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It Takes a Village to Raise a Researcher

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Key Takeaways from the Africa Evidence Summit CIDR Panel

At the 2023 Africa Evidence Summit, panelists Jeanine Condo (Chief Executive Officer, The Centre for Impact, Innovation and Capacity building for Health Information Systems and Nutrition), Rose Oronje (Director of Public Policy and Knowledge Translation, and Head of Kenya Office, AFIDEP), Aurelia Munene (Founder of Eider Africa), and Constantine Manda (Assistant Professor of Political Science, UC Irvine) joined moderator Daniel Posner (Professor of International Development, UCLA) to explore the varied incentives for African scholars to publish. Amy Shipow (Project Manager, CEGA Global Networks) and Maya Ranganath (Associate Director, CEGA Global Networks and Inclusion) synthesize the discussion to shed light on the publication gap and generate insights on how barriers can be alleviated to allow African scholars to participate fully in scholarly publication.

Jeanine Condo speaks on the panel at the 2023 Africa Evidence Summit | Luft Ventures

“The research infrastructure on the [African] continent remains very low. Few publications are a reflection of the limited investments governments are putting into research […] There are biases in journals. As a PhD student studying in the US, I was told that I should have my Western professor as a co-author to get published.” — Rose Oronje, Director of Public Policy and Knowledge Translation, and Head of Kenya Office, AFIDEP.

The Collaboration for Inclusive Development Research (CIDR), co-led by CEGA and the Network for Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa (NIERA), aims to shift norms in global development research towards a more inclusive ecosystem. At the 2023 Africa Evidence Summit in Nairobi, we organized a panel to discuss how differing incentives and resources contribute to publishing disparities between researchers from high income countries (HIC) and those from low- and -middle-income countries (LMICs). The panel also probed the role of journals, universities, and researchers in HICs in exacerbating (or mitigating) this problem.

We present the major themes of the discussion below, which shed light on the barriers and opportunities that African scholars face along the education to evidence-use pipeline.

Co-authorship with scholars from HICs can serve as a helpful career stepping stone; however, it is only a small step in changing the research ecosystem to produce more African scholarship.

Dr. Condo shared that working with and publishing together with CEGA affiliated professor Paul Gertler was an important lever for her career. Yet, African scholars often face internalized pressure (due to external biases) towards co-authoring with scholars from HICs. When Dr. Oronje asked the nearly 500 Summit attendees, “How many African scholars here are first authors when you submit a publication?,” hardly anyone raised their hand, leading her to share that not even she submits academic publications as a first author.

Panelists shared the structural obstacles African researchers face to conduct their own rigorous social science research.

Since most African universities are “teaching” institutions and prioritize this over research, scholars are left with limited time to pursue their own research agendas. Moreover, faculty are rarely trained to mentor or share resources with their students — challenges that are further exacerbated by the significant time constraints they face. Access to scholars with experience publishing at top-tier universities is also privileged for HIC students, who can more easily build subject-matter expertise simply by attending office hours and speaking with other students and faculty. Without this similar exposure to the most relevant literature and resources, African students instead spend more self-directed time finding, reading, and engaging with a variety of potentially less relevant work.

“Last year, I was challenging the Vice Chancellor of the University of Rwanda — I am breastfeeding but I am expected to publish three papers. How can I have more space and time to be an equal competitor?” — Jeanine Condo

Female scholars face additional barriers to publishing, even at the highest levels of academia.

Dr. Condo recently published a paper on gender inequities in publishing, which outlined that in papers from sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), men comprised 61% of first authors, 65% of last authors, and 66% of single authors. A recent survey of over 200 alumni of SSA STEM PhD programs confirmed that women obtain less university and external funding for graduate studies than their male counterparts. Female panelists shared that they had to push back against senior leadership with regard to career expectations in the face of reproductive and domestic responsibilities; they are expected to achieve the same results as their male counterparts but are constrained by additional, invisibilized labor.

Given these constraints to African-led authorship, what are the potential solutions to incentivize and support publishing?

“Money is the problem and the solution,” Dr. Manda shared. Existing funds should be leveraged to support and nurture African researchers so that journals will be eager to publish their work. Dr. Condo recently wrote a grant to research the effects of providing monetary incentives for researchers to publish, instead of accepting small consultancies, where their contributions were less likely to be recognized by name. Preliminary results suggest that this is an effective incentive for SSA researchers. Similarly, panelists cited the dedicated research and pilot funding that CEGA provides to African scholars helps them pursue their own research interests.

Investing in the quality of African journals is essential, and can be accomplished through different mechanisms.

Panelists urged researchers to publish important work in African journals, which can signal the quality of the journal, can make findings more accessible, and uphold the ethical responsibility to share results with the communities of study. Dr. Oronje also emphasized the need for African scholars to sit on the editorial boards of such journals.

Concurrently, HIC journals are making strides to improve geographic equity; for example, PLOS recently announced a policy that authors conducting research outside of their country of origin will be asked to complete a questionnaire that details the ethical, cultural, and scientific considerations taken to uphold inclusivity in their research, including if local authors are included among the authorship list. Making journals open access was another solution proposed by the panel. Initiatives like the Northwestern Research Feedback Project provides LMIC scholars, who have a desk-rejected paper from the Journal of Development Economics (JDE), the opportunity to be matched with a HIC scholar for feedback. While the author is not reconsidered for JDE, it is hoped that the paper can be improved for other submissions.

Both Africa-based and HIC-based non-governmental organizations can complement African universities by offering dedicated mentorship to African scholars.

Through her work as the founder of Eider Africa, panelist Aurelia Munene is striving to decrease the sense of isolation researchers experience, especially among recent graduates looking to publish. Her organization offers mentorship on essential research and writing skills as well as supports enhancing curricula at African universities. Additionally, panelists mentioned the importance of identifying resources (such as Afrobarometer, the Harvard Dataverse, or datasets of published papers) and training students to use them.

While the panel began with discussion about differing incentives to publish, the conversation evolved to mirror CIDR’s fundamental goals: how can we best support African researchers so that journals will actively seek out African scholars to publish their research and policymakers will hasten to apply their results?

If you are working in this space, we invite you to let us know what you think! We will soon launch an online survey for students, faculty, research professionals, journal editors, and funders to share their thoughts on the current state of inclusion in the evidence ecosystem and ways to improve it. Please watch for the official announcement of this online survey later this month. The results of the survey and other CIDR research will be released in 2024.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Researcher was originally published in CEGA on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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