New initiative aims at advancing adoption of open science

The Association of African Universities (AAU), the Public Library of Science (PLOS), and the Training Centre in Communication (TCC Africa) will join forces to improve knowledge about open science, increase adoption levels and encourage better publishing practices at member institutions.

Presidents, vice-chancellors, rectors, deputy vice-chancellors, directors of research and of libraries of universities in Africa will attend the virtual launch of the initiative on 26 April, according to a media release.

Joy Owango, the executive director of the Training Centre in Communication at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, told University World News the AAU will work with PLOS and TCC Africa to roll out an advocacy campaign.

The aims are to inform the leadership of higher education institutions about open science and its benefits for research and the research community, identify challenges hindering the implementation of open science within higher education institutions and propose solutions that will empower the institutions to adopt open science practices.

The initiative will also provide support to leaders to develop policies that mandate open science practices within their institutions as well as providing capacity building for academics or researchers within their institutions to understand and practise open science.

“These objectives are intended to be achieved through capacity-building workshops to be carried out within the five regions of the African continent,” Owango said.

The expected outputs of the workshops are increasing awareness of open science and its benefits for research and the research community among AAU member institutions and, consequently, the African continent, according to Owango.

“Besides designing indicator charts to evaluate open science compliance in African higher education institutions, the expected outputs of the workshops will be the preparation of a framework for the sustainable management of open science or open access in African institutions,” Owango added.

“During the workshops, strategies on the effective ways of inculcating open science and open access in research curricula, pedagogy and assessment will be proposed along with preparing a roadmap for translating open science or open access into quality teaching, research, and community service,” Owango pointed out.

At the end of the project, Africa is expected to reduce the loss of resources due to the duplication of research processes and to have improved socio-economic gains as a result of shared knowledge through open science practices, said Owango.

Policy on Open Science necessary

Zuwati Hasim, a senior lecturer at the faculty of education of the University of Malaya in Malaysia, told University World News there is still limited access to open science in Africa.

“Thus, the new initiative for open science in Africa is pertinent and vital to ensure that knowledge of science is widely accessible to African scholars and scientists to either gather or share scientific or research output in order to help Africa in advancing and keeping abreast with other parts of the world’s robust development,” said Hasim, who is a co-author of the March 2022 study, ‘Institutionalising Open Science in Africa: Limitations and prospects’.

“The new initiative must work on setting a policy to fully institutionalise open science and help with enhancing funding to support open science,” Hasim said.

Expanding further, Dr Joseph Mwelwa, the founder and rector of data management and knowledge development at the Joint Minds Consult Institute in Botswana, told University World News that open science is still in a “nascent stage” in Africa.

“Open science in Africa needs to be viewed against the backdrop of generally weak science systems that are underfunded and bedevilled by weak science infrastructures,” added Mwelwa, who is the lead author of the 2020 study titled ‘Developing Open Science in Africa: Barriers, solutions and opportunities’.

“Besides enhancing the low African citizens’ awareness for open science, the new initiative must work on increasing political will among African governments for open science as well as promoting the use of common African languages as languages of access for knowledge created and generated by Africans to make open science meaningful to Africans’ innovation and development,” said Mwelwa who is also a technical advisory board member at the African Open Science Platform.

Yousef Torman, the managing director of the Arab States Research and Education Network, welcomed the new open science initiative saying: “It is a step forward in dealing with challenges facing open science developments in Africa.

“These challenges include connectivity and infrastructures services and access to resources and data as well as the absence or lack of enabling policies at national and regional levels, among others,” Torman told University World News.

Caleb Kibet, a bioinformatician at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya, said that open science has gained popularity among researchers in many regions of the world, but still, “scepticism abounds among African researchers, and research generally remains closed, visibility of research low, and the cost of open access or research data management prohibitive”.

“The new initiative could help in dealing with the challenges facing open science in Africa through providing the needed framework that includes a policy that involves awareness, training and practice with a clear structure designed for access and ease of adoption, reducing entry barriers and providing a clear pathway to implementation,” said Kibet, who is a co-author of the 2021 study entitled ‘Open Science in Kenya: Where are we?’.

“Ultimately, Africans must take charge of the conversation, identify local and unique challenges and develop solutions that work within our context. We have to contextualise open science: What does it mean for us?” Kibet concluded.

Samuel Asare, the research manager at the United Kingdom- and Africa-based Education Sub-Saharan Africa (ESSA), told University World News that, “besides enhancing the reputation of African researchers and their institutions as their work gains more publicity through citations, the new open science initiative will increase accessibility and use of contextually relevant evidence to facilitate Africa’s transformation agenda”.

“Open access will help researchers to avoid duplication of efforts by building on existing knowledge rather than repeating what others have done,” he said.

“The poor internet infrastructure and a reliable source of funding as well as issues around data security can be a challenge for the new initiative,” Asare warned.

“Measures need to be put in place to ensure data security. Setting up a research repository may not be as challenging as keeping it up to date,” he said.