In 2013, INASP launched a pilot project with partners in Sierra Leone to explore what could be done to strengthen the foundations for research and higher education in the country.
The project was undertaken as part of the Strengthening Research & Knowledge Systems (SRKS) programme. The project was interrupted by the Ebola Crisis in May 2014, but was able to run again from September 2015 to March 2018.
Working primarily with the University of Sierra Leone and Njala University, INASP and Research4Life brought together research and academic leaders to discuss the challenges and identify ways of strengthening research.
Three areas of focus were identified, with the following initiatives undertaken throughout the pilot period.
A discussion of lessons from this pilot project and a similar piece of work in Somalia are discussed here.
1. Availability and access to research publications
A key goal of the project was to increase awareness of the research information already available in Sierra Leone, and see whether increasing awareness and the skills to access and use these resources could support Sierra Leone’s efforts to strengthen its research system.
Access was provided to all universities/colleges across Sierra Leone via INASP’s negotiated access programme.
A programme of workshops to raise awareness among librarians and academic staff and to develop critical search skills was run.
This laid the foundations for the development of a national library consortium, to manage access and provide future skills training.
2. ICT networks
The building of Sierra Leone’s ICT infrastructure was hampered and delayed by the long civil war. As broadband improves, institutions increasingly need skilled engineers and ICT professionals to configure campus networks, and ensure campus-wide access.
INASP supported Sierra Leonean partners to convene university leaders and IT staff, leading to the establishment of a National Research and Education Network (SLREN), which has attracted initial World Bank funding, and brought research and university leaders together to discuss a national approach to IT-enabled learning and research
3. Journal publishing
Important research is being undertaken in Sierra Leone, but researchers often find no outlet for their work. Sierra Leone has a number of journals that, have struggled to publish for many years, but which institutions are keen to revive.
In collaboration with African Journals Online (AJOL) INASP supported eight journal editors to join colleagues from across the region to learn about online research publishing. By brokering relationship the hope is that Sierra Leonean journals can eventually be hosted on the African Journals Online (AJOL) platform – an INASP founded project now independently and locally run. In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Bath, a series of academic writing workshops were also run.
Building peer networks to facilitate change
As well as providing training and financial support, INASP used its network and experience to act as a convenor and broker, connecting Sierra Leonean colleagues to Ghanaian and Kenyan partners.