AO: Oniang'o points out a shifting expectation (especially for those working in/on/from the "global South"?) that academics will not only write and publish for others in the ivory tower but that their work will have "development impact" (related to positively influencing policies, reducing poverty, and improving on-the-ground development programs). This is interesting to compare against the notion of "academic impact" which has now largely become equated with quantitative measures of academic outputs such as citation counts.
Ruth Oniang'o 51:11
"... in fact more and more, and Angela will agree with me in Kenya, more and more, academics are being asked to go beyond the writing. They are being asked, what impact are they having on policies. What impact are you having on programs on the ground? How are you addressing issues of poverty? You know, hunger, inequality, gender, and so on. And so, academics are being pushed to go that direction, so they don't get sit in the lab and publish and write things for the sake of it. So you are right you know, I think it can cover broadly that kind of publishing."
AO: Angela Mumo points out that the researchers she works with are frustrated by the funding gap they experience between them and their counterparts in the global North.
Angela Mumo 40:57
"...the researchers kind of get frustrated. And that's why they go to the journals to publish in the journals that are outside Africa. And actually, the biggest problem is funding. African researchers are not funded. And they feel frustrated. They do their research with their own funds. And research is very expensive. So to me, in Africa, we are looking at a continent that is frustrated in terms of research funding. The universities have very little support to the researchers in terms of funding. So they kind of feel frustrated and when they do their own research, they go out there. Look for journals that can publish their work. I know African researchers have no problem with open access. Because at the end of the day they want their research accessed. But doing that research is very expensive. So I know if there can be a structured way of supporting African researchers, they can and they start their own journals...platforms where the African local content can be hosted. I think the issue of commercial will not come to their...to their thinking. It is just out of you find you're doing a lot of research and nobody is recognizing what you are doing. And most of the time, you are just doing it to gain your promotion and after that, that is the end of it. So we feel there is a gap between us and the West. And that gap is in funding. The research is there, the researchers are there, but the support is very minimal."
Angela Okune: These two quotes from the discussion describe the pressure for African academics to be "seen to be competing internationally" (Oniang'o) and the resulting expectations for academic publishing to help scholars to perform that goal. Oniang'o recollects the challenge of becoming an internationally indexed journal and Mumo describes how the African researchers she serves as a librarian "need a lot of support to be out there and to reach those impact factors that are on the other side of the world."
Ruth Oniang'o 23:14
"...it [the journal] serves a need, fills a gap of my African colleagues who want to publish and the universities that we serve still have the motto of either publish or perish. So the challenge then was getting these to be indexed. You know, internationally. We may be addressing African local issues, but we still have to be seen to be competing internationally. That was a challenge and it took us a while before we got into Scopus. And it took a while before even South Africa scholars could publish with us because they kept saying, "where are you indexed? Where are you indexed?" You know? But at least now they have put us in their system. ..."
Angela Mumo 46:08
"We are in a trap. There is no much support right now. And we feel like we are in a catch 22. And that kind of Plan S looks like it's going to be the solution, especially for us, Africa, who are...researchers are growing, and they need a lot of support to be out there and to reach those impact factors that are on the other side of the world."
Ruth Oniang'o describes why she started the Nairobi-based journal AJFAND and the funding challenge which the journal continues to face even after nearly 20 years of being operational.
"I started this realizing that personally, I had difficulty publishing, I always wanted to, I've always loved editing and sharing information. And I guess I realized that I had difficulty publishing or even when I did, it didn't matter. I mean, what impact was it having on anyone? So when I was at the university, there was money, I was put on the editorial board and investors provided funding to start the journal, but there were no manuscripts. People still wanted to go for the international, peer-reviewed, well-recognized journals, you know? My own area is food science and nutrition. So as soon as I got my full professorship and I left, I said, I'm going to start a journal. ... So the biggest challenge and even up to now has been how to get funding. ... We are published by a Trust so we would like to turn that into a private company to try and generate resources. [Now] we have more manuscripts than we can handle. 300 [inaudible] and yet we put out six issues minimum per year. So there's a lot out there that people want to, to share in their own particular fields...it [the journal] serves a need, fills a gap of my African colleagues who want to publish and the universities that we serve still have the motto of either publish or perish. So the challenge then was getting these to be indexed. You know, internationally. We may be addressing African local issues, but we still have to be seen to be competing internationally. That was a challenge and it took us a while before we got into Scopus. And it took a while before even South Africa scholars could publish with us because they kept saying, "where are you indexed? Where are you indexed?" You know? But at least now they have put us in their system. So we are now getting manuscripts from South Africa, so the challenge then became how do we raise funding. Personally I don't get paid in fact I feel I benefit more from it, because it keeps my mind going. I find it very exciting, but I have to run a system that you know that compensates those that help me to run this. So we started to charge authors. We don't charge a whole lot because none of us academics don't earn a lot," (23:14).
Angela Okune: Sulaiman Adebowale notes the challenge of ensuring a journal's sustainability and thinks aloud about different ways that could be possible:
"Ruth had mentioned that she was working towards setting up a private company so that the journal [AJFAND] will be able to sustain itself and continue publishing the journal. ... If a model like Plan S can get funding for the journal, would that be an incentive for you not to go commercial on your own?" (31:35)
As a publisher himself in Senegal, he noted that "one of the questions I wanted to tackle when I started my publishing program, and one of the things I saw clearly was that I could see a lot of journals being published by academics and authors on the continent. But I could see them publishing those journals, not very well, badly. And I could see, I could see they are repeating almost the same problem even some commercial publishers were facing regarding how to publish journals."
"If it's difficult for northern academics to publish their own journals, what would make it easier for academics in the South to be able to publish their own journals? How would they survive? Shouldn't they be looking at commercial local publishers to help them out? There are commercial local publishers out there now that must have had experiences in that area, what must have been a reason or led to a situation where they academics didn't look at that. And now so if the area of funding can be taken care of, and then the journal editors can focus on creating the content and submitting the content to the commercial because that's exactly what we are doing with nearly all the academic journals being published by commercial publishers out of Africa. Basically, the editors are set up basically working on the journal and submitting it to the commercial Northern publisher to publish, basically. So the same quality of work could be sent to a commercial publisher locally to publish, and also be able to boost publishing development on the continent as well. And this collaboration is possible with local publishers," (31:35).
Angela Okune: During the discussion, Sulaiman Adebowale observed parallels across the continent where many academic scholars began to set up journals, largely due to a decrease in the spaces where they could publish as a result of the Bretton Woods structural adjustment programmes of the 1980s:
"As academic scholars in their desire to get published and the limited spaces for them to get published...we all know how that happened over the years from the 80's downwards and the death of the university presses and the funding allocation funding problems and well, basically the birth of some commercial publishers interested in scholarly publishing at that time and how towards the 90's...you all saw information technology as a tool to break out of that mode of operation to disseminate. And, and it's all across the continent, this collective academic initiative to set up journals," (31:35).
Sulaiman notes with interest how these initiatives then move from the need to share, the need to publish, the need to disseminate towards commercial models of operation in a way to sustain those journals.
AO: Eve emphasizes the "importance of publishing for development" (29:31) and “the power of a version of publishing which is about development issues, rather than about promotions and journals and so on," (29:39).
She notes that early on in the Open Access movement, "the president of Brazil made a wonderful speech about this being the opportunity to let the sound of the berimbau [Brazilian musical instrument] echo across the seas to Africa and back again, and to create a community of openness that would empower the world and change the vision of what was going on," (13:13). She notes however that for various reasons, over time, the movement "didn't have at its center anymore the idea of empowerment, and the empowerment particularly of developing country discourses and developing country communication strategies," (15:40).
Here she underlies what Kate Meagher points out: the multiple open access paradigms and competing notions of "Open Access." Eve calls for ensuring that the values of Open Access publishing remain radical and tied to development issues rather than being taken up solely within traditional, commercial academic journal publishing. This would therefore include moving beyond the academic journal as the sole vehicle for scholarly publishing and recognizing the validity and importance of other genres of publications including reports by think tanks and organizations outside of the academy (here is one example she sent me after the discussion). Along these lines, if policies like Plan S are to embody such values, she suggests they should then broaden their support and acknowledgement of publication channels outside of the confines of an academic journal.
AO: In this quote, Eve mentions an increased trend of development research being published widely outside of the traditional academic journal format in South Africa, very successfully reaching quite big audiences. She found it to be a loss that such publications are often marginalized due to an excessive focus on journal publishing and impact factor journals.
After the discussion, she emailed me this example of such development research being published outside of the academic journal. In her email she notes that while the article is not conventionally peer reviewed research, the content is very timely and addresses an issue that is of urgent importance in the country right nowembodying what she sees as a central component of the South African research environment, "bringing research focused on critical national issues to the forefront, when they are needed, and in accessible formats."
Eve Gray 50:23
Could I just put something in there? Because what occurred to me while you were talking is we keep on talking about journals. What is published hugely, I don't know if it's the same in Kenya, Angela, but in South Africa, there are now a lot of publishers publishing development research very professionally, very successfully reaching quite big audiences. And we tend to ignore them because they're not journals. But I wonder if we fed that into a Plan S kind of plan if we might not get something very powerful. So if you have journals, and you have development focused research, both supported rather than just the journals supported. I wonder, I mean, it's only going through my head now, I'll think about it.