Across the world, research forms a critical foundation for societal development. New ideas and innovations born out of evidence and data gathered from research are used to solve problems across industries.   

Africa’s low research output is, therefore, a concern for innovators in Africa and beyond. For a continent accounting for about 14% of the global population, Africa contributes less than 1% of global research output. Beyond the low state investment in conducting research, the limited research output on the continent is largely dependent on international collaborations. In 2012 for example, international collaborations accounted for about 79%, 70% and 45% of research outputs in the South, East, and West & Central Africa respectively. Also in the same year, collaboration among researchers on the African continent ranged from 0·9% in Western and Central Africa to 2·9% in Southern Africa. While this shows a growing culture of collaborations among researchers on the continent, the dependency on international collaborations, however, affects the continent’s research priorities and evolution.   

Another issue affecting research output on the continent is the reactionary nature of researchers to “publish or perish.” Research outputs tend to lack value and relevance and contribute little to the development of the continent.  

Speaking about other challenges confronting research and innovation output, Rose Dodd, Director of the Education Collaborative at Ashesi University, identified that, “Players in the sector are normally dominated by academic researchers, neglecting research managers and administrators that help with processing grants and manage the research process, thereby limiting research productivity.”

A new model of research collaboration to tackle these problems head-on
Since its inception in 2017, the Education Collaborative has been building a new model of collaboration among higher education institutions to enhance the outcomes of the sector. Structured as a consortium, member institutions engage in deep-level learning and gain support to magnify individual and collective outcomes.    

Inspired by the emerging successes of these new collaborations, the Collaborative has launched a Research Community of Practice (RCoP) focused on deepening inter-institutional collaborative research among higher education institutions across the continent. Unique to this RCoP is the opportunity to foster a feedback loop among academic researchers and research, innovation managers and industry across different institutions on the continent. The Community of Practice is made up of faculty and non-faculty researchers from varied academic and research disciplines, and research administrators from different institutions and countries to harness individual and collective expertise to improve research outputs.  

“Having multi-disciplinary and multi-country researchers do not only provide unique learning opportunities,” shared Dr. Keren Arthur, senior lecturer of entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Cape Coast., Ghana, and a founding member of the RCoP. “It also serves as a cross-country databank to fuel robust research outcomes that could be generalized and contextualized in Africa.”   

Impacting African societies with research outcomes 
A defining feature of this RCoP is an impact-focused research agenda, which is guided by African Union Agenda 2063. Members engage in solely applied research that produces discoveries that is targeted at solving problems on the African continent.  

Presenting on the need for applied, interdisciplinary and collaborative research across Africa at the African Research and Innovation Management Association 2021 Conference, Esther Laryea, Lecturer, Ashesi University, founding member of the RCoP stressed that “research must go beyond engaging in decades-old predictive and descriptive research to applied and implementable research if researchers in Africa want to stay relevant and contribute to the development of the continent.” 

Support and activities of the Community 
The RCoP will provide a community of support and resources to help researchers and research administrators improve research outcomes and impact on the continent. Members of the Community will;   

  • Engage in collaborative research, share, and implement findings.  
  • Access research-related funding opportunities from the Education Collaborative and jointly seek research funding.   
  • Enjoy and lead research capacity training and learning workshops. 
  • Develop shared learning resources, tools, and frameworks to enhance the operation and productivity of the research ecosystem in Africa.  
  • Build publication outlets and provide avenues for knowledge transfer and usage.  
  • Access to a pool of databases across different countries and disciplines to undertake research studies.   

Besides working on varied projects throughout the year, the community meets periodically to set an agenda and review the progress towards achieving its research mandate. The Education Collaborative provides grants to support the work of the community and those engaging in research. Learn more and become a member of the Research Community of Practice.