Getting in the Access Loop: Time for Research and Action

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In the first of a short series of posts, Anne Radl reflects on the Getting in the Access Loop webinar run last month by the Humanitarian Centre, HIFA2015 and PLoS.

Despite the fact that “Getting in the Access Loop” took place after working hours on a Friday, incredibly, over 50 participants tuned in to the webinar from across Africa, or gathered together at the University of Cambridge, to grapple with the problems of publishing health research in and from Africa.

I use the word incredible here too, because throughout the conversation it became apparent that one of the key barriers to publishing health research in Africa is time.  Even for those awarded research fellowships, prohibitively intensive teaching loads and, occasionally, secondary posts to supplement income, left nearly no time to do primary research let alone get on a slow or unreliable computer to do more research and write up for publication.

Debbie Marias of COHRED saw a broader, systemic problem at the root of this: many institutions just do not have the capacity to support research.  If we want to see more health publications from Africa, we need to find more sustainable ways to support human resources development in African institutions of higher education.

Beyond institutional capacity, a more intangible issue of institutional culture was raised as an issue as well. Participants agreed that there is a need for a stronger culture of reading, sharing and networking with colleagues—in essence a culture of dialogue and mentorship.  But developing this culture, again, requires time, and also other resources and incentives. In her post as part of this series, Janice Pedersen from RAND Europe will explore the issue of mentorship more deeply later this week.

So how to affect a cultural shift?  Allan Mwesiga of the Pan African Medical Journal proposes that “local” African journals have a role to play now in building research and writing capacity, and providing mentoring opportunities (see his forthcoming piece next week).  Also, programmes like THRiVE are working to foster a culture of mentorship and of excellence in research.  But mentors can only do so much without university guarantees to support researchers (with time and compensation to do research) and, realistically, without additional resources, including good internet connectivity.

The fact remains that internet connections in many African universities are slow and unreliable.   Organisations like Aptivate work to allay some of the frustration and impracticality of slow connections through tools such as loband—which strips webpages down to raw content. Open Access journals, like PLoS, try to make articles accessible by the researcher’s preferred means: OA allows for articles to be printed, copied and shared so that the information is still available when the internet is not. And increasingly there’s movement towards using mobile technology to make articles available to researchers and practitioners on a continent where significantly more people have mobile phones than internet (and, in some countries, electricity).

Yet, with all of these barriers in place, on a Friday evening African researchers, librarians, publishers, developers—even heads of departments—were making the time to reach out to one another, and to colleagues in Europe and the US, to energetically work towards building stronger pathways for dialogue and action, and to enable more health researchers in Africa to do the same.

“Getting in the Access Loop” was run by the Humanitarian Centre, with support from PLoS and HIFA2015.  A full recording of the webinar is available to download here

Related blog posts can be found here:

Getting in the Access Loop

Getting in the Access Loop: Time for Research and Action

Getting in the Access Loop: Mentorship for Publishing African Health Research

Getting in the Access Loop: The Local Journal, The African Researcher and The Article-Level Metric

Getting in the Access Loop: Nurturing the Open Access Ecosystem

For a complete list of the organisations that were mentioned in “Getting in the Access Loop” as doing pioneering work to increase health research and publishing capacity in Africa, please visit the Humanitarian Centre’s website.

Anne Radl is the Projects Manager for the Humanitarian Centre.  The Humanitarian Centre is an international development network affiliated with the University of Cambridge. We bring together NGOs, researchers, entrepreneurs, academics, business leaders, students and consultants working to reduce global poverty. The Humanitarian Centre exists to facilitate collaboration between sectors and disciplines, to share best practice, and to promote dialogue and learning.

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