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Collaboration on evidence synthesis in Africa: a network study of growing research capacity

  • Pan, Jiayi1, 2
  • Zhong, Yongqi3, 4
  • Young, Sarah5
  • Niezink, Nynke M. D.1
  • 1 Carnegie Mellon University,
  • 2 Present Address: Data Science Institute, Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, Columbia University,
  • 3 University of Pittsburgh,
  • 4 Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University,
  • 5 Carnegie Mellon University Libraries,
Published Article
Health Research Policy and Systems
BioMed Central
Publication Date
Sep 19, 2021
DOI: 10.1186/s12961-021-00774-2
PMID: 34538255
PMCID: PMC8451124
PubMed Central
  • Research


Background Evidence-based practice in medicine and social policy relies heavily on evidence synthesis. To translate evidence into practical guidelines for low- and middle-income countries, local expertise is essential. The objectives of this study are to assess the change in capacity for conducting evidence synthesis in Africa and to identify key African institutions for regional capacity-building. We take on a network perspective, considering that the position of an institution in the African evidence ecosystem is one constituent of its research capacity. Methods We systematically identified 3548 evidence synthesis publications between 2008 and 2019 with at least one author in Africa from the Web of Science Core Collection. These articles involved 3769 institutions. Longitudinal institution-level collaboration network data were constructed based on co-authorship information. We used social network analysis to examine the institutions’ connectivity and tendency for intra- and interregional collaboration. We also identified the degree- and betweenness-central African institutions and explored the structure and composition of their local network neighbourhoods. Results The number of African institutions involved in evidence synthesis has increased substantially over the last decade, from 31 in 2008 to 521 in 2019, and so has the number of evidence synthesis publications with authors in Africa. African institutions in the evidence ecosystem have also become more connected during this period. Although the amount of intercontinental collaboration continues to exceed that of regional collaboration, the tendency for African institutions to collaborate with partners in Africa is increasing. We identified seven institutions—in South Africa, Egypt and Uganda—as central to the collaboration networks between 2008 and 2019, all of whom showed a tendency to collaborate across sectors. Conclusion The development of more regionally based network-building initiatives would help to foster communities of practice and inter-institutional collaboration, strengthening regional research capacity. Moreover, the analysis in this study adds depth beyond a simple bibliometric analysis and illustrates that network analysis could provide a useful tool to evaluate the effectiveness of capacity-building strategies and programmes in the future.

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