OER Africa Menu

Close Menu

Search form

 

Photo courtesy of Lukas Blazek, Unsplash

This post is the third in a series on sharing African research outputs, using open licensing. This post concentrates on open data.

Open data means that users can make free use of research data without requesting written permission and without copyright or patent violations. The data are typically stored in a non-proprietary format, which allows editing and analysis. Open data are usually given an ‘Attribution and Share-Alike for Data/Databases’ licence. Just as Creative Commons provides licences for educational and research resources, the Open Data Commons provides a set of legal tools for researchers to use when they make their data open to the public.

OER Africa’s open knowledge primer provides background on basic concepts and their pertinence to African researchers. OER Africa has also created a Learning Pathway – an online tutorial – on publishing using open access. Both resources describe the role of open data.

Why is open data assuming such significance today? Quick release of current and verifiable information on COVID-19 is one reason, of course. More generally, many open access journals, research organizations, and donors now require authors to make their data publicly available, usually by depositing them in an appropriate and approved data repository. The journal, Nature, maintains a list of data repositories that it has evaluated and approved.

The African Academy of Sciences (AAS) Open Data Guidelines also lists reputable repositories.  The Open Knowledge Foundation gives three reasons why open government data is important: it promotes transparency; it can help create innovative business and services that deliver social and commercial value; and it can lead to participation and engagement on the part of the business sector and civil society.

The Open Data for Africa Portal was developed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in response to the increasing demand for statistical data and indicators relating to Africa. The Portal provides multiple customized tools to gather indicators, analyze them, and export them into multiple formats. Users can search by region or country and by topic. There is also a COVID-19 Situation Room, with data collected by the World Health Organization.

The Open Data for Africa Portal relies on official statistics from governments and international agencies. Open Africa, on the other hand, is driven by volunteers and aims to be the largest independent repository of open data on the African continent. Although a civil society initiative, some government agencies contribute data, such as the South African National Department of Health. Data are available in PDF, CSV, and XLSX. Note that the dataset in the figure below was updated after its release.

 

Figure 1: South African health care system’s readiness for COVID-19

Open data does not mean sharing confidential information without protecting privacy. Some data qualify for release without any alterations; others must be altered to protect privacy before release. Still other data should not be released at all. The African Academy of Sciences, for example, gives detailed data guidelines for authors to follow, including a section on instances for which data deposit is not required.

 

Figure 2: When data deposit is not required for AAS Open Research

Making research and related data openly and widely accessible is an essential component of the Open Science movement, the benefits of which are becoming increasingly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. Open science can also promote scientific collaboration between individuals and research centres.

Africa is becoming an integral part of Open Science.  Following a three-year landscape study carried out by the South African Academy of Sciences and the Association of African Universities, the South African Research Foundation has been selected to host the African Open Science Platform (AOSP). The AOSP Strategic Plan delineates the challenges facing African science as research and communications methods worldwide undergo transformation.  AOSP believes that the Platform can meet these challenges:

'The Platform’s mission is to put African scientists at the cutting edge of contemporary, data-intensive science as a fundamental resource for a modern society.'

 

____________________

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

What's New

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. In this post, we explore how you can make your work accessible to a wider audience and release it under an open licence.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

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.

In August, OER Africa introduced the Open COVID Pledge for Education, which was launched at the OER20 Conference earlier that month. OER Africa is proud to be a founding signatory of this Pledge, which encourages individuals and organisations to make their intellectual property available through open licensing arrangements to support educators, learners and decision-makers and assist educational organisations.

What is the Open COVID Pledge for Education?

In August, OER Africa introduced the Open COVID Pledge for Education, which was launched at the OER20 Conference earlier that month. OER Africa is proud to be a founding signatory of this Pledge, which encourages individuals and organisations to make their intellectual property available through open licensing arrangements to support educators, learners and decision-makers and assist educational organisations.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, millions of learners and educational institutions globally have had to place greater reliance on digital communication and media in teaching and learning. The long-term effects of such shifts have yet to be seen, but there is no doubt that those most negatively affected will be learners in under-resourced environments, where access to high-quality educational resources, ICT, and learner support is often limited.

Developed by the Open COVID Coalition and hosted by the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), the Open COVID Pledge for Education responds to this context by drawing from principles highlighted in the UNESCO Recommendation on OER (2019) and building on the Open Education values outlined in the Cape Town Declaration. It has been signed by representatives of many global Open Education Open Education bodies and professional organisations, universities, and individual researchers.

The Pledge asks that signatories commit to sharing Open Educational Resources (OER) for educators to support teaching and learning over the course of the pandemic. It also asks that signatories share practice and policy lessons, such as how individuals or organisations are responding to COVID-19 and what they are learning. In addition, the Pledge encourages signatories to share the following:

  • Open data, e.g. from surveys;
  • Open access research;
  • Unpublished research, organisational research, action research; and
  • Open source applications to support open education.

What has happened since the Pledge was launched?

Since its launch, two planning meetings were held online in September and October. These meetings produced an email discussion list, the Twitter account and hashtag, and an informative slide deck and logo. The team also conducted an open webinar in collaboration with the Open Education Special Interest Group to promote the Pledge.

UK-based members of the Open COVID Pledge for Education are currently developing two organisational case studies – one on University College London and the other on the University of Edinburgh – to showcase how they have released OER for educators as well as policy and research purposes under the Pledge. A keynote panel will be held on 15 December 2020 as part of the ALT winter conference, where the two case studies will be launched.

To date, there are 60 organisational signatories and 121 individual signatories and the project team welcomes new signatories.

How can I get involved?

The Open COVID Pledge ultimately aims to build a fairer and more resilient education system. It has been promoted using the @Covid_education Twitter account and #OpenCovid4Ed hashtag; through blog posts on the ALT blog; and on a public email list. You can become involved in the Pledge in various ways:


For more articles by OER Africa, click on the links below.

The Recommendation on Open Educational Resources (OER) (40 C/32) was adopted at the 40th UNESCO General Conference in Paris on 25th November 2019 as the culmination of a long process of UNESCO engagement with the concept of OER. Now that it is adopted and a UNESCO Dynamic Coalition has been discussing the next steps (download workshop report here), this raises the practical question of what steps government and educational institutions at all levels can do to help to operationalize the OER Recommendation.

Image courtesy of opensource.com, Flickr

The Recommendation on Open Educational Resources (OER) (40 C/32) was adopted at the 40th UNESCO General Conference in Paris on 25th November, 2019 as the culmination of a long process of UNESCO engagement with the concept of OER. Now that it is adopted and a UNESCO Dynamic Coalition has been discussing the next steps (download workshop report here), this raises the practical question of what steps government and educational institutions at all levels can do to operationalize the OER Recommendation.

To help to unpack the possibilities, OER Africa has been facilitating a process to support UNESCO and its stakeholders to consider what actions they might take in each of the four key areas of the Recommendation:

  1. Building capacity of stakeholders to create, access, re-use, adapt and redistribute OER;
  2. Developing supportive policy;
  3. Encouraging inclusive and equitable quality OER; and
  4. Nurturing the creation of sustainability models for OER.
 
This work is being done with support and input from a Network of Open Organizations established by Open Education Global. Discussions are in very early phases but has so far led to development of a very detailed Matrix of possible actions to operationalize the OER Recommendation. The draft Matrix considers in detail all the Actions identified for each Area of Action in the OER Recommendation and lists possible initiatives that governments and institutions might take (analysed separately for each stakeholder group). It is a work in progress. A Working Draft of the OER Recommendation Actions Matrix can be downloaded as a PDF file here.
 
As OER Africa is committed to ensuring that the impact of the OER Recommendation is maximized for African governments, networks, institutions, and other stakeholders, we encourage you to review the draft Matrix and add your ideas and comments (editable version can be found here).
 
Additional suggestions of how African governments and institutions can be supported in adopting the Recommendations are most welcome. Please add these to the editable version.
 
Your feedback and suggestions will make the draft Matrix much stronger and useful to others. We anticipate that it might be used, amongst other purposes, to:
  1. Develop a catalogue of freely available online resources for each Area of Action that governments, networks, institutions, and other stakeholders can draw on for support.
  2. Create communications and advocacy resources, drilling into detail on specific aspects of the OER Recommendation to provide ideas on possible activities.
  3. Repackage content for governments and other audiences to explore possible actions and policy reforms that governments might consider when implementing the OER Recommendation.
 
We hope the draft Matrix is already a useful contribution to implementing the OER Recommendation. We will keep the document open for editing until 30th November, 2020.

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