Making your research accessible

The challenges of promoting southern knowledge

By 8 September 2011

Responding to George Monbiot’s recent article in the UK’s Guardian on the exorbitant costs some academic publishers charge for access to research, raise an important point about how such practices “accentuate a “knowledge divide” between the global north and south.  But the story doesn’t just start there.

Like many of the well-worn discussions circulating around development, the problem of northern voices dominating research itself keeps raising its head and those of us who work to resolve the issue scratch our heads and think about what else we can do to solve it. How can most southern research organisations even begin to compete with their Northern counterparts who can enjoy advantages such as good funding, greater communications capacity and technical infrastructure? And what else can be done to create a more level playing field?

While it is true that there are many southern-based research institutes doing very well for themselves (BRAC’s Research and Evaluation Division immediately springs to mind), there are plenty of smaller organisations and individuals for whom raising their profile and sharing their work beyond their circle of influence is impossible without the help of others. Happily, knowledge brokers such as and GDNet are helping address these inequalities and bringing southern research to the centre stage.

By creating platforms to showcase their research and providing opportunities for engagement, GDNet are supporting more than almost 11,000 researchers from the South to contribute and debate ideas in development thinking policy and practice. Working with members and partners across eight regions, GDNet not only advocates for local knowledge solving local problems but for southern research to make the same impact as that from northern institutes at the global level. Yet this ambitious remit to promote southern research knowledge is not without its difficulties.

A recent review highlighted a number of challenges facing GDNet in pursuing this objective including the practical implications of a southern focus, increasing member participation and drawing on untapped potential for members and partners to act as advocates. So how is GDNet responding to these issues? Part of the answer has been a radical rethink of its online services to ensure that southern research is easily accessible by all users.

Demonstrating relevance: Building on the success of the GDNet Knowledgebase (an internet portal to development research produced in developing countries), GDNet have now launched a new section on their website to demonstrate the relevance of southern research beyond local and regional contexts. GDNet Thematic Windows organise research papers from the GDNet Knowledgebase to reflect a range of major policy and development-related topics, from agriculture to urbanization. The first 13 themes are now available for visitors to preview and test before the full set of 23 Thematic Windows is launched later this year.

Building confidence: Reaching out to other researchers can be valuable to everyone yet many southern researchers feel isolated within their own small ponds. The new GDNet Community Group is an online space for sharing and learning between people who have participated in GDNet training events. As well as providing a way for researchers to stay in touch, the group also provides participants with access to useful information and acts as a discussion forum to explore ideas.

By building platforms that showcase southern research and encouraging sharing and learning, GDNet is part of a global drive to address the issues of access, delivery and adoption of academic research from the South. And as a member of the I-K-Mediary network it learns from and shares its experiences with others so that work in this area becomes a team effort.

While the debates concerning the impact of northern versus southern research look far from being over, initiatives such as these are starting to readdress the balance. The proof, as those of us that like our puddings say, will be in the eating.

By Clare Gorman