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Category Archives: General
Jacinta Were, an INASP associate based in Kenya, discusses how INASP and the Kenyan library consortium have worked together for well over a decade to support sustainable access to electronic research information in the country.
I’ve known and worked with INASP for the last 15 years, mainly to support research in Africa. When INASP started working in Kenya we had gone for about six years without subscribing to any journals because there was no budget. When we did subscribe to a journal, it was just one at a time, in print form, and it would often take two years to arrive. When INASP arrived and explained what they were planning to do we welcomed them, we said “Yes, this is really the right time!”
I can speak for my country when I say that INASP support has rejuvenated libraries in Kenya, which are now able to support researchers. INASP introduced us to electronic library research literature. We are now able to access over 46,000 electronic journals and books and the researchers; having been reluctant in the beginning, are now hooked on them.
The way INASP works has been a very different approach for us in Kenya, different from the donor-supported projects we are used to. INASP has helped us to take ownership of the whole project. For the last 15 years we’ve been working on making it ours and focusing on sustainability, which has been quite exciting and very successful.
INASP support in Kenya started with subscriptions to online journals. After years, due to the political situation, donors shied away from Kenya and it was at that point that INASP helped us to set up a library consortium – the Kenya Library and Information Services Consortium (KLISC). We’d never dreamt of supporting ourselves, but we now have over 100 members and are self-sustaining in many ways. We are able to subscribe to the journals ourselves as well as to engage in negotiations with publishers. Sustainability is about developing skills and capacity as our financial situation has not changed, so one of KLISC’s strengths is in being able to manage our limited budget to maximum effect.
INASP’s work in Kenya has given us a product in the form of electronic journals, and KLISC is able to supply that product. This has enabled libraries to become organized and visible and to place themselves at the centre of research within the institutions.
The consortium model has been so successful for enabling sustainable access to electronic library resources in Kenya that over the years we have tried to encourage other countries to establish consortia. There is a lot of potential out there; many countries have already started to work within this model. Some are well-developed and others are just starting out. In Africa, Kenya’s library consortium is one of the most developed and we realized that we could support other countries and consortia to grow stronger. With INASP support we have started to collaborate with the Consortium of Ethiopian Academic Research Libraries (CEARL). In the first six months of working together, a team from CEARL visited KLISC in Kenya to meet, learn and network. I then took on the role of a ‘mentor’ for the Ethiopian consortium, communicating between the two organizations and advising CEARL on how to build its strengths. Over the first six months we saw the Ethiopian Consortium grow and become more active; it has been a successful pilot. I would like to see replication of this in other countries to build more strong consortia in Africa. We have in mind the development of an electronic network to provide a platform for people to share South-to-South experiences, challenges and solutions in supporting research across the continent.■
Jacinta Were has over 37 years’ experience of managing libraries, retiring from the University of Nairobi in 2015 where she served as Deputy Director in charge of library electronic services. She led the establishment of library consortia in Eastern and Central Africa including the Kenya Library and Information Services Consortium.
In part one of this series, INASP Associate Ravi Murugesan reflected on the development of a Scholarly Commons and the need to consider how the guiding principles can involve, and be relevant to, researchers in the Global South.
The development of Scholarly Commons is guided by the principles that:
- Research and knowledge should be freely available to all who wish to use or reuse it
- Participation in the production and use of knowledge should be open to all who wish to participate
Two months after attending the Scholarly Commons Working Group workshop, I went to the remote state of Tripura in the Indian northeast to give a talk on scientific writing and publishing. Here, I was reminded of the enormous gap between the ideal of the commons and the reality that many Southern researchers experience.
India has a good number of world-class research institutions and cities like New Delhi and Mumbai that host major conferences. However, Tripura – as with many other places in India – is off the map even for many Indian academics. That said, nearly every state in India has at least one major university funded by the central or state government. This funding allows for a certain amount of research to take place and covers subscriptions to journals through the national digital library consortium and some direct deals with publishers.
Public universities in India tend to have vast campuses with tens of thousands of staff and students. Most students are at the undergraduate level and much of the university activity is focused on teaching.
Scholarly research does take place but under constraints such as limited funding, insufficient collegial support, and of course, excessive teaching responsibilities.
While researchers may be motivated to make the world a better place or connect research to local development priorities, in reality, the primary aspiration is to publish in high-impact journals.
Northern researchers, just like Southern researchers, are under pressure to publish and may not get any ‘academic points’ for making their research data and outputs openly available in the spirit of the scholarly commons. However, Northern researchers do not have to work in the challenging research environments that envelop many Southern researchers. Opportunities to do high-quality research are limited in the South, and the focus in terms of research output is on writing a paper that is fit for a journal with that magical number: the impact factor. Whether the journal is open access or not is often a minor consideration. Even well-known open access journals can be unaffordable for Southern researchers when APC (article-processing charge) waivers are not given.
Imagine this: You are a young faculty member at a university in a developing country with perhaps a couple of decades to go before you rise up in a heavy-handed bureaucratic system to become a full professor with some freedom in research and teaching. Perhaps you grew up in a part of the world many people don’t know about. Perhaps your region, culture, language or race is marginalized even in your own country. Your experience of the larger world has primarily been through the lens of the media.
As an academic, publishing your research in the same journals as the world’s academic elite provides an opportunity to redress the balance.
It is not just a matter of personal ambition. In India, the Academic Performance Indicator (API) is a metric used in universities to evaluate the teaching and research performance of faculty members, but credit is heavily weighted towards publishing in journals – particularly those with high impact factors.
A couple of weeks after visiting Tripura University in India, I found myself in another remote part of the academic universe: Thai Nguyen University (TNU) in the northern, mountainous part of Vietnam.
Here too academics were driven to publish in high-impact journals and were focused on publishing in the journals of one particular publisher – Elsevier. A senior academic at TNU told me that cash awards are given for publications in high-impact journals, indicating that they deserve respect on the world’s academic stage, having overcome the barriers of location and circumstances.
It is not enough to encourage researchers in the Tripuras and Thai Nguyens of the world today to share their research data and outputs in the public domain. The national, institutional and collegial environments in developing countries put excessive pressure on researchers to focus on publishing – and getting published is not easy. So it’s not surprising that scholarly commons principles – such as maximizing the transparency and accessibility of research data – are not primary concerns.
It is essential, therefore, to make a case at the level of national university commissions or at least institutions, where academic structures and guidelines are put in place. It is also essential to influence policymakers and research funders to promulgate new approaches to research communication.
Making scholarly commons a global academic norm is not an easy journey and the going will be slow. But to begin with, it is imperative that we start convening and listening in diverse places around the world if we believe that research communication should be an open, well-connected artifact of humankind that helps us all progress.■
This post is the first of a two-part series. In this first part, INASP Associate Ravi Murugesan describes his participation at a workshop organized by the Scholarly Commons Working Group.
Part 1 of 2
There are two ways to write a report of a major event: right after attending it – while the memory of what transpired is still fresh – or sometime later, after seeing the world through a new lens inspired by that event and considering the event again in the light of what one sees. I’ve opted for the second approach to reflect on the Scholarly Commons Workshop in San Diego that I attended in September of last year.
The Scholarly Commons Working Group (SCWG), which organized this workshop, is an initiative of the nonprofit organization FORCE11.
According to the live draft of the Scholarly Commons principles:
“…the Scholarly Commons defines a system of scholarship and research production and dissemination that:
Promotes the best research and scholarship possible by
- Making the process and products of research and scholarship maximally transparent
- Maximizing participation of the world’s scholars and researchers
- Capitalizing on the most productive technologies
It promotes the most rapid and wide dissemination of scholarship and research possible to all who need or want them.”
Perhaps one way to think of Scholarly Commons is ‘open access++’!
‘Open’ is a big theme at INASP. We have a longstanding commitment to open-access publishing in developing countries through our Journals Online project. Through AuthorAID online courses – regularly offered as MOOCs – we educate Southern researchers about contemporary issues in publishing including open access and open data. For these reasons – and the clear intention to involve the ‘world’s researchers’ in the building of the scholarly commons – I keenly looked forward to the Scholarly Commons workshop.
I’m not going to write a workshop report as such because at least two people have done this already: Danny Kingsley and April Hathcock. Instead I’m going to throw a light on the ‘Southern’ aspect of the workshop and in the next two posts that are part of this series I’ll go over a couple of events after the workshop that led me to wonder what it would take to implement the lofty principles of the commons in the Global South, where INASP works.
On the first day of the workshop, the participants were given an opportunity to suggest and advertise ‘unworkshop’ sessions for the second day. I proposed a session titled ‘Making the Scholarly Commons relevant in the Global South’. I thought at least a few people might be interested in discussing this, but I was stunned when nearly half of the workshop audience showed up! There were even two celebrities from the research communication world: Cameron Neylon and Ivan Oransky.
— Daniel O’Donnell (@DanielPaulOD) September 20, 2016
We spent a few hours having a candid discussion and we have a detailed report, which is part of the main proceedings. April Hathcock touches upon this session in her blog post, but I wouldn’t quite agree with her statement that this session ‘was relegated, literally and physically, to the margins, ghettoized from the main discourse’. Going by the large number of people who chose to attend this session and how everyone was actively involved – even those who didn’t have much experience working in the South – I would say this was one of the main sessions of the workshop even though it was spontaneously organized. The message was clear: Southern issues should be prioritized in the Scholarly Commons agenda.
Throughout the workshop, not just during the ‘unworkshop’, I kept wondering how all this talk of Scholarly Commons would be received in academic environments in developing countries. Or would there even be an audience to receive it? ■
Click the link to read Part 2 – Miles to go for Scholarly Commons to become a global academic norm
This is co-written with Sara Gwynn, INASP Associate
The last kilometre – or even the last 100 metres
Picture this. A kilometre from your desk there is a warehouse where the world’s most relevant, timely and credible data and knowledge are instantly available… but you can only access or contribute to it one page at a time.
To add to your difficulties, each page has to be carried along a long, meandering path, and the path is poorly signposted, badly maintained and crowded with other people. There are no rules and, even if there were, there are not enough people to enforce them. When you do eventually transport a page, you have to do the whole journey again for the next one.
It is a tortuous process that wastes time, money and opportunities for you and for those who could benefit from your work. And for many people this is a frustrating daily reality.
Laying the foundations
Years of effort and investment mean that the books, journals, databases, cables, servers, software, laptops and mobiles are largely in place, ready to go. Researchers, academics and students are ready too. But things grind to a halt in the kilometre between the backbone and the desktop if campus networks are not properly configured and managed.
This means students don’t get to develop their digital skills and academics can’t harness the power of online technologies to drive new research in new directions for development.
As we’ve written before, there’s a certain degree of hype about the potential of technology to transform African research and higher education. But there’s also huge potential, if the right foundations are laid – and, while the hardware matters, skilled people to manage it are vital.
In 2013, the UbuntuNet Alliance— including the Network Startup Resource Centre (NSRC) and AfricaConnect—and INASP identified a shared interest in the issue, and agreed to work with National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) to try and find a sustainable solution through a pilot project. We’ve just published a final learning report which highlights what we’ve achieved together, and what we’ve learnt.
Faster networks, more data
IT engineers developed their knowledge and skills, a core team in each country developed their skills to train others, and greater confidence and collaboration led to engineers across countries solving problems together. But perhaps most importantly there were tangible improvements to the speed of IT networks – enabling students and researchers to access journals and online books, to share data and to communicate with colleagues.
And as each NREN has improved internet connectivity for universities and research institutes, their memberships have grown, and they’ve been able to offer new services. The Research and Education Network of Uganda has now built a data storage facility, and developed secure data passport services which will enable Ugandan researchers to collaborate more effectively with their partners across the world.
To find out what we did, what we achieved and why, and what we learnt, you can read more here.
Young people have a vital role to play in development, and universities are important sites to nurture their skills and to harness that energy for social change (as I blogged about last week). But there is work to do to realize this potential. In East Africa, the rapid growth of universities (there are now 45 universities in Uganda – and many smaller training institutions, compared to just one university 50 years ago at Independence). A huge expansion in student places – coming after many years of under-investment in infrastructure, learning resources and in academic staff – has had a serious impact on quality. In neighbouring Kenya, a recent audit by the Commission for University Education has revealed the extent of the problem. The content of many courses is out of date, the styles of teaching reflect the ‘chalk and talk’ mode of lecturing, and in many institutions there are few incentives … Continue reading
Young people have a vital role to play in their countries’ development. There are now 1.8 billion young people (between the ages of 10 and 24, 2014 UN figures) — out of a global population of 7.3 billion — and nine out of 10 of them live in developing countries. This makes youth a vital dimension of development policy and practice, and more and more, the role of young people is being recognized. In a speech last year, the UN Deputy Secretary General put it clearly: “Young people must be recognized for who they are: agents of change whose contributions will bring benefits both to themselves and to society”. A set of institutions that have long known the potential of young people are universities. It’s through university study that young people can develop the knowledge, skills, ideas and attitudes that will enable them to contribute to their societies and economies, and also through … Continue reading