The rise of the internet and information and communication technologies has fundamentally altered and expanded 21st-century scholarly communication practices. African universities face numerous challenges in participating in and benefiting from new, global forms of knowledge creation and systems for sharing and profiling this knowledge. All of these impact on African representation in the production and circulation of global knowledge, and limit the developmental impact of its research.
The Scholarly Communication in Africa Programme (SCAP) was a research and implementation initiative aimed at increasing the visibility and developmental impact of a spectrum of research outputs from universities in Southern Africa. The programme undertook participatory research in order to:
- Map out the current status of research dissemination in four universities from four southern African countries.
- Understand the policy, ICT infrastructure and administrative support systems needed to effectively integrate scholarly publishing and dissemination at these universities.
- Work closely with the partners from selected universities to support the use of open-source platforms that could easily interface with various outputs, such as journals, books and conference proceedings, among others.
- Build capacity in managing and sustaining an integrated scholarly communication system.
- Better understand the costs and benefits resulting from open access approaches to scholarly communication.
- Develop complementary metrics that could align quality concerns, recruitment, recognition and rewards systems in order to promote greater access to knowledge.
- Interact with policy-makers at various levels and promote solutions that could support the wider visibility of African research.
The programme utilised Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) as a framework for examining the scholarly communication ecosystems in four Southern African universities in order to address the primary research question: What is the current state of scholarly communication in African universities? The technology implementation initiative addressed the sub-question: How can the use of ICT, technology platforms and open access publishing models contribute to the improvement of strategic African scholarly communication, and what institutional structures are needed to support such an approach?
The programme thus formulated its research strategy as follows:
In order to address the programme’s two research questions in an integrated and holistic manner, SCAP had four broad strands of research activity:
- Scholarly communication practices;
- Research measurement and reward systems; and
- Costs and benefits of scholarly communication.
Through the CHAT methodology of the change laboratory and the idea of the expansive learning cycle, the empirical evidence obtained from these four strands was brought together with evidence obtained from the programme’s technology implementation initiative. This initiative, designed as a set of experiments, focused on the visibility of scholarly communication in study sites in each of its four participating institutions. It was based on principles of open access and was tailored in each case to the context of the institution as well as the scholarly communication practices and needs of the academics, as ascertained in the research strands.
The four research strands together with the technology implementation initiative influence each other in a mutually constitutive manner, within each of the university settings. CHAT therefore provided the programme with the theoretical and methodological tools needed to examine scholarly communication practices and processes of change in the participating institutions within the historical contexts of activity systems. The relationship between the four research strands, the methodological lens and the implementation initiative is shown below: