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Identifying the needs of African Open Access publishing communities

Based on meetings and surveys over the past few years, principles and plans are made to address challenges and meet needs of African communities.

Published onNov 15, 2022
Identifying the needs of African Open Access publishing communities
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Introduction

This article documents a series of meetings designed to identify the needs of African Open Access publishing communities and stakeholders. We also present some raw outcomes and briefly outline the next steps after a 2-year pause due to COVID disruptions. 

Aims

In 2020, the West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN),1 Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL),2 and Coko3 organised four meetings. These meetings were part of LIBSENSE activities in the AfricaConnect3 project to establish a framework for sustainable Open Access repository and journal development in Africa. They were foundational for the newly formed (2019) Coalition for Open Access Publishing Infrastructures in Africa. Multiple stakeholders (journal editors and publishers, researchers, librarians, and tool builders) from Africa joined these meetings to discuss what African scholarly infrastructure looks like, its requirements, and how to get from where we are today to where we need to be.

The Meetings

The four remote meetings were initially scheduled to take place over one day at an in-person event in Cotonou, Benin (co-located with the WACREN 2020 conference).4 Unfortunately, WACREN cancelled the event due to COVID. The process was instead broken up into four separate meetings that took place remotely over eight months in the same year. The meetings were hosted by Omo Oaiya (WACREN), Iryna Kuchma (EIFL), and Adam Hyde (Coko), with additional facilitation by Barbara Rühling and Karina Piersig from Book Sprints.5

The meetings were designed as a mixture of Workflow Sprints6 and facilitated discussions. The promoted agenda outlined the focus as:

  • To conduct a high-level audit of needs for open access scholarly publishing in Africa (open source tools and services for publishing books, journals, preprints, textbooks, micropublications) 

  • To discuss training needs and define training and support programs

  • To share experiences and identify areas for collaboration around shared free and open source open access publishing infrastructure.

  • To frame the Coalition for Open Access Publishing Infrastructures in Africa: tools, training, hosting, and advice across Africa for all who want it.

While each meeting was designed to focus on a specific set of issues, the series as a whole had the following flow:

  • Initial broad discussion about the African scholarly communications sector

  • Initial broad discussion of journal, preprint, and PRC workflows

  • Discussion of available tools and experiences

  • A ‘Mentimeter’ survey7 

  • Discussion of African-wide publishing service provision vs local and international solutions

  • Discussion of what new tools could look like

  • Co-designing ideal workflows for journals and preprints

  • Co-design of new platforms and features to support the ideal workflows 

The local and Africa-wide environment and opportunities and challenges were part of the fabric of all discussions. 

Challenges

The remote meetings were effective and engaging, but we faced some challenges of continuity:

  • A partially changing set of stakeholders meant conversations were not as continuous over the series as we hoped

  • The process took place over eight months which also meant some loss of connective continuity

The pandemic's beginning was a strange time with people re-orientating to a new order worldwide. The above challenges were, therefore, not unusual for this period, and the group was determined to continue the process. 

To mitigate the loss of continuity, participants discussed the previous meeting’s documentation at the start of each session.

Additionally, we found that using online whiteboards was ineffective for collaboratively producing diagrams during Workflow Sprints, so we relied instead on text documentation. For this purpose, the RiseUp Pad8 shared text editor was useful, as was the lightweight Workflow MarkUp (WFMU9) notation.

Outcomes

Meetings were documented in situ, with some materials added afterwards. From these meetings, the community determined:

  • A series of features for platforms and a collection of ideal workflow designs

  • Results of a Mentimeter survey (see below)

  • A set of principles for African Open Access publishing infrastructures (see below)

  • A set of further proposed steps to take the momentum forward

Mentimeter Survey

The following are the raw questions and responses from a group-wide survey held before the second remote meeting:

Question: What city and country are you in now?

Responses

Abomey-Calavi, Benin; Accra, Ghana; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Berlin, Germany; Bournemouth, UK; Catania, Italy; Ibadan, Nigeria; Johannesburg, South Africa; Lagos, Nigeria; Lusaka, Zambia; Maputo, Mozambique; Melbourne, Australia; Rabat, Morocco; Roma, Lesotho

Question: What is your current role?

Responses

A bar graph showing number of responses according to their roles: 2 x publisher; 10 x researcher; 12 x librarian; 8 x tool builder; 5 x other 

Question: If you are involved in OA publishing, what software do you use to publish books/journals/textbooks?

Responses: 

Software participants use to publish: DSpace, Editoria, Invenio, Open Science Framework, Open Journal Systems, PubPub, African Minds, Open Monograph Press, Zenodo, Science Open, and “Anything that works”

Question: What challenges do you face, and what are your current limitations?

Responses:

  • Mobile-friendliness, data costs

  • Regional bias and restrictions

  • Getting faculty commitment seems to be the biggest problem

  • Getting a faculty to lead in starting a journal 

  • Delay in publication

  • Discouraged by universities

  • Many challenges are related to the long time of the peer review process

  • Getting the support of researchers to participate

  • Lack of understanding/appreciation of OA

  • Migration of OJS from version 2.4 to version 3 

  • Egalitarian access to services and infrastructure

  • Open access policy

  • How to create open access journal platform with researchers

  • System limitation, limitation-friendly and intuitive interface. Most editorial production systems do not include transparency processes and communication/interoperability with other software, so the research is not reproducible and replicable.

Question: What would you like to accomplish with open infrastructure?

Responses:

  • How do we collaborate? Seems like lots of repetition of effort

  • Free and open source tools need to be able to support a community, contribute to the commons, and promote greater openness. 

  • It would be great if there were a national platform for journals - definitely the OA ones, possibly the others - that is easily available and comes up on global searches.  

  • Set up a citation management platform or generate more detailed statistics.

  • I wish that researchers and librarians will believe in OA.

  • National OA policy in place

Question: What are support and training needs?

Responses:

  • OA advocacy for librarians, researchers, and wider academic communities

  • Journal publishing seems to lie with individual institutions; how do we sensitise editors on the benefits of national availability/integration?

  • Copyright and licensing, Indexing, online editorial workflow

  • Training on OJS version 3:  user and technical level (also harvesting from institutional OJS platforms into a national OJS platform as a wish list, migration of OJS from version 2.4 to version 3. Training for editors on the use of version 3 OJS).

  • Librarians and researchers need computer literacy, servers, and tools

  • We need to know very well and show the advantages of publishing in OAJ. The other difficulty is the need for infrastructure and training to support communities starting the OAJ initiative.

  • Documentation on the benefits of OA journals.

  • Need documentation of working examples (services, platforms, etc.).

  • Need a global advocacy strategy: how can a continental strategy be developed for OA publishing with a training program to support this process?

Principles

The last meeting captured a draft set of principles for African Open Access publishing infrastructure. We present the following draft here:

Principles for collaborative FOSS OA publishing infrastructures

  1. The infrastructure is hosted and operated in Africa, managed by a neutral, Africa-owned party

  2. African Community Governance: the entity cannot sell

  3. The infrastructure must be Publicly Open (open source/FOSS)

  4. Distributed infrastructure (e.g., by different African regions, repurposable)

  5. Equitable partnerships between stakeholders

  6. Open Access, collaborative non-APC models of publishing

  7. Sustainable: parties commit to providing support

  8. Multi-linguality

  9. Supports linked open research (e.g., articles linked to underlying data, software, etc.)

  10. Interoperability with other systems, metadata standards, open APIs

  11. Easy to use, fairly straightforward, training and support available

  12. Supports multiple peer-review processes (e.g., open (or blind), post-publication and pre-publication peer review, etc.)

Next Steps

WACREN has taken these discussions forward in the pan-African LIBSENSE initiative to build a coalition and look for funding and support to establish an African-owned service provision that addresses the needs identified under the asserted principles. 

The series has also led to further collaboration between WACREN and Coko to pilot trials of the open-source Kotahi scholarly publishing platform, adapted to include some of the features identified in the meetings within an African-owned-and-operated context and exploited for its support of divergent workflow pathways.

The ultimate goal is to promote bibliodiversity with interoperable and decentralised publishing infrastructure governed by the African community. The coalition welcomes like-minded parties interested in ensuring that accessibility, affordability and adaptability are kept at the centre of the dialogue to ensure that the African research and education community continues to contribute to the global quest to open research for the betterment of humanity.

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