Thought leaders from around the world used Africa Day on 25 May to call on Africans to embrace, implement, and protect Open Science as part of the continent-wide strategies for solving some of Africa’s pressing challenges. Open Science is a global movement to make information about scientific research easily accessible at all levels of society.
The calls emerged during the University of Pretoria’s (UP) biennial Africa Week science leadership summit. UP’s Africa Week 2023 was held at its Future Africa Institute, where thought leaders converged with leaders of African and global scientific networks, industries, academics, and governments.
Hosted under the theme ‘Open Africa, Open Science’, the event sought to foster and advocate for a science practice that makes scientific knowledge at its core transparent and reproducible, for credibility and consistency. Contributors called for research findings to be freely accessible and open for others to collaborate on, contribute to, and redistribute.
A panel of experts from across the world discussed the concept of Open Science as a tool to tackle some of the world's most pressing challenges.
“The considerable obstacles that need to be overcome to attain the African Union Agenda 2063’s vision of ‘a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development… where poverty is eradicated in one generation’ require workable solutions based on human-centred, transdisciplinary research that recognises the importance of evidence, creativity, and excellence to create change,” said Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UP. “If science is viewed as a public good – which few would today argue against – it needs to be actively disseminated as widely as possible to contribute optimally to the good of humanity.”
Prof Kupe said the work of increasing the impact and influence of African research and advancing open science for social change in Africa and globally cannot be done alone. It requires redoubled efforts to build equitable and sustainable partnerships, extended broadly to partners in both the Global South and Global North.
“Tackled collectively, tangible results become achievable. I am sure you will all agree with me that we simply have no time to lose, but need to apply ourselves with diligence and urgency to work that is certainly not for ourselves, but for the very livelihood of our planet and future generations. Let us stand united to achieve the benefits of academic freedom through open science,” he said.
Need to democratise science and the entire scientific process
There seemed to be a consensus between the audience and panellists that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which restricted the movement of people and the person-to-person sharing of information and knowledge, presented the world with an opportunity to experiment with the idea and potential of Open Science. Experts from all over the world opened access to their work and scientific knowledge, and worked together to neutralise the common enemy, COVID-19. Some of the global challenges that could be tackled through Open Science include global warming, poverty, inequality, unemployment, and inadequate healthcare.
Professor Ahmed Bawa, former CEO of Universities South Africa and member of the International Science Council Open Science Working Group South Africa, said universities have a major role to play in the realisation of “open science”.
Professor Lidia Brito, UNESCO Regional Director for Southern Africa in Mozambique, said the organisation highlighted in its Agenda 2063 that the achievement of sustainable development relies on science, technology, and innovation, which require an efficient, transparent, and vibrant scientific community; one that is not only streaming from the scientists but from the whole of society. This emphasises the need to democratise science and the entire scientific process and make it more efficient, equitable, transparent, and inclusive.
She said Open Science will essentially open scientific knowledge, open science infrastructure, open engagement of societal actors, and open dialogue with other knowledge systems. “It is a potential tool for advancing the human right to benefit from scientific knowledge and the right to participate in the production of scientific knowledge. Based on the values and principles of integrity, inclusion, fair relationships, and cherishing the importance of diversity, including the recognition of the different knowledge systems and societal organisation or government systems. It is about sharing data infrastructure, human capital, and the responsibility of ensuring that knowledge is a common good, and the driver for sustainable development for all in all places.”
The experts also shared a belief in a need for the development of national Open Science policies and roadmaps for implementation. Nigeria, South Africa, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Botswana, Uganda, and Mozambique are some of the countries that have already recognised this.
Professor Ahmed Bawa, Former CEO of Universities South Africa and member of the International Science Council Open Science Working Group South Africa, said universities have a major role to play in the realisation of Open Science.
“Universities produce large volumes of scientific knowledge globally… We need to think about the Open Science initiative as a social justice response to the huge disparities that exist not only in Africa but across the world. This will interrogate the work of universities and force them to rethink their relationship with society and science,” he said.
Prof Bawa said Open Science is undeniably prevailing as a research enterprise because of the availability of Open Science platforms.