Season 1 Ep 8 🎙️🎙️🎙️

14 April 2023 Categories: latest news, Mazungumzo Podcasts, News

Demystifying Open Science in Africa: Understanding its Importance and Implementation with AAU’s- Abednego Corletey

Link to the full episode: | Listen on Anchor FM

While there has been a shift in how Open Science is perceived in Africa, ‘Open’ is still being misconstrued to mean that it is a loose and unstructured approach to scientific research, without restrictions or regulations. This is not the case. What people have failed to understand is that Open Science not only promotes research credibility by promoting transparency and reproducibility but also promotes research sovereignty and data ownership by allowing researchers to retain control over their data and research findings.

This episode’s guest, Mr. Abednego Corletey, the senior IT Officer for the Association of African Universities (AAU), speaks on the current research trends in Africa, highlighting Open Science awareness and implementation as well as how the Association of African Universities (AAU) is not only pushing for its adoption but also creating and enabling environment to support the process.

Here are key things to listen out for:

  • Abednego’s transition into open science and into building platforms that support knowledge sharing
  • The current view of Open Science and the myths surrounding the term in Africa
  • The challenges on implementation and adoption in higher education institutions
  • The role of AAU in advancing knowledge and Open Science within its member states and beyond.



Welcome to Mazungumzo – African Scholarly Conversations, a podcast that highlights the perspectives of various stakeholders in academia and research fields across Africa through open dialogue or ‘Mazungumzo’ on scholarly communication in Africa.

We are joined by an expansive list of African policymakers, science communication specialists, innovators, and tertiary institution leads who contribute to this realm of science communication.

Today, we are honored to have our colleague, Mr. Abednego Corletey, as a guest on the show. As a Senior IT Officer for the Association of African Universities (AAU), Mr. Corletey has been a key player in promoting and advancing Open Science in Africa. He has been part of various initiatives, including institutional, national, and regional dialogues, aimed at increasing awareness and getting buy-in from higher education leaders in African universities.

Abednego Corletey:

Thank you very much and very pleased and honored to be part of this conversation.


Joy Owango

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your role as a senior IT officer for the Association of African Universities, which we are going to call the AAU during this entire podcast, how did you become involved in open science?



Abednego Corletey

Okay, so I’ll say that I started off life very early officially working as a staff of the KNUST, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana. I was with the library at the time as a library assistant. I had just finished my O- Levels, and then started working. I had experience of seeing people looking and not finding information. I had the experience of seeing lectures come in to look for their published articles, when it was time for promotion at the library, when they hadn’t submitted copies to the library and have seen the experience of people looking for information that would be relevant for their research work conducted by their own colleagues within the institution not been available for them. That was an eye opener of some sought, then I I went on to school to do computer science. Then, after computer science, I still realized that there was still the need for IT support, especially in the field of knowledge management, to make sure people are able to let me use the word, store the research and in a manner that is making it easy to retrieve and for others to have access to. From then on, I had veered off the IT background into helping build platforms happen build capacities for people to set up platforms also that will support knowledge sharing, and make more research visible to the entire group. So in the short form, that is how I got involved in helping share, research and knowledge around.


Joy Owango

Okay, so in the first instance, you saw the challenges that researchers, especially at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology had in accessing research information. And then also it went beyond that and you started noticing the infrastructure challenges some of the universities were facing. And that’s how you found yourself now getting more involved in in the open science space and building that off your IT career. But with that, how did that get you into the ecosystem within the Association of African universities and what is it that you’ve been doing when you noted some of these challenges within the AAU in supporting universities, especially when it comes to leveraging open science technologies in increasing their visibility and also improving research discovery process?


Abednego Corletey

What happened was that I set up an institutional platform at KNUST to help showcase initially thesis and dissertations from the students, because that comprises a substantial amount of research that is not making visible. Thesis and dissertations contain a lot of indigenous knowledge and traditional information that is normally not shared, beyond the walls of the institution. So I set up an institutional platform to make visible, the thesis and dissertations. Then I was invited to a workshop by the Association of African Universities (AAU). I realized that they were talking about what I had already done at the KNUST, they were talking about setting up institutional repositories across the continent, at the national level. So for instance, in Ghana, all the universities will set up individual repositories, then there’ll be one national level repository that would harvest all the institutional repositories within the country and make visible on one platform research for that country. That was not working. Institutions would submit their data to AAU and AAu would come out with one CD. One compact disc containing that information, which was also not renewable and updated as quickly as it should be. So until the year is over, and the new one is coming up any research that was done within that post that CD release, was supposed to wait until the year is over and a new one was being done. I realized that I was ahead of them, because what I had set up was using the DSpace as a repository. And that one was live, the updates were in real time. And so now, the meeting, they realize that that could be of help. So even before I had joined the AAU, I was working as a facilitator for most of the workshops that they were doing on open access to research through the use of institutional repositories. At a point I had to join AAU, you know, be a facilitator and now I’m working from in trying to guide support that process across the continent. But that’s how I actually ended up in AAU.


Joy Owango

Interesting. So you actually have been in the thick of that infrastructural growth from when institutions were using CDs for recording their data, which they would rather and also further share within their academic communities to now moving into the use of institutional repository. So you helped catalyze that change, not only within universities, but also AAU member universities, not only your university was also AAU member universities, am I right?


Abednego Corletey

Yes. And at that time, they were using endnotes for all that.


Joy Owango

Okay, interesting. Okay. And that is how we you got now involved in now the open science space, because Dspace is an infrastructural system that falls under the open science space. That is very interesting. And this leads to the next question, why do you think open science is important for the research ecosystem in Africa? And what benefits can it bring to African researchers and their work? Please cite also how the AAU is getting involved in all these activities as you share your views.


Abednego Corletey

All right, thanks very much for that. The challenge, I will say first before I go into that is that people misconstrue the word open to mean loose without restrictions or without guidance or been peer reviewed. But the word open is rather about the openness of the process, the transparency involved in making sure that the research process is open to everyone. There is the use of the involvement of the community of users and helping to peer review it, making your data available, all your methods that were employed in doing the research making it open so people would understand and see your credibility. And this is one area that I think people are failing to see that when they employ openness in their research article. There are benefits. You can’t just measure them. First of all, it’s it helps build your credibility. Because whatever you have done, you are assured that if 10,000 people use that information that you have provided, they will arrive at the same conclusion, that makes you a credible researcher. It allows you to have recognition, it allows more visibility for your research work. Now, the other thing that is talked about is that when you share your data, people can steal your data. Which is also another thing that I keep talking about that it is not like that. Because once you put anything on the internet, you hear people say that don’t put your for instance compromised speeches on the internet, because the internet never forgives, or never forgets. Once you put data, that is correct, you have a time stamp on it that secures it for you is a form of security.


Joy Owango

it gives you research sovereignty and data ownership,


Abednego Corletey

there is no way anybody can steal it from you. So on the contrary, the idea that if you put it there, somebody will steal it, it’s wrong. It’s wrong, it totally secures everything you have there. Then also it allows you to give our say control over how people use it. Ethical usage of your data, you can determine that people can use it based on any of the CC license that we have Creative Commons licenses. So it’s in a way for the researcher, you are secured, you are secured you are given credibility, you are given recognition you are seen. So for nothing at all, if you are a researcher and you want to employ open science, you have all these pluses coming to you. The institution that supports that process is also recognized as a credible institution. Because then anybody else who wants to do proper research or wants to have credibility in the results of their research output. If there’s a funding agency that wants to do research, and wants to use an institution, where they are assured that everything will be transparent, they will not be any cutting of corners to arrive at a conclusion that is not correct, they will want to put their money there. So the institutions themselves also benefit in so many ways. So the institutions must be the leaders in ensuring that even the faculty members are also told along, and they all support bring about open science practices within the institution. And for us at the AAU, we recognize this. For the time I have been at AAU, we have done other things like we now celebrate open access weeks, it didn’t used to be like that, in open access weeks, we try to promote open access is just a component of open science. But we tried to promote open access within the faculty in our manifestations for them to understand that this is what it means. And this is why it is beneficial for them to join. So every year we celebrate we use a whole week to celebrate open access. And sometimes even during our one of our mandatory meetings, we call it Africa Universities Day is the it’s a week-long celebration, we try to bring in some of these things for people to understand that open access is good for the continent, we generate so much content, we push them all to the North. And then people within our own small environment community of users, colleagues at the office, research centers, we can’t even access the work we have done. So once we are looking at retaining knowledge, and ensuring that people are able to build upon what has been done faced a we are into both aspects of it. I see both sides of the coin whilst building the capacity. We’re also trying to have platforms set up to support that process. So we’re not just talking about it, we’re also making sure there’s an environment, an enabling environment that supports such processes.


Joy Owango

Okay, that is quite interesting. And I’m glad you’re making our listeners understand why open science is beneficial to them, especially when it supports it actually empowers them. But most importantly, it also creates an element of research sovereignty, that is something that most researchers are very wary of when it comes to open science and the benefits it has for them. So it’s good to make that very clear. And that leads to my next question and that is in the last few years what has been highlighted so far is that they are bound At about 1225 African universities, and of these about 36 have open access mandates. None of them have an element of open science. They’re just focusing on open access and even thou that is changing. Why do you think is the reason for this? And what strategies can be put in place to increase awareness and buying from decision makers within African universities? I say this because yes, the conversation on open science started with open access. That could be one of the reasons why we have more open access mandates. But then open science, the conversation now Open Science has been much more aggressive so that the academic community can understand how Open Science covers the entire research lifecycle and how it supports the academic community, even though the conversation did begin with open access. So what do you think needs to be done to increase the awareness on the buy in on African university leadership on Open Science mandates, and developing their existing open access mandates to become open science mandates to support the entire ecosystem?


Abednego Corletey

First of all I want to congratulate TCC Africa and PLOS also, for all the good work that has been done this far. Like you said, yes, open access was or used to be the focus. And now we are having a broader picture. Even with the open access, you still realize that the number of institutions that have their mandates are quite small. If you look at the figures that were mentionioned 36, out of 1225, it’s quite small, there are a lot of challenges to this one. One is the rate of attrition, the rate of turnover, at the universities, it’s like you build up the capacity of somebody like the director of research, and the person now gets to understand and wants to implement, but within six months, the person is off, another person comes in, and then you have to restart the process, again, is the same with the DVCS, vice chancellors, so it makes the work extra difficult. But people still haven’t given up. Then also for those who get to understand sometimes the rate at which they adapt to it becomes a little bit slow. And they are unable to come up with clear lines of engagement in those areas. So there’s lack of clarity, there’s very little knowledge also among a lot of the community, especially the upcoming as a young researcher, career researchers. And there’s lack of policies within the institutions like you’re just not in a clear mandate that says that this is what we are seeking to do want to do ABC. And so the ABC, this is how we would go about it. So all these things come up as a challenge for those who even have their clear mandate, clearly stated, clearly articulated, to come to the point where there is clear implementation taking place and people making use of all the things that needs to be done to support open access, or in this case, open science. So that is one of the the challenges, that we’re having within the institutions. And then for us at AAU we think that there’s the need for more engagement. And in doing the engagements, we are now moved up and down, are bringing in the Senate as well to understand that these are the things that needs this to be done. We want to  give them clear cut value addition for embracing open science. But for us also, I think the other area we want to take a look at now is also involving the researchers themselves. So that if the top even most of those in the mass or the bottom, understand what it is about, they will not wait for another person to be at the top to direct them, they will understand what it means and will be implementing it even at their level as researchers early career researchers or whichever research level they are in. You are not always be waiting for the better research to come in or a DVC in charge of academic and research to come in to pull them. So we are thinking of having more engagement, all levels of the research process. Then we want to the institutions get to understand that they need to reward people, because this is a new, this is a new engagement process. So people think this extra work is going to give them more work to do than they can support. So we may want to add an institution people, so it’s easier for them to quickly adapt and implement open science tenets within the research cycle, and embrace that whole concept of open science in their research output. So these are ways we are also trying to help continue on the advocacy of open science and to edge institutions to adapt to open science.


Joy Owango

Okay, so it’s an issue of trying to work with it ever increasing organizational change within the university and continuous engagement so that this whole process can be realized. And there’s, also behavioral change and acceptance towards open science. Now, and I know this is an ongoing process, that is the issue about capacity building, it’s a continuous ongoing process. You’ve mentioned the project that we’ve been working on with PLOS, TCC Africa and UNESCO in promoting the adoption and implementation of open science in African universities, what do you say, have been the key takeaways from the initiatives? What have been your observations as an AAU representative?


Abednego Corletey

For me, there have been two things that I always get pleasantly surprised that one has to do with their level of understanding of open science and what is needed to embrace or adapt to open science. But what I’m also happier to see at this point is that after every one of those regional dialogues that we have had, and the feedback that we receive, it really encourages me because I realized that people get to understand what you want to do what you want from them. And now they, in a way become not just people who want to adopt they become, also I’ll say, advocates for open science. So for me, it means that the there’s more work to be done, we need to engage them more, we need to have more spaces for these dialogues to continue. And then to move on beyond just the dialogues, we want to see how we can also start to support institutions to implement open science by providing clear guidelines on what needs to be done, how I’ll say more for providing a an FAQ, to the implementation of open science for institutions to know how to implement them, adopt and implement them within their research cycle. Doing that, and also highlighting the value addition that they gain from Open Science. But overall, I think these engagements have been very useful. It’s been very productive. And it’s, I guess, it’s a way to go to do more for people to understand open science and that it is beneficial for them to be part of the process.


Joy Owango

Fantastic. Now beyond the higher education leadership open science engagements that you’ve been actively involved in within the AAU. Your organization established a knowledge management unit in 2005, to improve the management of knowledge generated by African universities. Can you tell us more about the DATAD-R, platform and how it has increased the visibility of African research emanating from higher education institutions?


Abednego Corletey

Okay, so the DATAD- R platform that is the Database of African Thesis and Dissertations. Initially, it started as that, just thesis and dissertations at the postgraduate level for the AAU membership institutions to have a way of aggregating all the research output at that time. It was just the metadata, just the metadata of the records. It was on EndNote, it was put on CDs, like I said earlier on. It was done once every year. And people were supposed to pay for to get a copy of that CD. So, it was at one of the workshops for that my story happened. But the other thing is that the initial objective was to have at the various institutions, a platform for them to gather their own research outputs and gather them together for one body within the country, at the national level to put them together, it was not succeeding, because again, this high turnover thing was also affecting them, you build the capacity of the person within the institution. And in two years time you go there, the person is either some head of another unit, or has been transferred to a different session. And then whatever the person started is just left, there is no transition, there’s no way the person hands over to somebody else, or build the capacity of another person and hands on. So the person will continue the work that was started. So it’s was a challenge. And it’s still a challenge, too. But the good news is that, at that point, we were now training not just one or two institutions within the country, we were not having the regional meetings, again, where we have the whole of the continent meeting once a year. Now we’re doing it almost at the country level. So within every country, we see that now there’s some level of institutions, number of institutions, having their decision or repository working and continuing to upload content onto the platform. Along the line around 2016, they’re about we shifted from having just the metadata, to having the full text also have each research article uploaded onto the repository. So now it was not just metadata, but the full article or the research was, then in 2017, it was realized that it wasn’t just that isn’t the thesis and dissertations that was needed. We now needed to include also research articles from the faculty. So that is how the name R became part of DATAD. So the R there refers to the research from the faculty. And in that one, too, it is not just the meta data, we want to have the full text of the research article, if copyrights has been given out to a publisher, we request that people are the researcher brings us the either the preprints or the post prints of that research article, then we can put it the other hand, if it is not found, we urge them to come because you can always point to where it has been published in the metadata description of that article. And then point, the citation that points to where the article the full article can be assessed. But then it brings some visibility to the institutions and the universities have come to realize that yes, it helps them especially when it comes to rankings. So now a lot of institutions are doing that. There are those who would say, well, let us do a selection of some of the best research articles, and there’s this push these ones online. But even if they do that, they are still pushing online, some form of research output from the institution, there are those who would go ahead and push everything that is post graduate level and beyond onto the platform. And that adds more visibility to the research articles or the research work being carried out by the institution. So in all I say that has also been a very helpful platform. As a unit it has been very supportive and helped give more visibility to research from Africa.


Joy Owango

Okay. Now, in your opinion, how can educational research institution leverage their infrastructure resources and expertise to support research output and this output visibility and accessibility?


Abednego Corletey

So we have actually in the pipeline, there are a lot of processes coming up now to support so that it’s not just about talk, talk talk every time but also making sure there’s a support system in place to enable people share the knowledge. The universities do a lot of research. They do a lot of research. But let’s ask ourselves how much effort do the universities themselves put into securing their research is a question I keep asking? If you have been in a university environment before you will see how much effort goes into effort and energy goes into securing the examination process during the exams week. There’s no play at all, there is no play, all efforts is focused on ensuring that sanity of the examination and the conduction of the examination when it comes to managing resources, in relation to research, if you go to a university and ask how many papers were published from the faculty within this year, I don’t know what university can give you that in Africa, because nobody tracks, nobody supports, nobody guides the process. So it’s always difficult to actually have that data. So, for me, the universities must begin to save effort and energy they put into securing or sanitizing their examination conduction, at least if they use a 10th of that ensuring that there is some sanity in the governance of their research, it is something that would be very helpful for them. In any case, the university is not ranked on the number of examinations that are conducted, but it is rather the output of your research. So if that is how we are going to be seen outside, why are we not putting in more effort to ensure there is some sanity in the way we conduct, produce and share our research work? So for me, one, I have always pushed for the universities to have what are called the publication office, where people who are early career researchers or those who need help, would go in they will be guided as to how to write for instance, if they have difficulty publishing scientifically, they will be guided as to where to publish, if they have difficulty identifying a resource, or publisher for publishing, there will be a help to understand what legal processes involving IP address are like the use of the licenses, all these things, there must be some guidance within the institution to help people know how to publish the university must take control of how researchers within the faculty or within the institution, publish, they must guide, they must be a guiding process, there must be a way that universities would benefit from that, and make sure that that data is secured within their own service or wherever they want to host it. But it must also be available for their students and other researchers within that institution to make sure they can build upon what was done two years ago, has new data come to change the perception, or the conclusions that was found in the earlier research article? How can we help people who are innovators outside enterpreneurs to assess this data and sort of form a partnership between the University and the industry to provide them with the knowledge that they can now use to materialize some some innovations. So the universities must find ways, not just infrastructure, they must have policies that guide, they must have infrastructure, also to allow people who want to support those policies as place where they can implement the things, their guidance, policies, asking them to do, and there must be reward systems, for people who go along this way. So that within some years to come, everybody who goes into the institution would have the mindset that as for this institution, if I go in here, and I want to do research, they will support my research process. And when I do proper research, I will be given the platform where people will begin to see me and bring more collaborators into that research realm.

Joy Owango

But in terms of the capacity building, don’t you think there has been a slight change, more libraries are becoming more active in guiding early career researchers on the research process, there is a sliht change on the attitude on how to work with the libraries are they are engaged in open science dialogue in supporting their respective academic communities.

Abednego Corletey

I like the new paradigm shift but also the reality on the ground is that the librarian is still not seen as a ‘knowledgeable’person to help in research communication. When speaking about the publishing office, I would suggest that librarians they be in charge of this office. At least two librarians, I’m thinking of a legal person from the registry, someone who is a member of a peer review community. The librarans are doing good work but I think they need to do more, they need to push for some things to be in place and they must do more outreach for example at the beginning of the semester, they would guide incoming postgraduate students and publish as well. They need to engage more, not only once every year but especially during the course of the semesters where students need to do a lot of research, thesis and dissertations. Its not a one of thing during the students or new staff presentation, they must go beyond that and engage the faculties, have seminars to help them understand the ecosystem of knowledge sharing and the ideas of open science and how important it is to start implementing them from day one when they start their education or work as faculty members. This is what I think librarians should do or do more off. After all, they are the knowledge managers and they must be the ones in the lead.


Joy Owango

That is quite insightful and that leads to my last question looking ahead, what is the AAU’s vision for the future of Open Science in Africa, and how do you see it developing over the next few years?

Abednego Corletey

I would like to once again congratulate TCC Africa and PLOS in their efforts and support in advocating for open science across the continent. I guess we would have to continue with this partnership, have more engagement and dialogue. We are moving beyond just the managers and are involving senate members in open science dialogues so they understand what it all means. Beyond this I’m sure that we can also leverage the arms of government where we would bring on board the ministries of education  for different countries and university accreditation bodies so that as part of the accreditation process, we could have open science requirements as part of the research cycle and thus they want to see policies, statements structures in place to support before the institution becomes accredited. For us we are to provide a platform to make institutions understand what is happening on the international scene and how they must come along for credibility and institutional reputation to be intact. We are providing that engagement with partners like TCC Africa, PLOS and UNESCO for them to understand this is how the world wants research to be done. We want to continue providing all the necessary avenues that are helpful to engage so that they can implement these things but for us we are hoping in the next 2-3 years the number of universities that have embraced and adopted open science in their processes and have gone up at least to a tenth of the universities on the continent.

Joy Owango

That is ambitious and also, I believe doable since the academic community is quite positive about open science. Even thou there are concerns which are valid, they are willing to listen and see how they can be implemented in their institutes.

Thank you joining us in our podcast and most importantly for working with us in advocating for Open science in Africa.



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