Improve Evidence-Based Policy Making in Sub Saharan Africa

There is a general consensus that outputs from academic research activities; supposed to serve as guidance for policy makers are crucial to improve development outcomes (Jaffe, 1989; Mansfield, 1991). The African continent representing 14% of the world’s population only contributes to less than 1% of published research outputs (David Dunne, 2017). While this low rate may on the one hand be attributed to a lack of sufficient financial and human resources; it could most importantly be explained by the lower level of research quality and integrity of African researchers’ manuscripts, impeding them to get published in (top) refereed/ peer-reviewed journals.

Over the past decades; transparency, openness and reproducibility have increasingly been recognized as key features of research quality and integrity. The Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS) was established in 2012 to strengthen the quality of social science research and evidence used for policy-making, by enhancing the practices of economists, psychologists, political scientists, and other social scientists. Likewise, the Center for Open Science (COS) was also created to promote openness, integrity and reproducible research. The Research Transparency Initiative of the Innovation for Poverty Action (IPA) was also launched in 2014 to promote data sharing, coding as well as pre-registration of research studies. However, despite the efforts provided by BITSS, COS and the IPA; transparency, reproducibility and open science is still not enough entrenched in the norms of academic researchers of the world in general, specifically in Sub Saharan Africa and Cameroon.

However, evidence have shown that most of African researchers still face difficulties in publishing their research findings (World Education News and Review, 2015). This may be due to among other reasons, the lack of quality and integrity of their research. Besides; it is generally agreed that training plays a vital role in improving performance (Swart et al, 2005; Purcell et al 2003).Thus, teaching African researchers on transparent, reproducible and open methods could increase their research quality and integrity.

Thanks to the generous support of BITSS and the OPEN KNOWLEDGE INTERNATIONAL, An open research data event was organized in Yaoundé, Cameroon on April 06th 2017. The first part of the training aims at sensitizing the young generation of (40) researchers (Psychology, economics, political science) on various academic research misconducts (Publication Bias, P-Hacking, , Unreproducible Workflow) as well as the lack of sharing and openness in research. In the second part of the training, participants were exposed to different solutions (Pre-registration, Pre-Analysis Plan, Data sharing and the construction of a reproducible and transparent workflow, dynamic documents) that could be undertaken to enhance the openness of their research.

After the training, some of the participants give their testimony about how the workshop have help them improve their research behavior: See Below

“I really wish I knew about all those bottlenecks to research openness (Publication bias, P-hacking, failure to replicate, unreproducible workflow, lack of data sharing and transparency) at the very start of my PhD, I would have been more cautious. However, now that the workshop has raised my awareness on the necessity to be more transparent and open in research, I could use the knowledge acquired to enhance the quality of my current and forthcoming publications” Participant 1 “Research transparency, reproducibility and openness tools should be integrated in the academic curriculum of our universities from the undergraduate level. This could enable the next generation of African economic researchers to embrace a different path in order to enhance the credibility and quality of their research outputs. ” Participant 2

Therefore, the training was able to leverage the knowledge of researchers on what a reproducible research is and raise their awareness on common academic research misconducts allowing them to produce reliable, trustable and publishable research outputs to guide policy making. Therefore, open research data in Sub Saharan Africa through the adoption of transparent and open academic behavior could be used to enhance the credibility of findings for evidence based policy making.

This post was written by Soazic Elise WANG SONNE who is currently a visiting scholar at the UC Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS).