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Expanding Globally, Listening Locally: Open Science in Africa

Author: Roheena Anand, Executive Director, PLOS Global Publishing Development

PLOS has made big leaps in the past year with the launch of five new journals, piloting business models that will make Open Access publishing more equitable and expanding our global footprint in locally responsible ways to get closer to researchers. 

Our collaboration with the African Association of Universities (AAU) and the Training Centre in Communication (TCC Africa) is a visible way we are moving our mission forward and including the broadest range of voices, globally. 

On the 26th April, 2022, we publicly launched this collaboration via a webinar for Presidents, Vice Chancellors, Rectors, Deputy Vice Chancellors, Directors of Research and Directors of Libraries of African Universities. Our partnership will consist of a series of regional workshops across the African continent, focusing on increasing awareness and providing training around Open Science practices and Open Access publishing. 

More than 60 leaders from African institutions were in attendance at the launch event. There was a vibrant panel of speakers, covering both global and local Open Science perspectives and initiatives. The program included representatives from UNESCO, the International Science Council, the African Open Science Platform and the African Librarian and Information Associations & Institutions, thereby reflecting a broad range of stakeholder perspectives within the scholarly communication ecosystem. 

However, importantly, we heard from the attending institutional leaders in breakout sessions focussed on the challenges of adoption of Open Science and Open Access mandates within their institutions.

We asked 

  • What are the impediments to adopting Open Science mandates/policies in your institutions?
  • What needs to change to allow adoption and implementation of these mandates/policies?
  • What are the next steps for you? And what timelines are necessary to take these steps? 

What we learned will help us to shape the upcoming regional workshops to ensure they can provide value to local participants and provide a forum to collaboratively progress Open Science. 

Some of the main takeaways from these discussions were: 

  • There is still a lack of awareness overall on what Open Science is, and the implications it has for stakeholders within the scholarly communication ecosystem. 
  • Particularly, many misconceptions exist around Open Science and Open Access, e.g. the credibility of open peer review. Their benefits need to be clearer for stakeholders: authors, readers, as well as institutional stakeholders such as the Research Offices. 
  • Academic libraries/librarians are often active in advocating for Open Science and Open Access within their institutions; therefore their involvement is and will be key in progressing adoption. They are, of course, well versed in these topics from their discussions with publishers and their roles with institutional repositories.
  • There are concerns around cost (article publication charges) and intellectual property rights: if material is open, how can we ensure it is not subject to abuse/manipulation
  • Incentives for practicing Open Science are not embedded within research assessment and career progression

Our aim with collaborations like these is to ensure the co-creation of paths to Open Science that work for diverse communities and do not simply extend existing power structures. Our work is ongoing and global: we have recently announced a partnership with EASTECO in Africa, we have established PLOS GmbH in Berlin, and are exploring options in Asia and Latin America to help bring us closer to researchers and other stakeholder communities at the local level.

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