Thursday, July 12, 2007

Strengthening African Research Culture and Capacities Project

Presenter: Samuel Smith Esseh
PKP Scholarly Publishing Conference
Thursday, July 12, 2007
1:45 PM - 2:45 PM in SFUHC
Westcoast Energy Executive Meeting Room
Vancouver, Canada

Samuel Smith Esseh is undertaking doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia and is a member of the Public Knowledge Project.

Samuel Esseh just returned from a research trip to Africa three days ago. He had been in Africa for eight months, traveling to five countries giving workshops and conducting research on the potential of online systems in African research pursuits. He presented a research paper that is still in progress, and discussed initial findings and what the project hopes to achieve.

The Scholarly Publishing Situation in Africa: Statistics
Africa is the second largest continent, and has over 900 million people, and therefore should be a world leader in global scholarship. In 1960-1979, scholarly publishing began to rise in Africa, a result of gains in social and political independence. However, in 1980-1985 scholarly publishing plateaued. From 1986 to now, scholarly publishing in Africa has been declining steadily.

Based on studying the PASCAL databsase from 1991-1997, and the ISI from 1981-2000,
scholarly publishing in Aftrica has been concentrated in only 7 countries of 52. These seven countries account for 75% of scholarly publishing in the continent, while the other forty-five countries account for only 25%.

The circulation numbers for African journals are low. True scholarly publications have an average circulation of 500, or at least 100-200. Only one African journal has more than 400 external subscribers. All the others have a maximum of 50 or less.

Africa has not been increasing its overall contribution to world scholarship, while many countries in other continents have seen huge increases in their contribution of publications and papers. One reason is that African universities have very low budgets for journal access and publication, ranging from a budget of 50 cents per student (Ghana) to $2.66 per student (Cape Coast) to the high of $9.00 per student (Dar es Salaam).

African scholarly works are poorly distributed, barely marketed, and hardly accessed. African scholars do not have access to all the scientific literature they need in order for science in Africa to progress efficiently and effectively.

The Growth of Internet Use in Africa
The introduction of the internet in Africa has given hope for increasing higher education’s access to research and scholarship, as well as for opening opportunities to create and disseminate information. In 1995, very few countries in Africa had access to the internet. There were only 23,000 users in the entire continent. Now, every country has some form of internet access, with an estimated 9, 000, 000 users. The growth of internet use in the world from 2000-2007 has been 203 %, while the growth in Africa has been much larger, at 625%.

The next step, with the increase in internet access, is to support local scholarly publishing initiatives to increase access to African research and advance local research capacities. Print production has failed Africa. Not one resource in the print production process comes from Africa, as the paper, ink, and machines are imported. The only African resource is manpower. However, importing materials is expensive, with many tariffs, and print journals are too costly, putting local publishers out of business.

Aims and Objectives for the Project
This research project aims to assess the potential contribution of online publishing systems for African scholarly journals. It is concerned with studying issues in online scholarly publishing in Africa pertaining to economics, authorship, peer review processes, technical requirements, readership benefits, and scholarly impact.

Achieving these objectives requires examining feasibility requirements and the potential value of online journal publishing in Africa. The project has asked three main Questions to achieve its aims:

1 Scholarly publishing: what is the current state of journal publishing. What changes are underway in editorial, economic etc. areas?
2. Scholarly communication infrastructure: What are current levels and patterns of access to online resources?
3 Online publishing systems. In what ways can online technologies be used, and locally produced?

Research Design
Samuel Esseh's research involved a sample of 280 participants from five countries in Africa (2 from eastern Africa, 2 from western Africa, and 1 from South Africa). He gave workshops about the use of Open Journal Systems (OJS) for online scholarly publishing. The participants ranged from journal editors, journal staff, potential editors, faculty, students, academic administrators, university librarians, and IT administrators and staff. The participation from universities and research groups broke down in the following way. In Nigeria, two regions were visited, and in these two regions, 8 universities and 7 research groups attended the workshops. In Ghana, one region was visited, and 4 universities, and 6 research groups participated. In Uganda, one region was visited and 2 universities and 3 research groups participated. In Kenya, one region was visited and 3 universities and four research groups participated. In South Africa, two regions were visited and 6 universities and 7 research groups participated.

Data collection was done through questionnaires given to four groups: editorial/staff, librarians/IT staff, potential editors/faculty, and IT Administrators. These questionnaires aimed to examine the current state of journal publishing in Africa, and to provide a baseline with which to assess changes in the coming years.

The workshops were tailored for these same groups of people, and aimed to introduce the participants to new developments in online publishing support (for example, OJS) as well as to provide a hands-on opportunity to see how these systems work, and how labour would need to be distributed to use these free online journal publishing systems.

Now that the questionnaires and workshops have been completed, the project is following up with emails to the participants before writing the report.

Common themes/concerns that came up in questionnaires
-What is the appropriate economic model for sustainability of online publishing systems?
-The problem of the availability of online infrastructure (bandwith, computers, power outages)
-The human resource requirements-skills training (editorial staff, reviewers)
-Institutional acceptability of online publishing (accreditations, safeguarding intellectual property).
-Incentives to publish.
-Where will funding come from?
-How to integrate OJS with other repositories?
-What are the institutional/national policies around this?
-What about institutional priorities?
-Is technical support available for this kind of endeavour?

General comments from the participants:
-OJS is very positive, I see the need for this and it will help the development of countries in Africa.
-It would be nice to have more time on the walk through of OJS.
-OJS is a powerful tool, it is versatile, easy to operate, not expensive, and few staff are required.
-OJS is perfect to launch an institution’s research resources.
-I learned more about Open Access publishing. Despite the disadvantage of many people not having internet access in Africa, the software has potential to support research efforts in Africa.

In closing, there is a pressing need to explore new ways of having African researchers and scholars participate in the global knowledge exchange. This project aspires to research and develop one possible means of increasing that exchange.

Comment at end of presentation:
There is a similar situation in Brazil. This research is good because it shows the numbers, which policy makers need. With the numbers, it is not just an idea or a dream, it is real and grounded.

Link to the Strengthening African Research Culture and Capacities Project website

Link to the original project proposal, before Samuel Esseh's trip to Africa, entitled Strengthening Scholarly Publishing in Africa: Assessing the Potential of Online Systems

Commentary (by blogger)
Samuel Esseh’s research shows that, in general, scholars, researchers, librarians, and IT specialists in the major centres for scholarship in Africa see OJS and Open Access in general as a means for increasing the visibility and contribution of African research globally. A large problem is the low level of internet access on the continent, as most countries on the continent do not have the resources to provide cheap and ubiquitous internet access. This is an issue of continuity—a continuing legacy of poverty in the country, and a corresponding lack of technological advancement. However, Samuel Esseh made it clear that, in fact, it is the old print technologies that are overly costly, and that the new, digital technologies are cheaper for publishing academic journals. It appears that Africa is breaking radically from past trends, as is shown by its 625% increase in internet use since 2000. This break is sorely needed, as the old printing presses have failed African scholarly publishing. Increases in technology, which at first are costly, in the end will result in cheaper and greater participation of Africa on the global stage.

The larger radical break from past trends being aimed at is the increase in the visibility and contribution of African research to the global community. The brief period of increase in African research publications in the sixties and seventies (a result of a break from the colonial past) died off in the eighties and, currently, is continuing the trend of not increasing over time, especially compared with the huge increases in research output of the rest of the global community. It is clear that, with the enormous size and populations of Africa, the past invisibility of African research is wildly out of proportion to the numbers of potential research contributions, and that the radical break being aimed at is radical only in comparison to the extreme dearth of the past. The hope, at first, is to encourage only a just and proportionate level of global contribution for the continent.

OJS and Open Access publishing on the web in general are radical new tools for the efficient and global propagation of new research findings. In some countries, these tools are increasing already vast research contributions greatly. In Africa, these radical and inexpensive tools will hopefully help to produce a radical increase that will result, at first, in an average and proportionate global scholarly contribution. It appears, however, that in Africa the technological issue of lack of internet access must be addressed alongside the changeover to online forms of publishing.

1 comment:

Images said...

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