Making your research accessible

Out of Africa: Non-academics need more open access awareness

By 30 October 2012

“A young doctor gives a full dose of compassion to a patient as he casts his eye across the queues of people he has yet to diagnose. He tries to remind himself that he still needs to read up on key health care policy issues to keep up with developments that might one day affect the clinic where he works. But the road home in that rural part of Ghana is water-logged and muddy so by the time he gets home to attend to his family, there won’t be much time left for small privileges like spending time trying to look for and retrieve research.  If only, there was a faster and easier way of finding relevant information.”

How do African health workers and managers keep up with new research produced from one institute like the Health Economics Unit in South Africa? We try to disseminate news and research to key stakeholders, but it is unlikely that in practice we would automatically reach a dedicated doctor working tirelessly in a Ghanaian rural clinic, for instance.

This is why movements like Open Access are so important for people in Africa. If we can disseminate more of our research in well respected open access journals and/or repositories, perhaps we may reach far away places in need of those findings.

Open Access offers Africa a lot of potential. But we work in higher education where we perhaps take for granted the abounding information and awareness campaigns about what open access is and how we should work with it.

We forget that words like ‘repositories’, ‘creative commons’, and even ‘open access’ are terms that people outside of the academic realm are probably not familiar with. They may have never heard of them. Even if they have, they may not know what it means or how it could benefit them.

Africa still has a way to go in creating and developing institutional repositories (Africa’s share) of institutional repositories available worldwide is only 3%). And, as highlighted in the recent UK Finch report , the rate at which published papers have been deposited into repositories has been disappointing.

For Africa, not only would we need to be more clear about whose responsibility it is to deposit published work into repositories, we also need to be more systematic about depositing other types of research output, for example, unpublished reports. This is because Africa does face serious development challenges, and we want research to have more of an impact on the ground, and very often, it is the invisible outputs that are never published or disseminated that are impacting development.

And we have even more ground to cover in terms of making people outside of universities aware of key resources like:

  • the directory of open access institutional repositories (opendoar );
  • subject-based repositories (like SSRN for social science, PubMed for health, RePEC  for economics, etc).
  • the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ );
  • google’s advanced search engine that lets one filter for usage rights.

There is talk of maybe setting up an information hub to disseminate research, but we also need to empower people with the knowledge of where and how to find information for themselves, by making those who have internet access aware of what open access is and what resources there are so that our front line doctor can get research quickly and easily.