The African Minds Trust was founded in 2012 with the broad mission of supporting the dissemination of knowledge from and in Africa to address the social challenges that face the African continent. To support its mission, African Minds conducts research on the creation and dissemination of knowledge in Africa. Research covers the entire spectrum: from the collection, use and social impacts of data, to the dissemination and uptake of codified knowledge.

African Minds research projects

1. Open Data Intermediaries and Economic Ownership Rights

November 2017 to June 2018
Supported by a Digital Impact Grant from the Digital Civil Society Lab at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (Stanford PACS)

Absent in the research literature is a consideration of how data intermediaries interpret the ownership rights of the individual actors from whom they ‘extract’ data. At the individual level, data may hold less value and is readily exchanged in data for free services economies. However, at the collective or aggregated level, data become more valuable, placing the intermediary in a position to extract additional value from the data. What is unclear is whether intermediaries provide fair compensation, either monetary or in other forms of value, from this added value to those who provide the data. This research project will study the actors and data flows in a data ecosystem to determine the effects of open data intermediaries, both positive and/or negative, particularly on the economic ownership rights of those who provide data.

2. The African university press in a digital age: practices and opportunities

January 2015 to December 2017
Supported by Carnegie Corporation of New York [Grant number: D14118]

The purpose of the research is to produce new knowledge on African university presses, in particular regarding the overall landscape of academic publishing in Africa and the various revenue and distribution models operative at African university presses in the light of current technological advances and market opportunities. The research thus hopes to enhance access to basic knowledge and create new knowledge on African university presses by means of a cross-country mapping of baseline data and in-depth case studies; increase awareness and use of high‐quality academic publishing in Africa; increase the uptake of technological opportunities among African university presses; and increase awareness of and promote open access publishing and other viable models among African university presses. From the grant-maker’s perspective and from an institutional support perspective, the project is also intended to guide the development of the university press in Africa.

VISIT the project page.

READ the report.

3. Open data and information asymmetries

October 2015 to June 2016
Supported by the World Wide Web Foundation as part of its Harnessing Open Data to Achieve Development Results in Asia and Africa project supported by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) [Grant number: 107075]

This research project consisted of two parts: (1) research on how open data can make value chains more transparent; and (2) research on the roles of intermediaries in extending the reach of open data beyond the web. For Part 1, African Minds brought together stakeholders in a coffee value chain to discuss what data they own, what data they would like to have, and what data they are prepared to make open. This was done to explore whether open data can create a more transparent value chain that is beneficial to all stakeholders in the chain. Part 2 consisted of research on open data intermediaries in the agriculture sector in Ghana. The purpose of the research was to explore the positioning, functions and effects of intermediaries on the agricultural data ecosystem.

READ the paper Opportune Niches in Data Ecosystems.

4. Open data and social inclusion

October 2016 to June 2017
Supported by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

African Minds is writing a chapter on the relationship between open data and social inclusion for a forthcoming book that zeros in on the interconnection between openness and processes of both inclusion and exclusion in development. The book brings together the latest research that cut across a wide variety of political, economic and social arenas — from governance to education to entrepreneurship and more. The chapters draw on a wide and diverse range of applications of openness, uncovering the many critical and underlying elements that shape and structure how particular openness initiatives and/or activities play out — and critically — who gets to participate, and who benefits [or not] from openness.
The term Open Development was first explored at length in the 2013 MIT Press publication, Open Development: Networked Innovations in International Development. This book was the first significant effort to theorize the connections between the increasingly influential paradigm of “openness” and international development.
A lot has happened since the writing of Open Development. “Openness” as a normative value and set of practices has seen continued growth in application and significance within international development. Openness has moved beyond a fringe concept, with associated promises and hype, towards a more mainstream set of principles and activities with thousands of experiments and implementations happening around the world. Alongside these activities is an increasing amount of research and learning on what works, what doesn’t, why, for whom, and in what contexts.
A core value of openness is that it is inclusive: it is supposed to democratize access to informational resources and ultimately shift the locus of control from centralized organizations to decentralized networks. As governments open up, they cede power to civil society who in theory can better hold their governments to account resulting in improved governance and services. Emerging research shows, however, that in many cases openness as implemented in a diversity of development contexts can exclude as well as include. How openness is structured, the contexts in which it is embedded, and other factors, determine who benefits or not, and who might even be harmed by it. Indeed, a critique of openness in development is that it is not living up to this value and promise, and that, in fact, openness will tend to benefit those who already have [resources, access and skills] and not those who need the open resources the most.  If openness is embedded in an already unequal society, then shouldn’t we expect the results of openness will also by unequal, particularly where access to digital tools and skill sets are limited.
The challenge, then, of open development is to enable it to fulfil its core value of inclusion. This requires an explicit examination of how and in what context open initiatives are inclusive. We need to learn from the successful and unsuccessful initiatives. Critically, we need to know who is included and who is excluded, why that is, and how it can be addressed.