Since March 2015, The SOHA project (Open Science in Haiti and Francophone Africa) has been exploring obstacles to the adoption of open and collaborative science in universities located in Haiti and Francophone Africa, while providing tools to overcome these obstacles. This action research project understands that universities practicing open science can become powerful tools for local sustainable development in Francophone Africa and Haiti (FAH). It therefore seeks to facilitate adoption of open science in these universities and to understand the obstacles that may hinder it.
- Document the main obstacles to the sustainable adoption of open science by FAH graduate students.
- While we initially intended to set up a collaborative web documentary about open science, we have rather decided to integrate short videos about open science into a MOOC to facilitate students’ understanding about research processes and introduce concepts of open access and cognitive justice along the way.
- To understand the potential reception to institutional repositories and science shops by Haitian and Francophone African universities.
- To build a French-speaking international, interdisciplinary, sustainable, open and democratic network advocating open science in FAH: the SOHA network.
While many international reports consider higher education and scientific research as development tools (Shankar, 2014; Watson, 2003), Haiti and sub-Saharan Africa appear to lag behind the rest of the world (Friesenhahn, 2014; Kaly, 2012; Kemeny, 2014; Nwagwu, 2013; Piotrowski, 2014; World Bank, 2014; Willmers, 2012; Wilson-Strydom & Fongwa, 2014). This is especially true if we consider the number of items produced in Haiti and Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa that are listed in the Web of Science (Mboa Nkoudou 2016). Notwithstanding the inability of Western databases such as the Web of Science to take into account Francophone African and Haitian science, we consider the situation as a symptom (rather than a “lag”) of significant cognitive injustice. We define cognitive injustice as a situation which prevents researchers to fully exploit their capabilities to use, create and share knowledge that will contribute to the collective well-being and sustainable development of their communities. We want to understand how cognitive injustice in Haiti and Africa could be counteracted by what we call fair open science; in other words – science aimed at the creation of locally relevant, freely accessible and reusable knowledge by empowered and confident researchers using not only epistemologies from the North, but all kinds of epistemologies and methods.
Our project aims to test the idea that the « openness » of science could be considered not as an end in itself nor as a tool for more productivity in research and innovation, but as a way towards more cognitive, social and economic justice, therefore as a resource for fairness and justice in science. Our main action-research question is as follows:
- Considering fair open science as a tool for empowerment and cognitive justice in Francophone Africa and Haiti (FAH), what roadmap could be developed to overcome obstacles to the sustainable adoption of fair open science in FAH universities, particularly in graduate schools?
To address this question, we have also articulated four sub-questions:
- In addition to infrastructural issues (such as access to Internet and/or electricity), what are the main obstacles to the adoption of fair open science values by graduate students from FAH, within their home countries and abroad?
- What are the open science training strategies and tools most likely to generate the adoption of fair open science by FAH graduate students and empower some as local leaders in open science?
- How likely is it that institutional repositories and science shops, fair open science tools, could become permanently implanted in FAH universities? Under what conditions and with what support?
- What type of network could support local leaders in fair open science in making these practices permanently established in FAH universities?
The design of the project was to be decentralized, open and participatory to show fair open science in action. We are proud to say that we managed to do exactly that even if the pillars of our network have mainly been graduate students and not professors as expected.
- To design and launch an online survey to understand the potential opportunities and barriers for the uptake of fair open science in French-Speaking Haiti/Africa
- In the first year of launching the survey, we have received 878 answers from 18 countries
- To start a Facebook group, to reach out to students and develop a platform for sharing information
- The group has reached 2,400 members in June 2016, almost all graduate students from Haiti or Francophone Africa.
- To create a MOOC to help graduate students design and write their thesis proposal/canvas from a fair open science and cognitive justice perspective.
- To invite graduate students to publish blog posts on the SOHA website. http://www.projetsoha.org/?page_id=60.
- To conduct and film interviews with graduate students on open science for use within the MOOC, but also to empower the interviewees to publicize open science through graduate students’ own words and give data about the reception of fair open science by graduate students. They are all gathered on a YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqHmXvsjO5hkwLpZz4E_aKg
- To develop a model to be used in conferences/workshops to strategically train graduate students on cognitive justice, sustainable development and fair open science. This model can be used in different countries.
The main challenge of our project is linked to the high number of countries that are involved and to the unexpected (but hoped for) high number of graduate students and young professors actively participating in the project or interested in it. We would like to give all these students and researchers an equal opportunity to participate in the project and to benefit from its empowerment virtues. We would like to reward all the graduate students that have helped the project so much, whether in collecting data, writing blogs, organizing conferences and workshops or simply in giving great ideas and sharing precious knowledge. But they are now so numerous that it becomes very difficult to enact the cognitive justice to which we all aspire. The concept of fair open science was very easily accepted and understood by graduate students. The difficulty lies more in its institutionalization and enactment in practical reforms.
Data emerging from our web-survey has begun to demonstrate that:
- Being a young, undergraduate woman in the global South with a low income strongly affects access to a smartphone, the Internet and to a laptop.
- A low degree of scientific digital literacy among graduate student is a substantial barrier to open science, but it is not as important as we thought prior to our fieldwork, compared with the social complexities of university life in general.
- We initially underestimated the role of mobile phones as a tool for learning and digital literacy, as compared to computers.
- Graduate students tend to be very open-minded about the possibilities of open science, but the hierarchical nature of higher education preserves the hegemony of positivism which entails despise for local knowledge (superstition and beliefs) and ideas of openness.
- We envisioned as a problem the dominance of the English language in open science’s existing tools and practices. However, such an obstacle has never really appeared, because the world of open science is relatively unknown. However, the linguistic factor is major: the dominance of the French language in universities over national languages is a real significant barrier.
What do your findings suggest about the nature/context of open science in development?
Our project has identified 8 forms of cognitive injustice that prevent graduate students and scholars from Haiti and Francophone Africa to transmit and produce knowledge in service to the sustainable development of their communities:
- Financial and digital barriers to scientific publications from the North
- Hegemony of English and, in a lesser measure, of French as languages of science
- Complicated access to Internet and weak digital literacy among students, even post-graduate students
- Positivist injonction of despising and ignoring local knowledge to the benefit of academic expertise
- Barrier between research priorities (able to get funding) and local research priorities as expressed by local communities
- Absence of a real research infrastructure in universities, including local funds for research projects
- Epistemic alienation forcing students and researchers from Haiti and Africa to think only in categories from Western epistemologies
- Pedagogy of humiliation, where elders do not hesitate to destroy younger students in order to keep their places in the hierarchy