Just before flying out of Africa for the Force2016 conference, I had supper in Zimbabwe with two friends who teach and practice in medicine and
public health.They pointed out that, in spite of the best efforts of their local librarians, and availability of resources like the WHO's Access
to Research in Health Programme (HINARI) for low income countries, their research efforts are constantly hampered because they cannot get the
full range of articles and books they need. Amazingly, this includes local and regional literature that remains uncited because much of it still
sits in filing cabinets or in neglected archives.
While my main interest in Force11's work has been in overcoming challenges in communicating research findings to non-academic users, there couldn't have been any better preparation for Force2016 than this reminder that some of the places in the world that most need the application of new knowledge are those with the least access to it. Even where I work, in middle-income country Botswana, government researchers outside the capital city cannot easily access scientific databases and their departmental library catalogues. Organizations and programmes such as INASP and DFID's DRUSSA are making heroic efforts to enable researchers to understand and engage with policy processes, but how can they succeed if researchers feel their work is not supported by the knowledge of their peers?
So it was the powerful advocacy for open access, rather than the (albeit wonderful) tools and frameworks for research communication that I heard about at the conference, that impressed me most. Until the competitive nature of scholarly research, and its economic underpinnings, are tempered by systems that nurture genuine and deliberate collaboration, many researchers will not be willing, or confident, to share what they have learned with those who need it most. Can we make such systems pay for themselves? I'd like to know more.