Inclusive Participation

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Leslie Chan on Inclusive Participation in Knowledge, in a review of: The Wealth of Networks

"For researchers in developing countries, informed participation in global research agenda setting is often hampered by limited access to scientific information and essential data. Improved connectivity in many parts of the developing world is certainly improving access to the literature, but pricing and permission barriers are still significant impediments to the development of local research infrastructures. Programs such as the Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI) supported by the World Health Organization and the sister programmes, AGORA (Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture, managed by the Food and Agriculture Organization) and OARE (Online Access to Research in the Environment, managed by the United Nations [UN] Environment Programme), are supposed to provide free access to researchers in qualified institutions in countries with gross national product (GNP) of $1000 or less per annum. These initiatives are being tied to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, and aim to ‘represent a truly global public private partnership for development, providing essential information for life to those who need it most’.[2] However, these programmes are based on the implicit assumption that development is sufficient with the flow of knowledge or resources from the North to the South, as almost all the over three thousand journal titles are published in the North with only a small number of titles originating from the developing world. Are health and agricultural research conducted in America and Europe necessarily relevant to health workers, farmers and students in African countries, where disease profiles and food security are drastically different from the rich economies? Would work published in other developing regions of the world be more appropriate for researchers from those areas, particularly where development-related research is concerned?

Supporting scholarship in the global South must be a two-way street. In addition, the South– South exchange of scientific and traditional knowledge as well as common experiences may in fact be far more important for local development. Instead of just ‘donating’ information to researchers in developing countries, international foundations and the public–private partnerships must provide researchers with a way to share knowledge with each other and participate in research opportunities with peers in the developed world. The integration of journals and research results from the South in the global knowledge base, made possible through the use of open access repositories, may be a simple route for achieving this goal.

In his recent book Convergence Culture: where old and new media collide, Henry Jenkins remarks, ‘Increasingly, the digital divide is giving way to concern about the participation gap. As long as the focus remains on access, reform remains focused on technologies; as soon as we start to talk about participation, the emphasis shifts to cultural protocols and practices’ (Jenkins, 2007, p. 23). Until recently, development programmes, particularly those initiated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, have been top-down, bureaucratic, programme and donor driven. But we are now seeing more grass-roots driven initiatives based on participatory approaches so that decision making flows from the bottom up, rather than being driven from the top.

At the same time, we are still far from having a good understanding about what motivates participation in the new knowledge space. Numerous research universities in North America and Europe have set up institutional repositories, and an increasing number of repositories is also springing up in transitional countries. Yet most of these repositories remain largely empty despite convincing studies that show the higher number of citations and impact of materials deposited in these spaces. We know even less about researchers’ behaviour, motivation and institutional practices in the developing world."



Also reproduced as chapter 11 of the book: Education in the Creative Economy