16 July 2009

Prospects for open access to AgInfo in Africa

Accra, 16 July 2009: One of yesterday's plenary session at the IAALD Africa conference examined open access potential in two African countries: Tanzania and Zambia.

Davy Simumba of the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute reported on a survey of attitudes to open access among agricultural researchers in Zambia. More than 85% of survey respondents indicated that their research is funded through public sources. Hence, it could be reasonable that the results would be publicly and openly accessible.

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His survey revealed a low awareness among researchers regarding open access, copyright options, and open access publishing in general. Also a greater than expected pattern among the researchers to publish in grey literature – non peer-reviewed journals.

His conclusions: Many of the researchers support basic open access principles - to be more visible and more accessible and most would support policies to improve access to literature. But, there was little support to deposit their grey literature in repositories or institutional websites....

In the subsequent open discussion, he argued that low accessibility is due to the lack of attention by research institutes to policies in this area. “Often we don’t capture the outputs; and the journal articles are not accessible because authors lack awareness of open access principles.”

Asked to suggest priorities for the future, he emphasized the need to understand how researchers see their own roles: “Scientists usually say they do research, anything else is by the way.“ It is important that research outputs are packaged for others to take them up - “it’s about linkages” between researchers and others working to apply agricultural knowledge.

Complementing Simumba’s survey, Frankwell Dulle from the Sokoine University of Agriculture reported on a survey of open access attitudes among university policy makers Tanzania. The overwhelming majority (95%) of respondents indicated that “dissemination of research outputs was a problem” in their institutions.

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Regarding open access, his research revealed a high general awareness of open access with 75% of respondents likely to support institutional interventions to foster open access.

He concluded by suggesting that the policy environment is favourable, so actions are needed to put in place the necessary funding, mechanisms and repositories to make Tanzanian research outputs open access.

Asked to suggest priorities for the future, he recommended that we “create content, make it in different formats, make it open accessible. We must not forget to empower users how to get to such content.”

Reflecting on these issues in the open panel discussion:

Elizabeth Dodsworth of CABI cautioned that open access should not be at the expense of good quality research – we need to continue to strive for ‘excellence’. It is essential that we provide “choices and policies” that allow researchers to publish in the most appropriate places.

Paa-Nii Johnson of Ghana’s Food Research Institute suggested that we need to look at ways to turn ‘classic’ research outputs into more user-friendly outputs. Beyond open access, we should make it “mandatory that bits and pieces from an output can be re-used.”

From an initial focus on the availability and accessibility of research publications (in repositories) the lively discussion concluded by focusing on ways to maximise the uptake and applicability of outputs in different forms more suited to the capabilities of different agricultural groups.


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