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Most research is only seen by a small number of specialists. Would you like to share your research with those who can use it directly? They can be teachers, policy makers, other stakeholders, or the media.  OER Africa has created a practical guide to communicating your research findings to a wider audience. In this post, we explore how you can make your work accessible to a wider audience and release it under an open licence.
  

The need to share scholarship openly

Most academics think that their research is important. Although they publish it in journals for others to read and build on, the reality is that academic journals are aimed at a specialised audience. Journal publication is important, but not necessarily sufficient. If you can find different ways to make your findings available, your research might be of value to a much wider variety of people, including local communities, who could use it to improve their lives, and policy makers, for whom it might provide useful evidence to inform their decisions. You could also help to generate trust in researchers, encourage public participation in important issues, and improve your own communication skills in the process. Professor Jerry John Nutor believes that: 

Research is meant to benefit society by raising public awareness and creating products and innovations that  enhance development. For research to serve its full purpose, the results must leave the confines of  research laboratories and academic journals.

If you find Nutor’s argument compelling, why not think about ways to make your research available and accessible beyond journal publication? In addition, when communicating your research, applying an open licence helps others to disseminate it further, without the need for permission from you.

Becoming a communicator of your research

Most research can and should be communicated to audiences beyond academia. One area of research communication which is developing into a field in its own right is that of science communication, and all researchers can learn from some of the methods that science communicators use to disseminate their research. SciDev.netexplains why accurately and clearly communicating science during the COVID-19 pandemic is essential. 
 
Here are some suggestions to consider: 

  • Identify the potential audiences for your research and the formats that they are likely to find most accessible. Producing a pamphlet for teachers to use in the classroom would look very different from making a short video for farmers to try out a new technique. Once you have identified your audience, you can plan how best to summarise your findings for them.
  • Decide on your key message/s. You are not writing a research paper; you need to decide what you want to tell your audience, and ensure that the message gets across to them early on in your communication. Using a message template can help you; tell your audience:
  • Here’s what we know.
  • Here’s what’s new.
  • Here’s why it matters.
  • Use plain language to write your blog, pamphlet, or other communication. Your audience will not want to read jargon or academic writing; it will want to understand your research quickly and easily. Good advice about writing in plain language can be found here.
  • Apply an open licence to the new communication you have developed to make it easier for others to share and use. The advantages and types of Creative Commons open licences are explained here.
  • Depending on your audience, you may want to translate your new communication into another language.
  • Decide where to disseminate the communication you have developed.

Where can you publish your communication?

It is best to start with familiar, local possibilities. These might include a website or newsletter of your own research group, department, or faculty. You could also contact NGOs or local community organisations related to your research to see if they would like to publish your piece. Your institution may have a communications department with which you could work to write a press release or similar.  You can also approach your radio stations or newspapers, particularly those that broadcast or publish in local languages that reach a broad audience.
 
Further afield, there is no one-stop-shop for finding examples of good research communication, but the following sites provide examples of research transformed for non-academic audiences. They are all openly licenced or have an option to publish with a Creative Commons licence. For these sites, you will need to learn how to pitch a story to the editors (i.e. ‘sell your story idea’) before you write it. For any of these, you can also publicise your piece using social media. 

  • The Conversation is a good example of a forum that many academics use to publish their research for non-specialists to read. The site includes opinion pieces and other issues as well as research findings, and is available in English and French.
  • Although it is more journalism-focused, you can contact SciDev.net to pitch a piece of research reformulated as a story.
  • You can also create an entry (or edit an existing one) on Wikipedia once you register as an editor. It is available in several languages.
  • You can create a channel on YouTube, develop your own videos, and upload them as OER.

In summary, developing the skills of sharing your research more widely than traditional academia is well worth pursuing: it gets you more widely known as a researcher, while also enabling your findings to be used by practitioners, educators, and the general public.
  

With thanks to Dr Marina Joubert (Stellenbosch University) for advice on dissemination.


For more articles in this series, click on the links below.

What's New

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa. OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education.

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa, with an increasing number of OER initiatives focusing on areas such as OER advocacy, practice, and research. Today, the concept has been mainstreamed around the world, as exemplified through the unanimous adoption of the UNESCO Recommendation on OER in 2019.

OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education. This work explored their effectiveness and identified lessons to enable better development and support of OER practices. It also helped to deepen OER Africa’s understanding of professional development needs amongst African academics to enable more effective OER practices.

To do this, we developed case studies on eleven African OER initiatives in higher education to gain an understanding of the effectiveness of each initiative, followed by an analytical summary report. The report collates the findings from the OER initiatives , highlighting the implications of the findings for better development and support for effective OER practices.

Access the case studies and report here.


Related articles:

 Access the OER Africa communications archive here

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. They continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles.

Image courtesy of Abdullah Elhariry, Unsplash (Unsplash licence)

Museums continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles. Museums are joining the open access movement by, for example, providing high-resolution downloadable images free of charge to maximise the ability of people to interact with, share, and reuse their collections.  

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. All museums support education as they provide unique prospects and platforms to engage students in their spaces and through their exhibitions, presentations, lectures, and discussion sessions on history, science, mathematics, technology, medicine, arts, politics, religion, humanities and social sciences, among others.

The Shenzhen Declaration on Museums and Collections of the UNESCO High-Level Forum on Museums from 2016 promoted the educational role of museums and the adaptation of museums' contents to provide a variety of formal, non-formal, and lifelong open learning experiences through universal accessibility for various audiences and removal of barriers to disadvantaged groups and persons with specific needs and capacities.

Learning about history and culture includes learning about all the aspects of the human ‘being’ and their day-to-day life. For example, if a student visits a museum and explores an exhibition dealing with historical figures or events involving aviation, the student is likely to be intrigued to want to learn more about flying which may not have been introduced as a vocation in the classroom. In such a case, the museum experience could well be an initial influence on future life choices of the students.

Museums are adopting open access to increase public engagement with their collections, introduce news areas of operation, and collaborate with creators and other institutions of learning, including universities, colleges, and schools.

The challenges of COVID-19 lockdowns in the past two years left museums without visitors, prompting them to accelerate digitization of their collections and adopt open licences for learners and academics to access their holdings as part of their learning or academic research. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 1,000 cultural heritage institutions around the world have adopted open licences to provide virtual access to their collections and resources.

Open access for museums refers to efforts made by museums to digitise their collections allowing for the creation of virtual exhibitions and databases or libraries, which are accessible online, containing high-resolution downloadable collections of digitised images of artefacts and information resources, including text, photos, movies, audio files, maps, graphs, and links to other sites.

Some of the digitised museum collections for Africa and African resources include the following:

African Online Digital Library (AODL) – AODL is an open access digital library of African cultural heritage materials created by Michigan State University in collaboration with museums, archives, scholars, and communities globally.

Smithsonian Open Access National Museum of African American History & Culture – The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with 21 museums and the National Zoo—shaping the future by preserving heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing resources with the world. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is exclusively devoted to the documentation of the African American life, history, and culture. The museum has collected more than 40,000 artefacts. The images and data are in the public domain under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licence, allowing use, transformation, and sharing of the open access assets without asking permission from the Smithsonian.

COM Library - African Art – This hub of open access resources for African art features Google Arts and Culture content from over 1,000 leading museum and archives that have partnered with Google Cultural Institute to bring the world’s treasures online. 

Adoption of open access and OER principles by museums increases the diffusion of knowledge for both education and information. It helps students, researchers, and education providers access unique material locked up in museums all over the world. Open access can also help provide the education sector in Africa access to some of Africa’s artefacts in many museums in the global north collected during colonialism.


Related articles:

OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER.

Advocates of Open Educational Resources (OER) often promote their perceived benefits, such as increasing access to educational materials; improving scalability and circulation of resources; and providing opportunities to adapt resources to suit learners’ needs and contexts. However, the past five years alone have seen significant shifts in education systems. Transformative forces such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leaps in technology development, and global economic reconfiguration mean that now more than ever, education systems need to remain dynamic and responsive.

Key to this responsiveness is ensuring that there is ongoing research on the actual benefits of using OER, so that we can gain a comprehensive, measured understanding of its implementation, benefits, challenges, and lessons. Such research can provide insight on how to most effectively implement the goals of the UNESCO OER Recommendation.

Within this context, OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER. The summaries were then analysed to extract key findings, which were presented in a short report.

The Network aims to make such analyses an ongoing activity to remain abreast of OER implementation around the world. Ultimately, this will assist in realising the goals of the OER Recommendation.

Access the case studies and summary report here.