The changing world of research communication

This session examined what is changing in the world of research communication from the perspective of people working in information and communication roles and at the supply end of research. The panelists spoke about some of the big changes in their areas of work that they thought would change the way they improve policy implementation.

Buhle Mbambo-Thata from eIFL spoke about how the open access movement was gaining momentum. Progress is being made internationally to make research articles in all academic fields freely available on the Internet. Usually a Google search’s first three results will be from open access repositories. Whether this is through self-archiving or open access, it has been shown that the availability of information promotes access to information. However, some authors can’t afford or pay the fees. There needs to be a change in mindset – does an organizations assets lie in purchasing journals or making research available in open access journals? The ASSAf academy is still investigating the issue of open access and looking at what kind of model will work for South Africa. They are currently looking at shifting from pay to use to free to use. We need to ascertain that we have good quality publications in open access. Policies are needed to provide protection, encouragement and guidelines in which people can operate.

Megan Lloyd Laney talked about communicating the research that DFID commission and making research more available to the public so that they can put informed pressure on those that govern them. They are starting to put together a central repository called R4D at http://www.research4development.info/. DFID have also made it compulsory to spend 10-30% of research grants on a communication strategy. It allows you to map in advance who you think the research will be useful for and how are you going to make a difference. The movement has partly come from researchers and institutions who recognize this has to be done. There needs to be demand from inside as well as outside. The challenge is to get other research funders to buy into the agenda.

It’s not about trying to make researchers into communicators but intelligent users. We need to make visible the capacity already available. DFID is building into the funding process a mechanism for communicating research, which is going to ensure sustainability and ensure that research from the south is easily accessible. The challenge of looking at capacity strengthening for research is to find out what skills are needed by the researchers, and what types of tools and frameworks will be useful. We need to share the capacity and share the mechanisms for communicating research. We have to stop and look at who can assist and learn skills as we go along.

Dr Xola Mati spoke about the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) who assist policy makers in making policy and ensuring that their recommendations are taken seriously and are actually implemented. They have various panels and committees that generate evidence-based advice. In response to the paradigm shifts within the scholarly communication they started to publish science-focused periodicals to promote a national interest in the sciences.

Researchers should not only communicate with policy makers but with others. ASSAf is drawing from expertise from scientists and leader scholars in the country and making their expertise and research relevant – not only to policy makers but the needs of the public. Collaboration with media is sometimes difficult as “science is not sexy”, but all forms of media engagement are very important, we need to try and experiment with all the new media e.g. SMS.

Some final thoughts:

  • Make visible the people who are struggling with the same issues
  • Forge practical collaborations to build the movement and to put some glue. Everyone here needs to go away with two or three collaborations
  • Professionalize the intermediary space and make it more recognized. Repositories need to be visible in order to enable access
  • Research communication needs to consider: accessibility; engagement processes; public discourse and debate; and uptake and implementation – putting research into action.

Cecilia Sani, HSRC

Related links

The Directory of Open Access Repositories (http://www.opendoar.org/) – this lists 1158 repositories

The Lund Directory of Open Access Journals (http://www.doaj.org/) – this lists 3441 peer-reviewed open access journals.

Panel Participants and presentations:

Chair: David Barnard, SANGONET

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