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?

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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.

Maaike Duine
Maaike Duine is the VSO Professional Volunteer working on a pilot project which aims to increase the quality of academic publishing in Tanzania through the creation of a consortium of academic publishers and through training, skills development and capacity building. The project is a collaboration of VSO, COSTECH and INASP.

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