires investing in leadership – particularly the next generation – and demonstrating the value it brings to the institutions who make up its membership. As the executive noted, a strong KLISC will depend on strong member institutions, who are investing in their own library leaders.

While access is good, KLISC are also aware that collections aren’t being used as much as they would like. Its members have successfully engaged students to help improve awareness in the classroom, but KLISC wants to develop new approaches to engaging academics.

KLISC’s achievements might not be generating quite the same buzz as Obama, but when Air Force one has taken to the skies again, KLISC will still be steadily improving the conditions for research and teaching in Kenya – and in turn, its social and economic development.

INASP is also supporting the African Centre for Technology Studies, which is hosting a series of roundtables to bring research evidence into Kenya’s climate change bill and policy process.  For more on INASP’s work in Kenya see these latest facts and figures and our Kenya country page.

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Weekly highlights – 23 July 2015

  1. Staff quote

“The Journals Online (JOL) handovers are now gaining momentum. In particular, the Bangladesh Journals Online (BanglaJOL) manager and the editors have loaded 100% of the content since the beginning of the year. In Nepal, despite the tragic consequences of the recent earthquakes, 70% of the content has been loaded locally, showing their commitment to their journals and Nepal Journals Online (NepJOL). The new Sri Lanka Journals Online (SLJOL) website has been officially launched in conjunction with Ubiquity Press and the National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka and the local team have also developed an ambitious promotion strategy for SLJOL. Finally, preparations are at an advanced stage for the First JOL Managers Meeting being held in Vancouver in August where the management teams will discuss archiving issues, publication ethics, business plans, communications strategies and the proposed journal classification scheme.”

Sioux Cumming, Programme Manager, Journals Online

  1. Updates
  • Jon Harle is in Kenya this week talking to members of the Kenya Libraries and Information Services Consortium, reviewing progress of the consortium’s strategy plan for managing e-resource access.
  • Next week many INASP staff will be in Africa, for the annual VakaYiko consortium meeting, which will be held in Ghana, and the African Regional Meeting for library consortia, which will be in Ethiopia. Follow updates from the two meeting using the hashtags #VY2015 and #inaspAfrica respectively.
  • In preparation for next week’s meetings, we have added to INASP’s facts and figures collection, with new factsheets published about our work with Ethiopia and Kenya.
  1. Upcoming events
  • From 27th to 31st July representatives of library consortia from across Africa will meet together in Ethiopia for the African Regional Meeting. The objective of this meeting, which will include representatives from Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, will be to support our consortium partners as they develop further as organizations with the strength to secure, provide and manage access to e-resources.
  • From 28th to 30th July the VakaYiko consortium will hold its annual meeting at GINKS’ headquarters in Accra, Ghana.
  • From 29th to 31st July we will be organizing a pedagogical skills follow-up workshop for teaching staff at the University Dar es-Salaam Information Studies Programme.
  • From 10th to 11th August managers of the Journals Online platforms and INASP staff will meet in Vancouver, Canada.
  1. Recent publications
  1. External coverage
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