Calling for a systems approach to research impact

Livestock keepers in Morogoro, Tanzania examine a poster used to obtain informed consent for research

Livestock keepers in Morogoro, Tanzania examine a poster used to obtain informed consent for research (photo: ILRI/Tarni Cooper).

Investors in research-for-development are nowadays increasingly calling for the programs and projects they fund to demonstrate impact at scale. However, this push for impact has led to research becoming more producer-focused, something Nick Perkins, the director of SciDev.Net, considers to be the wrong approach to research impact.

Instead, Perkins advocates for a user-focused, systems-based approach to research that makes use of independent knowledge brokers and experts in the field of research uptake. This, he says, will enable us “learn more effectively about what works when research gets put to use”.

Read the editorial by Nick Perkins, The wrong approach to research impactposted on SciDev.Net on 4 April 2016).

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University of Nairobi goes all-out on open access

UoN e-repository notice to alumni

In today’s Standard newspaper, the University of Nairobi has an announcement to its alumni regarding the University’s electronic repository. All students — past and present — are called upon to provide electronic copies of their theses and other research outputs for uploading into the repository.

“The exercise is in line with the University’s Open Access Policy which was adopted in December 2012 and whose objective is to increase the visibility and impact of the University’s research output,” the statement reads in part.

Kudos, UoN! This is a step in the right direction… hopefully other universities and university colleges will follow suit in making their scholarly outputs readily available and accessible.

Open Access Week 2013: Redefining Impact

OpenAccessWeek2013Open Access Week is upon us again. From 21 to 27 October 2013, the worldwide community of Open Access advocates will commemorate this global event, now in its sixth year, to promote Open Access as a new norm in scholarship and research. The theme of this year’s Open Access Week is “Redefining Impact”.  I’m interested to glean ideas on how researchers can use Open Access to enhance the impact of their research.

Open Access refers to the free, immediate, online access to the results or outputs of scholarly research for use or re-use as required. The two main routes towards Open Access are publishing research articles in Open Access journals and posting research outputs in an online institutional repository or archive.

If you’re interested in this topic, check out the Open Access Week website for a variety of updates on Open Access events, blog posts and discussions from around the world as well as links to various resources. You can also sign up to become a member of Open Access Week and join in the online discussion forums. On Twitter, you can follow the hash tag #oaweek.

It’s good to see that the University of Nairobi has a number of Open Access awareness activities lined up during Library Open Days that will be held at the Main Campus, Upper Kabete Campus and School of Law.

Happy Open Access Week!

How accessible is research by Kenyan universities?

“If a tree falls in the middle of a forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

The overall goal of research is to contribute towards developing solutions that will improve society. It goes without saying, therefore, that research solutions can only be put to use for the benefit of society if they are made available and accessible in the first place.

A couple of weeks ago while reading through my Twitter feed, I came across a Tweet by Elkanah Odembo (who was until recently Kenya’s ambassador to the USA) where he remarked that it had been quite a while since he had read about any research by universities in Kenya.

Elkanah Odembo Tweet screen shot

Been waiting a long, long time to read about any research findings from any of Kenya’s universities. Is there serious research going on?” Odembo wondered.

His Tweet got a quite a number of responses from various Kenyans who shared his concerns. The ensuing Twitter discussion brought up important issues that relate to the problem of low visibility of research by Kenyan universities and the likely contributing factors.

Some of the issues raised were the low research capacity among university staff and students (for example, lack of experience in writing grant proposals); inadequate government funding for research and development; heavy teaching burden that doesn’t allow lecturers enough time to focus on research; and inadequate linkages with research knowledge brokers.

Admittedly, there are no easy solutions to this complex problem. However, as I commented in response to Odembo’s Tweet, while our universities may indeed be carrying out a lot of research (think of all the Master’s and PhD projects being undertaken), they have not done a very good job of making their research outputs visible and accessible for uptake and use.

Take, for example, my alma mater, the University of Nairobi which often prides itself during graduation ceremonies as “the mother and father of all public universities in the country”.

Well, for all its chest-thumping and own-back-patting, the University of Nairobi only adopted its Open Access policy in December 2012, followed soon afterwards by the launch of its institutional repository that serves as a digital collection of the university’s scholarly outputs.

This move is a step in the right direction towards increasing the accessibility of tons of Master’s and PhD research findings that were previously tucked away in black hard-bound theses and dissertations accessible only by walking over to the Africana section of the Jomo Kenyatta Memorial Library at the Main Campus or to the reference sections of college libraries.

Apart from theses and dissertations, other categories of research outputs available on the University of Nairobi’s repository are books, conference proceedings, research reports, policy papers, lectures, speeches, and open and distance learning modules.

However, the University needs to do more to let the public know that its research and scholarly outputs are indeed readily available online. Apart from the University of Nairobi, the only other Kenyan university I know of that has an institutional repository is Strathmore University. Are there others?

So, to paraphrase the well-known thought experiment quoted at the beginning of this post: If Kenyan universities carry out research but the public knows nothing about it, does that research have any impact on society?