This article focuses on the African research agenda with the objective of stimulating debate on how to leverage research output by African academia in the global research platforms.
A quick glance at available research grants, travel opportunities, support programs, and initiatives targeted at developing country researchers reveal that world-class research agenda shapes the development arena across continents. Another feature is that research priorities vary by region, country and community. For Africa, research priorities revolve around drought, food security, poverty, health, desertification, agriculture, HIV/AIDS, conflict resolution, science policy, capacity building, entrepreneurship, technology, markets, and leadership in Africa.
These priority areas constitute Africa’s research agenda so well-articulated by experts and the African academia. In addition, leadership in Africa has added its voice on this subject. However for academia, subjective views on key areas can distort the root causes and interventions to African problems given the complexity and interconnections among key variables on the African research agenda.
Africa has seen the rise of independent researchers and consultants in various disciplines. This signifies huge amounts of time devoted by individuals and organizations to dissecting Africa’s research issues and offering solutions. Interestingly, these research outputs often “go-unnoticed” due to many reasons such as absence of knowledge sharing platforms, inadequate information and communication channels, limited access to journals, lack of exposure to conferences and meetings, and perhaps, the research would be unacceptable by peer-review standards. The question how African researchers can leverage research output is discussed below under four key points, which can be adopted by both social science and natural science researchers. It must be remembered that these key points serve as a guide and not a rule.
1. Any meaningful research output has relevance and impact
Research output should find its way to intended target group. Where researchers are unsure of what action to take during and after study, consultation with experts may save them on time and resources. Every research finding has a logical explanation. Unlocking the key research questions in the context of the current knowledge should be the goal. African researchers should not be afraid to conduct research. They should not be afraid to showcase their research findings for it is up to the intended audience to decide the relevance, if any, of the findings. Global research platforms are open to new players for debate on the world scale.
2. Knowledge is site and location specific
Knowledge is a key factor in decision making and deciding on the development path for societies. In African research, there are often mixed reactions as to which knowledge is critical when considering indigenous and scientific knowledge. A simple rule is that a disregard of the importance of the other source of knowledge only serves to create conflict points. Changing reference points can assist in seeing the synergies of the two knowledge sources, which are both important for African researchers. Furthermore, through knowledge sharing the co-existence of the different researchers is guaranteed.
3. Moving from complex-interconnected themes towards one research goal
The African research agenda has more than it can hold. Of the possible explanations, is the view that in any discussion of a key area, knowledge experts runs the risk of overlapping into other closely-related areas. For instance, a discussion into the causes of low maize yields can end up being a discussion of the failure of an African government to supply maize farming inputs to a particular geographical location. This distracts meaningful progress especially when researchers enter the scene. Despite this, such interconnections should not be ignored for they create the need for strict codes for conducting research so that what was initially conceived is that which is measured. Post-research evaluation can then follow. In addition, the interconnections reinforce the need for a holistic, multi-sectoral, interdisciplinary approach towards one research goal.
4. Making the connection from laboratory, trials, and experiments
Research is not a mass event or activity. The goal of research is not the soliciting of views and opinions. Research is a practical subject; trials, tests, and experiments should be conducted and findings explained logically. When research protocols and procedures with or without improvements are observed, making the connection from the laboratory to the field becomes a manageable task. African researchers can also bank on the advantage that in today’s world knowledge is transferable to any place under the Sun. However, this knowledge should have passed through peer-review and verified according to standards practice as there are no short-cuts.
African researchers should give undivided effort and attention to leverage their research output at either local, global level or both. Global research platforms are open for new players in issues of interest. Given the complexity of African problems and the distortion this makes to research progress a reflection on these four areas is critical: (a) any meaningful research output has relevance and impact, (b) knowledge is site and location specific, (c) moving from complex-interconnected themes towards one goal, and (d) making the connection from laboratory, trials, and experiments. African researchers can leverage using these four areas as a starting point for greater research visibility.
Acknowledgements to Barbara Gastel (USA), Tzy-Ling Chen (Taiwan), Judi Wakhungu (Kenya) and Anke Weisheit (Uganda) for important feed back and discussions on earlier postings; Jane Tinkler (UK) and the London School of Economics Public Policy Group for their book "Maximizing the Impacts of your Research: A Handbook for Social Scientists”, which forms the foundation of this blog article. Last but not least, acknowledgement to all the research forums involved in agricultural research for development.