Collaborate, Create, Communicate

Want your research outputs to fly?

It’s been awhile since my last blog post – been playing detective in a very interesting work task. Early this year the ICT-KM program offered CGIAR centers the opportunity to have their research outputs put to the test. What test, you wonder? When we in the CGIAR say the work we do, belongs to everyone as a public international good…how many of our research outputs really walk the talk?

My mission- first, find out how research outputs from six CGIAR Centers measured up in terms of being available online. This meant spending countless hours surfing the great worldwide web for Center publications, research journal articles, book chapters, conference and workshop papers armed with only an author name, title or year.

Having searched through the various center websites, CG Virtual library, Google, AGRIS, Scirus and CABI, if the document was found, the next piece of detective work involved seeing how accessible the document was? Could anyone access the document in full text or was access limited to the abstract alone?

The challenges were plenty!

And here’s what I observed:

  • Excellent internet connectivity is a theory. I was sorely tested with disruptions every time there was a natural disaster (typhoon, earthquake, and many assorted thunderstorms) in Southeast Asia since our ISP (in Malaysia)  is linked via Hong Kong and China to the United States.
  • Once in long while, a research output is wrongly indexed and hence your search does not always give you results.
  • While a center may have a comprehensive database of their research outputs (library catalog, publications catalog), this does not automatically translate to it being listed and found on the Center website.
  • Same goes for the CG Virtual library (CGVlibrary). Before anyone gets upset, let me state that different search engines have different strengths. Sites like Google and Yahoo index websites and are able to find a document when you query author, title and year in a single search box. On the other hand, as Peter Shelton from IFPRI explains, “the CGVlibrary relies heavily on metadata that carefully describes records via a series of standardized fields.” Learning point: you want to keep your searches simple.

Then why not just Google everything? Tempting but Peter clarifies further, “Google doesn’t find everything since it only indexes publicly available web pages while CGVlibrary specializes in searching and retrieving records from closed (and open access) databases. Therein lies the fundamental difference, which is also why you have to be more careful searching CGVlibrary since you’re actually searching the record metadata rather than the entire document content.”

CGVlibrary provides a link to agricultural information databases so you can stay current on CGIAR research- think of it as having a straw in 180 milkshakes i.e. searching from 180 different databases (open and closed access) based on metadata using standardized fields.

So while Google – the default go-to search engine we all adore, is great, it only searches based on what’s public which means you’re fishing in a smaller pool. Which brings us to the point – your research outputs fare better as public goods when they are made available via many search engines and databases. Google Scholar and Google Books can do much to make your research outputs more accessible. People stand a greater chance of finding your work this way.

However, if you have to register and pay a subscription fee to view a document in full text, it is accessible to a select few only. It may be argued that requests for hard copies of journal articles can be made from the Center libraries. But the time it takes just does not seem reasonable these days when information can soon become obsolete.

The six Centers that graciously allowed us to benchmark their research outputs are Bioversity, CIAT, CIMMYT, CIP, ICRAF and WorldFish. The percentage of their peer reviewed journal articles from year 2006 that are available in full text and accessible online range between 22 – 62 percent. This pans out to an average of 36%  per center, meaning we still have a long way to go in making our PIGs fly.

ICT-KM in partnership with CIARD recently developed pathways to aid policymakers, research directors, researchers and information specialists with making their research outputs more available, accessible and finally…applicable. Knowledge is power only when applied. It is quite timely for us to scrutinize our policies when it comes to disseminating our research outputs and ensuring we do not put that power in the hands of a few.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring these pathways and how they can help your research outputs fly! 

Till next time.