by Varyanne Sika
Whenever we engage in research, the general motivation is for the improvement of things, be it a body of knowledge, solutions to various problems, policy, or productivity and efficiency. Reports have been written on where African countries are with respect to research. The Global Research Report on Africa by Thompson Reuters of the year 2010 for instance, places Kenya in the central region of Africa; which has thirty-five (35) countries as the lowest producers of papers while the north region made up of only six (6) countries as the highest producers of papers. To put things in perspective, between the years 1999-2008 Africa produced an average of 27,000 research papers per year, the same number of papers published per year by Netherlands. Africa is lagging behind in its research outputs, and Kenya is not an exception.
One need not look very far for illustrations on the gaps and languishing research capacity in Kenya. Most Kenyans cannot name more than ten research institutions they know of, and even more Kenyans cannot name more than five research institutions outside of the capital, Nairobi.
From undergraduate years in Kenyan Universities, we are impressed upon the importance of researching real-life problems. Some students are lucky enough to undertake research projects or write research papers as part of their course curricula. Other students only touch on theoretical aspects of qualitative and quantitative research but never get to experience practical research. iHub Research held a 6-week intensive research program, the first of its kind in Nairobi during the months of July and August called the ‘Summer Data Jam’ 2013. It was a privilege for me to be part of the pioneer class. The Summer Data Jam provided an opportunity outside of academic institutions to learn more about and to practice research. The Summer Data Jam by iHub Research is one of the many interventions by various African research institutions to strengthen research capacity in the region.
During this program, students who had previously learnt research methods during their undergraduate studies were taken through research and data topics such as Introduction to Research, Data Collection, Data Analysis, Visualization, Preparation of projects and Presentations. This project, being the first by iHub Research, was only implemented in Nairobi, even though research in Kenya is not restricted to Nairobi.
Another new program at iHub Research is a research fellowship for both regional and international graduate students. This programme is aimed at increasing the research capacity and establishing research networks and partnerships. One of the visiting fellows, Eleanor Marchant, a PhD. student at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania compiled a podcast episode on the importance of research and iHub Research's work during her visit to Nairobi, which coincided with the Summer Data Jam. You can listen to it here. Additionally, she was one of the tutors during the Summer Jam and wrote about her experience on the school blog here.
Academic institutions and research institutions outside of Nairobi could borrow from this kind of intervention and implement them in their various counties. It is important to note however, that capacity strengthening in research is not restricted to building the research skills of young researchers, but extends to providing institutional strengthening; creating research networks, forming partnerships and simplifying access to research resources such as literature and papers from journals and libraries, research training programs, research grant opportunities and calls for papers.
iHub Research demonstrated a simple intervention for capacity strengthening of research in Kenya. We should look introspectively for the solutions to increasing research prolificacy and research quality in the country. We should aim to produce as many published papers and not necessarily focus on market research at the expense of research in other fields. Working towards strengthening of local expertise and scientific capacity is one of the most effective ways to affect positive change and contribute to the development of any country and more so Kenya as we usher in the devolved system of governance.