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Capacity development of research communication in the Global South works

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November 23, 2017

Tags: AuthorAID, capacity development, impact

Independent study shows effectiveness of AuthorAID interventions in supporting researchers to communicate their work

Researchers in developing countries can improve their research communication skills through online capacity development. A new in-depth study of three key activities of INASP’s AuthorAID project over the past three years has revealed high levels of publication output, as well as improved confidence and the ability to build wider networks.

Since 2007, INASP’s AuthorAID project has been working to support developing-country researchers to communicate their research more effectively. The new independent evaluation of three main aspects of the project – mentoring, large-scale online courses and intensive courses – has revealed that each intervention has a positive impact on researchers’ ability to publish their research and also on their overall confidence and research connections.

Researchers in the developing world face many challenges in publishing their research. These include: lack of research funding; difficulties writing in English; challenges in identifying the most suitable and genuine journals; delays with peer review and paper acceptance; publication costs; lack of mentors to check and review manuscripts; and lack of familiarity with academic writing style. The AuthorAID project from INASP addresses the challenges faced by researchers in communicating their work through a range of approaches including online capacity development for individual researchers and working with universities and institutions to build local capacity for research writing skills training.

The new in-depth, independent impact study looked at three of the main online approaches used in the project - Massive Open Online Course in Research Writing (MOOCs); the Research Writing in Environmental Health course; and the AuthorAID mentorship scheme. The study was intended to both guide future direction and contribute to the global body of knowledge on the effectiveness of developing research capacity in the Global South.

For the time period 2013 to 2016, the study used a combination of document reviews, a survey completed by 1,126 participants and in-depth interviews with 13 respondents from Nigeria, Tanzania, Somalia, India and Nepal. It looked at the impact of these approaches in three main ways: publication output, confidence and other benefits such as networking.

The study revealed that all AuthorAID capacity-development approaches examined have a positive impact on publication outputs and research communication skills. Overall, 56% of survey respondents reported that AuthorAID helped them to publish and 39% of survey respondents had published at least one paper in a peer-reviewed journal in the period between their involvement with AuthorAID and March 2017. The group most likely to have published in that period were participants from the intensive course (67%) followed by mentees (60%), and MOOC course participants (34%).

Publishing within a fixed period of one year following involvement with AuthorAID showed a similar pattern, with intensive course participants being most likely to publish within one year (59%), followed by mentees (53%) then MOOCs (36%). At the time of the study some people had completed their AuthorAID activity less than a year before.

The study also showed that the different capacity development approaches provide different levels of depth, and so may particularly suit the needs of participants at different stages in their career and at different points in the research-writing process. For example, MOOCs provide a broad introduction to research communication whereas intensive courses and mentoring are more focused on detailed support to address particular research-writing issues.

Interviewees reported that engagement with AuthorAID improved their understanding of the publishing process. They also mentioned improved resilience to rejection and a better understanding of the publishing and peer review processes, reporting that AuthorAID has given them encouragement to rework their papers if they had been rejected.

In addition to achieving the key goal of supporting publication outputs and improved confidence in research communication skills, there are other benefits of the AuthorAID approaches. In particular, it is a key way of engaging and supporting the sharing of Southern expertise. We have observed that some mentees and course participants go on to become mentors and guest facilitators themselves, which enables South-South support and helps works towards a more equitable global research system.

Ruth Bottomley, Senior Programme Manager, Research Development and Support at INASP, welcomed the findings:

“At INASP, we see capacity development as an important investment, and the findings of this impact study are particularly encouraging as they demonstrate that our approaches are resulting in positive outcomes for researchers in the Global South. Our belief is that capacity-development is most effective when it is demand-driven, engaging and responsive to the needs of the participants.”

The study report, as well as a ‘Learning, Reflections and Innovation’ article discussing the report, can be found at www.inasp.info/authoraidstudy.

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