“There is good quality content available, but not everyone knows about it”
An interview with Research4Life’s user representative
By Elisa Nelissen
Starting in July, professor Edda Tandi Lwoga from the College of Business Education in Dar es salaam, Tanzania will be Research4Life’s official user representative. The user representative is elected every three years by the Executive Council to represent the worldwide community of users of our partnership that provides free and low-cost access to thousands of academic and professional resources in developing countries.
It is a logical fit for Professor Lwoga, who has a PhD in Information Studies from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa. Today, she is an Associate Professor and Deputy Rector for Academic, Research and Consultancy. Since finding out about the programme, she has been one of Research4Life more adamant supporters, giving trainings on how to get the most out of Research4Life across Tanzania and beyond. We spoke to her on the phone about her work and motivations.
“I have been working with Research4Life for over fifteen years: I first heard about AGORA back in 2002 and started giving trainings on how to use it,” she said. AGORA is one of Research4Life’s five programmes and focuses on agricultural information.
“Throughout my studies and my PhD, I was working as a librarian and was part of the academic staff, first at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania, and later at MUHAS [the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences] in Dar es salaam,” she said. “I was working as a librarian and a lecturer there and conducted trainings on the use of online resources and research management.”
It has been quite a challenge to juggle all these roles and responsibilities, but her drive is strong enough to keep going. “What keeps me motivated is the role I could play in encouraging academics, students and other university staff to use electronic resources,” she said.
Research4Life services many countries, but sometimes institutions aren’t aware that they qualify for free or low-cost access to content. “I am driven to raise awareness and build capacity for researchers so they don’t waste time trying to access databases. There is good quality content available to them, but they don’t know about it.”
At the College of Business Administration, which has over 8,000 students, professor Lwoga administers research consultancy and academic activities. She oversees trainings on the use of online resources and teaches information science courses.
Digital Access to Research (DAR)
“In my professional career I’ve always been very active in giving training on Research4Life,” she said, “in addition to courses on using online resources and reference managers.” She has done this through ITOCA, theInformation Training & Outreach Centre for Africa, and more recently for the new Digital Access to Research programme of the United Nations’ Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries, for which she is the so-called ‘country focal point’ for Tanzania. But the trainings take her beyond her country borders as well, to countries like Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia.
“Since I started working for the DAR programme, things are moving much faster. I have been able to visit a lot of institutions, also those that are very remote. These institutions often have very little access to online resources. They don’t know that this doesn’t have to be the case. It makes me wonder: what kind of research are they doing if they are not basing themselves on evidence from peer-reviewed journals?”
Most of professor Lwoga’s work revolves around raising awareness to make sure librarians and academics know about the resources available to them through Research4Life. “Tanzania is a big country, with nearly 60 million inhabitants. As a result, we have a large number of universities, technical colleges and research institutes. It is a challenge to reach all of them. That’s why we still have to put so much effort in raising awareness.” The second pillar of her work is capacity-building: first of all by teaching researchers how to use online resources, and secondly by improving the ICT infrastructure. “The National ICT Backbone Network gives good access to the internet in Tanzania, but not all institutions have the capacity to tap into this network,” she added.
Boosting evidence-based research
It seems that her hard work is paying off, as access to high-quality, peer-reviewed research makes a big difference. “When I started working in MUHAS in 2010, I made it part of the curriculum for students to learn how to use Hinari. Since then, I’ve seen a lot of improvement in the usage of resources through Research4Life, which has resulted in a higher research output.”
Data from SciVal shows that this is indeed the case. Between 2013 and 2017 (the latest available data), there was a 30% increase in the amount of papers published in peer-review journals in Tanzania.
Through her new role as Research4Life user representative, professor Lwoga can add another dimension to her mission to improve the quality of research in Africa. “I’m so glad to be given this opportunity, as I will be able to speak on behalf of many people. Through all the trainings I give, I am in touch with so many users who give me feedback. I will now be able to represent their ideas for the Executive Council.” “My dream is that access to international research results in more citable content from Tanzania, better education, more vetting, so that we can make an impact in the different areas of the global sustainability goals,” professor Lwoga concluded. “We need our research to turn into tangible innovations.”