About

Background

The African Open Science Platform initiative (AOSP), funded by the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) through the National Research Foundation (NRF), and implemented and managed by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), is a pan-African project for Africa by Africa. Direction is provided by CODATA (ISC).

The 3-year project was launched by the then Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Naledi Pandor, in December 2016 during the Science Forum South Africa.

In the words of Ms Naledi Pandor, 8 Dec. 2016:

“The Platform will play a critical role to assist African countries in developing the necessary capacities to manage and exploit scientific data for the benefit of society”.

The development of an open science and innovation platform depends not only on the physical infrastructure for acquiring, curating and disseminating data and information, but also on protocols, policies and procedures in the science system that provide the structure and support to ensure that science objectives are achieved.

Several open science activities are underway across Africa. Through the African Open Science Platform initiative, it is expected that a great deal will be gained if, in the context of developing inter-regional links, mechanisms for collaboration, exchange of good practice and coordination can be established.

The governance of the platform is through:

  1. A high level, representative Advisory Council to advise on the trajectory and priorities of the Platform and the development of common, platform-wide priorities from national objectives and needs.
  2. A Technical Advisory Group to advise on technical priorities and processes, comprising both regional and non-African experts.
  3. Management and implementation by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), with direction from CODATA.

The project is currently in its third year, and the deliverables in brief:

Year 1 (Dec 2016 – Nov 2017)
  • Launch of the platform, with multiple high-level stakeholder workshops, meetings and presentations, towards creating awareness for the need to curate African scientific data in a trusted way.
  • Development of an Advocacy Toolkit.
  • Establishing governance bodies with terms of reference.
  • Initiate a landscape study to better understand which data intensive research initiatives are conducted on the African continent.
  • Creating awareness of the initiative on continental and international level.
  • Exploratory work towards frameworks and roadmaps for open science policy, infrastructure, capacity building and incentives.
Year 2 (Dec 2017 – Nov 2018)
  • Continue creating awareness.
  • Development and testing of frameworks started in Year 1.
  • Finalisation and visualisation of landscape study.
Year 3 (Dec 2018 – Nov 2019)
  • Continue high-level stakeholder meetings on government level.
  • Continue testing and alignment of frameworks to guide African countries and initiatives.
  • Wrapping-up project.

The Future African Open Science Platform

The Digital Revolution and its Implications

The means by which information and knowledge are acquired, stored and communicated have always been powerful drivers of human material and social progress. These processes have been transformed by the widespread replacement of analogue by digital technologies, promoting a revolution in the human capacity to uncover and communicate hitherto inaccessible patterns in nature and society. So profound are the implications of these changes that there are few areas of science, or of individual, social or political action to which they are not relevant. They should be a fundamental basis for the scientific contribution to realisation of the sustainable development goals.

Open Science

Open Science is a crucial enabler. This is a powerful paradigm that combines the historical imperative for scientists to expose their working, evidence and results to scrutiny by their peers, with the power of digital communication to open them to public access, scrutiny, and re-use, and to facilitate engagement with other public actors in collaborative learning, problem-solving and open innovation. Almost all national science systems are struggling to adapt to this new paradigm, with varying levels of investment and energy, and with varying definitions of its scope.

The Challenge for Africa

Successfully addressing major global challenges depends on achieving global engagement. It is vital that African states rise to this challenge by developing their own capacities. Otherwise, they risk becoming dependent upon skills bought in from elsewhere as passive and ill-informed consumers of expensive data services.

The Opportunity

The opportunity is to collaborate by federating national and pan-African capabilities to create an African capacity that is greater than the sum of its parts. Discussions between a number of key African scientists and their organisations, together with officers of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), the International Science Council (ISC), its Committee on Data (CODATA), the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) led to the creation of a Pilot Project to explore the potential of a major pan-African initiative in Open Science. The Pilot has been successful in engendering enthusiasms and commitment across Africa, leading to the creation of an interim Advisory Council that has made the decision to promote a major enabling initiative in and of Africa, to create an African Open Science Platform. A meeting of relevant African thought leaders in March 2018 confirmed this view and agreed the following strategic concept. The meeting in March was followed up with a strategic meeting in September 2018. The meetings and project funding this far provided by the SA Dept. of Science and Technology.

The African Open Science Platform

The vision is for African scientists to be at the cutting edge of contemporary, data-intensive science as a fundamental resource for a modern society; to be innovative global exponents and advocates of Open Science; and as leaders in addressing African and Global Challenges.

The African Open Science Platform is being designed to convene and coordinate the interests, ideas, people, institutions and resources needed to advocate and to advance open science in and for Africa through:

1: a federated system that provides scientists and other societal actors with the means to find, deposit, manage, share and reuse data, software and metadata in pursuing their interests. This will comprise three strands:

Strand 0: Promotion and register of trustworthy African data collections and services.
Strand 1: Cloud Computing;
Strand 2: Practices and tools of Open Research Data Management.

2: a network of dispersed participants working though activity nodes in pursuit of shared and overlapping open science goals delivered through:

Strand 3: The African Data Science Institute;
Strand 4: Interdisciplinary Programmes (e.g. infectious disease; biodiversity; agriculture; resilient cities; disaster risk reduction; precision medicine; open innovation);
Strand 5: Network for Education & Skills;
Strand 6: Network for Open Science Access and Dialogue.

This vision is laid out further in the report from that meeting: The African Open Science Platform: The Future of Science and the Science of the Future.

Governance

The project is managed by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf). The Project Team comprises of the following: Susan Veldsman (Director ASSAf Scholarly Publishing Programme), Ina Smith (Project Manager), and Nozuko Hlwatika (Programme Administrator). Direction for the Pilot Project is provided by Simon Hodson (Executive Director CODATA).

The interim Advisory Council is chaired by Dr. Khotso Mokhele, Chancellor of the University of the Free State, formerly advisor to Minister of Science Pandor, with the role of guiding the trajectory of Platform development. It is supported by a Technical Advisory Board chaired by Professor Joseph Wafula of JKUAT, Kenya, to determine technical priorities. As the Platform develops, they will acquire further members that have a pan-African, regional or national remit. It is envisaged that members will invest resources (financial and in-kind) support delivery of particular work strands, whilst knowledge partners will be activity-based users and contributors to the work strands.

The Pilot Phase – Building an African Open Science Community

Community building and the planning for launch has been under way for two years through a pilot project funded by DST in association with the NRF, by ISC and by CODATA. The project office is hosted by Academy of Sciences of South Africa (ASSAf) and directed by CODATA. Its priorities are to:

Put in place the foundations for a functioning African Open Science Platform
Map the current landscape of data/science initiatives in Africa
Build a Pan-African open science community and encourage national open science forums d) Create a “roadmap” for Platform development.

Many national and pan-African institutions and organisations have been involved in discussion and planning including National Research and Education Networks (NRENs), Universities, Research Libraries, Academies and research initiatives, whilst the Platform Project has supported the development of several National Data Fora. An important objective of this phase has been to raise awareness and build a pan-African community of policy and practice to serve as a basis for the development and launch, in 2018, of the AOSP operational phase. The AOSP Office has managed the process of community building which includes formal meetings with key national and scientific representatives, acting the as joint sponsor in meetings organised by other scientific groups, including the 2018 International Data Week, to be held in Botswana. The Office plays an increasingly important role in informing the African scientific community of data management and analytical tools, data-relevant meetings, opportunities and developments.

Origins & Alignment

The roots of the initiative lie in the Science International Accord on Open Data in a Big Data World which was launched at Science Forum South Africa in December 2015. The Accord presented a set of principles and enabling practices for Open Science. In sum, it set out a blueprint for the African Open Science Platform initiative.

According to the 2018 Draft SA White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation:

“As part of its commitment to African STI cooperation, South Africa will also work to advance the open science agenda elsewhere on the continent and within regional frameworks. The strategic role of the African Open Science Platform, hosted by the Academy of Science of South Africa, which promotes African-wide development and coordination of data policies, data training and data infrastructure, will be leveraged with the support of the DST and the National Research Foundation (NRF). In addition, South Africa is one of the founding members of the global Open Government Partnership (OECD) ….”

The African Open Science Platform is further aligned with the vision, mission and objectives of the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 (STISA 2024), the African Union Agenda 2063, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

For More Information

For more information about the African Open Science Platform initiative, contact the Project Manager: ina@assaf.org.za