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Regional Report 1999-2000: Africa

Report of the African Regional Secretary

By
Julia Paris
Senior Research Administrator
Research Development Unit
Technikon Witwatersrand
Johannesburg, South Africa
2000-05-15

A warm greeting from South Africa. Thank you very much for the opportunity to tell you what is happening in South Africa and the rest of the African Continent.

South Africa

The South African Data Archive (hereafter SADA) was established in 1993. SADA is a non-profit national resource centre aimed at providing and promoting machine-readable research data and documentation to all research organisations in South Africa, other African countries and all other countries internationally.

SADA’s catalogue of holdings comprise a wide range of areas such as:

Political Science and Election studies; Law and Criminology; Demography and Sociology; Social work; Economics and Business Administration; Education; Health-related studies; Census statistics and Psychology.

SADA has recently been moved to the National Research Foundation (hereafter NRF). Over the last few months the NRF has embarked on a process of structuring an entirely new organisation. It is hoped that new programs will be announced, more funding opportunities would be available, and many new services developed by mid 2000. The NRF invited all researchers and research-related institutions to participate in the process.

The transformation process of the NRF will also impact on SADA. The SADA Board’s term of office had been extended for one more year. There is much controversy around the existence of the Board as a decision making body within the new structure of the NRF.

The new Head of SADA, Dr Heston Phillips (e-mail: Hphillips@nrf.ac.za) reported that "more than 220 new contacts have been made with researchers and institutions. 40 data sets have been acquired, which increased the SADA holdings from 69 completely archived data sets in January ’99 to 87 in October of ’99. SADA is currently revising and updating promotional materials and SADA forms. The second SADA newsletter was published during the first quarter of this year. Several seminars and workshops were held, of which Dr Nijhawan , former Director of the Indian Data Archive, was one of the guest speakers. One SADA staff member visited the Zentralarchiv in Germany, Steinmetz Archive (Netherlands) and the UKDA . Another staff member visited the ICPSR at the University of Michigan as the official South African representative of the ICPSR, as well as the Norwegian Social Science Data Archive (NSD) where the CESDA expert seminar was also attended.

Dr Lesaoana resigned in May of 1999.

SADA’s relocation to the NRF created an opportunity for SADA to broaden its current profile of holdings and include data from other domains of science. SADA is in the process of establishing relations with the Medical Research Council, and the Agricultural Research Council.

Demands for SADA services are growing. Issues that SADA is grappling with now are Does SADA need a governing body or a Board? What should its role be? What would be the role between the SADA Board and the NRF Board? The other pivotal issue that SADA is struggling to work out is: How could the user groups be established, maintained, and marketed to ensure ongoing use of SADA data sets?

Rest of Africa

I have made contact with several academic librarians from Malawi, Namibia, Zambia Zimbabwe, Ghana and Tanzania. I am in the process of finding a link in Nairobi. The situation with regards to data archives in Africa remains an idealistic one. This is the opinion of the African professionals themselves. Dr Joe Uta of Malawi, a University Librarian at the Mzuzu University of Malawi (e-mail mzuni@sdnp.org.mw), Dr I.K. Antwi of the University for Development studies (e-mail: udslib@libr.ug.edu.gh) in Ghana, and Jangawe Msuya of Tanzania (a recent doctoral graduate of the University of the Western Cape), indicated that they would be interested to further the IASSIST work in their respective countries. However, e-mail and fax messages sometimes fail to reach the recipients through bad telecommunication infrastructure. Funding for technology is also a major issue. Many of the individuals I have spoken to have great enthusiasm for data archiving. However, financial resources remain a big problem for the many poverty-stricken African countries. Training and development in the understanding of data archiving and secondary analysis are also sorely needed.

How can IASSIST help?

Conditions creating barriers to establish data archiving infrastructure are:

Financial resources; qualified staff; national information policies; and base communication systems. I think IASSIST must do some serious thinking about how we can be assisted to work around some of these barriers.

My sense is that collaboration with the IFLA-Africa section might be able to assist a great deal in asking the professionals in Africa to audit their needs more specifically so that we could have a better idea of the real circumstances facing us. We also have a cooperative opportunity through the Standing Conference of Eastern, Central and Southern African Librarians (SCECSAL). Dr Uta is a full member of this Conference and I had some discussion with him with regards to marketing data archiving and IASSIST to the African membership. Due to a lack of funding, I could not attend their recent conference held in April in Namibia.

Personally it has been very difficult for me to develop enthusiasm for IASSIST here in South Africa and elsewhere.

Continuation of assistance by SADA (the SADA infrastructure and network of contacts) is under consideration. This is to be understood given the fluidity of the situation at the NRF and given new priority setting by SADA.

My current employer supports my IASSIST secretarial function and is in a position to make limited funding available for me to attend conferences and seminar.

It would be a great help if I can attend more IASSIST conferences and have an IASSIST mentor to soundboard with. There is a great gap between the first world and that of the Developing Countries where data archiving and access is concerned. I need closer contact with the IASSIST Executive members and especially now that Bridget Winstanley has retired. Repke de Vries also served as a valuable contact to us and kept us informed about what was happening in Europe. He assisted us here in South Africa to stay enthusiastic and abreast of developments in IASSIST.

I would like to request that the IASSIST Executive Committee discuss the situation in the South African Secretariat and assist me in finding a way to get some of the mentioned persons on board to actively pursue the interests of IASSIST.

We need to find how many other African researchers and academic librarians know about the existence of data archiving and IASSIST. Whether secondary analysis is considered when doctoral research is pursued. We should also find a way of making them aware of the SADA collection to introduce them to secondary analysis and access to archival data on their doorstep.

Some comment and feedback on the ideas and information given would be welcomed.

Thank you.

22.05.2000

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