Open access is a powerful solution to the barriers that researchers in developing and transition countries face. In 2013, a project was launched that let 100 institutions in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda join forces in educating their researchers on the changing practices of scholarly communication. The result: 25 fully operational open access repositories already, and the number is set to double.
This article was originally published in International Science Grid This Week: http://www.isgtw.org/feature/open-access-uganda-kenya-and-tanzania-%E2%80%94-making-research-more-relevant-world ISGTW is an international weekly online publication that covers distributed computing and the research it enables.
Adapted from an image by Scallop Holden / Flickr
Open access is a powerful solution to the barriers that researchers in developing and transition countries face.
"A lot of research has been undertaken over the years in Uganda and many seeming breakthroughs arrived at, however these have not been disseminated and subsequently have not added value to the lives of Ugandans,” says John Chrysostom Muyingo, state minister for higher education in Uganda. This revealing statement was made last year at the very first national open access conference in Uganda, which Electronic Information For Libraries (EIFL) co-hosted with the Consortium of Uganda University Libraries (CUUL).
At the time, Muyingo called upon the National Council for Higher Education and Makerere University Kampala, Uganda, to put in place a system that ensures that all publicly funded research becomes freely and openly available — asserting that Ugandan academia cannot afford to be left behind. He encouraged researchers to publish in open-access journals, and institutions to consider open-access publications in promotion and tenure evaluation.
Power of open access
Advocating for the free online availability of research literature — open access — is a powerful solution to the barriers that researchers in developing and transition countries face trying to access and share critical research that can improve people’s lives. Open access also improves efficiency: data- and text-mining technologies are being practiced worldwide to speed up scientific discovery, and economic, social, and technological innovation.
‘The Open access: knowledge sharing and sustainable scholarly communication in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda project’ was created to educate researchers and students about changing scholarly communication landscapes. The project advocates for the adoption of open-access policies and mandates by funding agencies, universities, and research organizations. It also builds capacities to set up open-access repositories and to publish open-access journals.
The project is implemented in partnership with EIFL partner consortia: Kenya Library & Information Services Consortium (KLISC), Consortium of Tanzania Universities and Research Libraries (COTUL), and CUUL. It is funded by Spider, the Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions, which is based at the Department of Computer and System Sciences at Stockholm University, Sweden.
When the project first began in 2013, open access was still a relatively new concept in these countries and a variety of different strategies were taken to engage stakeholders in the process. These included: 18 capacity-building events, 31 awareness-raising and advocacy workshops, setting up institutional and national advocacy groups (over 20), discussing and implementing open-access policies, and launching campaigns to encourage use and reuse of open-access content in education, science, and research.
Launching open-access repositories, publishing open-access journals
As a result of this work, over 100 institutions participated in the project and a number went on to launch open-access repositories and publish open-access journals.
Currently there are 25 fully operational open-access repositories in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, with a further 27 repositories under construction. And the number of documents deposited in repositories continues to grow. Eight institutional open-access publishing platforms are also in the process of being set up.
There are some excellent institutional approaches to openness. For example, Nelson Sewankambo, principal of the Makerere University College of Health Sciences (MUCHS), reports that “making research more relevant” is now the guiding principle of his university. MUCHS is making research more relevant to the world by publishing an open-access journal, African Health Sciences, and by depositing faculty publications and students’ dissertations in the open-access institutional repository.
These collective achievements in open access mean that research that would have previously been hidden and buried is now available. Researchers and academics can publish their work online and have it seen around the world more easily and the latest research results are now available to all who are interested: doctors and patients, farmers and entrepreneurs, educators and students.
This article was originally published in ‘NUANCE: Newsletter of the UbuntuNet Alliance: Networks, Collaboration, Education’ under the headline ‘Making research more relevant to the world’.
About the author:
Iryna Kuchma is the EIFL Open Access program manager.