Beyond the Digital Divide: Sharing Research Data across Developing and Developed Countries
The primary data collection element of this project related to observational based fieldwork at four universities in Kenya and South Africa undertaken by Louise Bezuidenhout (hereafter ‘LB’) as the award researcher. The award team selected fieldsites through a series of strategic decisions. First, it was decided that all fieldsites would be in Africa, as this continent is largely missing from discussions about Open Science. Second, two countries were selected – one in southern (South Africa) and one in eastern Africa (Kenya) – based on the existence of the robust national research programs in these countries compared to elsewhere on the continent. As country background, Kenya has 22 public universities, many of whom conduct research. It also has a robust history of international research collaboration – a prime example being the long-standing KEMRI-Wellcome Trust partnership. While the government encourages research, financial support for it remains limited and the focus of national universities is primarily on undergraduate teaching. South Africa has 25 public universities, all of whom conduct research. As a country, South Africa has a long history of academic research, one which continues to be actively supported by the government.
Third, in order to speak to conditions of research in Africa, we sought examples of vibrant, “homegrown” research. While some of the researchers at the sites visited collaborated with others in Europe and North America, by design none of the fieldsites were formally affiliated to large internationally funded research consortia or networks. Fourth, within these two countries four departments or research groups in academic institutions were selected for inclusion based on their common discipline (chemistry/biochemistry) and research interests (medicinal chemistry). These decisions were to ensure that the differences in data sharing practices and perceptions between disciplines noted in previous studies would be minimized.
Within Kenya, site 1 (KY1) and Site 2 (KY2) were both chemistry departments of well-established universities. Both departments had over 15 full time faculty members, however faculty to student ratios were high and the teaching loads considerable. KY1 had a large number of MSc and PhD candidates, the majority of whom were full-time and a number of whom had financial assistance. In contrast, KY2 had a very high number of MSc students, the majority of whom were self-funded and part-time (and thus conducted their laboratory work during holidays). In both departments space in laboratories was at a premium and students shared space and equipment. Neither department had any postdoctoral researchers.
Within South Africa, site 1 (SA1) was a research group within the large chemistry department of a well-established and comparatively well-resourced university with a tradition of research. Site 2 (SA2) was the chemistry/biochemistry department of a university that had previously been designated a university for marginalized population groups under the Apartheid system. Both sites were the recipients of numerous national and international grants. SA2 had one postdoctoral researcher at the time, while SA1 had none.
Empirical data was gathered using a combination of qualitative methods including embedded laboratory observations and semi-structured interviews. Each site visit took between three and six weeks, during which time LB participated in departmental activities, interviewed faculty and postgraduate students, and observed social and physical working environments in the departments and laboratories. Data collection was undertaken over a period of five months between November 2014 and March 2015, with 56 semi-structured interviews in total conducted with faculty and graduate students. Follow-on visits to each site were made in late 2015 by LB and Brian Rappert to solicit feedback on our analysis.