Zimbabwe has kicked off a new project to support adoption of research data management and sharing services among government, universities and research institutions as part of its plans to pave the way for a nationwide open access mandate. Meanwhile, similar efforts are sweeping across Africa.

The project, started in November, is funded by Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), which works with libraries worldwide to enable access to digital information for people in developing and transition countries. The group has provided US$5,234 for the two-month Zimbabwe initiative which would stretch to five months including preparatory work.

The project, named “Advocacy for national open access mandate and management of open research data in Zimbabwe,” will involve the Zimbabwe University Libraries Consortium (ZULC), a grouping of 18 universities.

Iryna Kuchma, EIFL open access programme manager, said an audit of open access (OA) activities conducted by ZULC among its members revealed that a majority of them already have OA institutional repositories in place and have been working on their OA policies.

“Elsewhere, in government ministries and departments and in private sector organisations, there is very little appreciation or understanding of OA as a viable model of scholarly communication,” Kuchma told Intellectual Property Watch.

Outside ZULC membership, the Research Council of Zimbabwe also has a national open access repository.

The Bindura University of Science Education, Lupane State University, Midlands State University and Zimbabwe Ezekiel Guti University are the only ones with open access policies in a country with 15 universities.

Kuchma said ZULC decided to build capacity for scale-up of OA initiatives in all public and private sectors in Zimbabwe, and to enable ZULC to create a roadmap for development of a national OA mandate for the country.

Open access allows institutions, research funders, or research grant recipients to make their published, peer-reviewed journal articles and conference papers available freely through self-archiving peer-reviewed drafts in a freely accessible institutional repository or by publishing them in an open-access journal.

Towards National Open Access

A workshop on open data held on 30 November in Zimbabwe’s second city of Bulawayo trained ZULC members with the knowledge and skills to manage generation, processing and dissemination of research data effectively.

The workshop included officials from the Zimbabwe Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, vice chancellors, librarians, academic staff and researchers.

Jasper Maenzanise, head of ZULC, said the roadmap for a national mandate on open access involves the parent ministry of higher education and technology.

“We are currently putting together a concept paper for approval by the ministry as agreed at the workshop held in Bulawayo,” he said.

“As part of this roadmap, the workshop participants resolved to submit the concept paper and a draft of the OA support statement for approval,” Maenzanise told Intellectual Property Watch.

He said at that point they could not give many details about the programme before this approval is granted.

The EIFL partnership with Zimbabwe goes back to 1 November 2005, when the first open access institutional repository was launched through EIFL’s support at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ).

The UZ library has since taken a lead in embracing OA issues and also in making research outputs available through OA. The university community has fully embraced the OA concept through advocacy.

According to Kuchma, sustained support from EIFL from 2011 to 2015 saw capacity building for the adoption and implementation of OA policies and repositories in Zimbabwe growing.

She said it was a period in which most of the universities and research institutions in Zimbabwe embraced OA initiatives and created OA institutional repositories, but not formally implemented OA policies.

The formation of ZULC enabled the initiative to start discussions at the national level about OA policies meeting key stakeholders at universities, the ministry of higher and tertiary education, and at research organizations.

The Research Council of Zimbabwe went on to partner with universities to establish a national repository as a starting point for OA dissemination.

OA Advocacy and Policy across Africa

Lack of knowledge about existing African scholarly production often leads to underestimation of the amount of research activity on the continent.

Kuchma said the Zimbabwe open access project was one of many in Africa that EIFL supported in 2015 to try and bring visibility of available research.

The Botswana Library Consortium, which advocates for open access in Botswana, targeted research managers and administrators in academic and research institutes.

This raised the profile of local research through a series of workshops in a project started in July this year. The project worked to strengthen OA repositories such as the University of Botswana Research, Innovation and Scholarship Archive (UBRISA) which currently includes 1,072 records.

Repositories under development at Botswana College of Agriculture, Botho University, the Department of Agricultural Research, and Botswana College of Distance and Open Learning were assisted.

Elsewhere, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Ghana was helped to develop an OA policy to be adopted before the end of the year.

During the 10-month initiative, awareness was created and views were solicited from research scientists, policymakers and research managers, and librarians working across all 13 institutes of the CSIR.

In Ethiopia, EIFL launched in April a new eight-month project that support Ethiopian universities in developing open access policies and launching open research data services.

Addis Ababa University (AAU) shared best practices on open access to other institutions in the country.

AAU which implemented the project promoted its publishing platform ‘Ethiopian Journals Online’ (EJOL), with the aim to have more journals joining EJOL this year.

A five-month project entitled, “Developing an open access policy for Malawi,” with the Malawi Library Information Consortium (MALICO), was started in July by EIFL to help remove the challenges that researchers encounter in accessing each other’s work.

Kuchma said the idea was to develop an open access policy for Malawi that will enhance access to research funded by government and donor agencies, and improve dissemination of research results.

She said the project was earmarked to populate an open access Malawi National Digital Repository developed by MALICO and hosted at the Malawi National Library Services.

The Zambia Library Consortium (ZALICO) launched its national open access advocacy project in July, supported by EIFL, and its aims are to transform Zambia’s research landscape.

Six institutions, University of Zambia (UNZA), University of Lusaka, National Institute for Public Administration, Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce, Copperbelt University, and National Science and Technology Council.

The UNZA has since adopted OA for its research repository which currently holds more than 4000 research outputs from the university’s nine faculties and two institutes.

Scholarly Communication in Southern Africa

A study conducted by the University of Cape Town’s Scholarly Communication in Africa Programme (SCAP) in 2014, to help raise the visibility of African scholarship in Southern Africa, identified open access as key enabler to enhance Africa’s research visibility and effectiveness.

The study, ‘Seeking Impact and Visibility, Scholarly Communication in Southern Africa,’ was done at the universities of Botswana, Cape Town, Mauritius and Namibia.

It noted that most of the technologies required for engaging in open access communication were either already available at African institutions, freely available on the internet, or relatively inexpensive to purchase, but were not incorporated into a strategic plan concerning scholarly communication.

“Making all African research outputs clearly profiled, curated and made freely available to the public would give African research a higher likelihood of not only shaping academic discourse because it would be more visible to scholars, but of getting into the hands of government, industry and civil society personnel who can leverage it for development,” the study said.

This article originally appeared on Intellectual Property Watch.

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