Research Transparency Workshops in Cameroon, South Africa, and the UK

Guest post: Elise Wang Sonne, United Nations University-MERIT, Netherlands

2016 was definitely a very exciting year for me as a BITSS Catalyst, as I organized three transparency and reproducibility workshops in Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. The transparency journey ended with my speech during the 2016 OpenCon Conference on a plenary panel on research evaluation, with the aim of identifying key obstacles in the adoption of openness and transparency practices in developing countries.

Two-Day Workshop in Cameroon.

On March 23rd-24th, I organized a two-day workshop at the University of Yaoundé (the political capital of Cameroon) with 24 participants carefully pre-selected based on their CVs. Participants came from various social science specializations, ranging from economics, demography to political science. The trainees, who have never heard about transparency practices before, were keen to learn about p-hacking, publication bias, as well as pre-analysis plans (PAPs) to enhance the reproducibility of their research. I also presented some practical Stata exercises, stressing the use of master do files along with the TIER (Teaching Integrity in Empirical Research) protocol, learned during my participation in the TIER faculty workshop at Haverford College in April 2016.

Overall, participants were really enthusiastic on what they learned but raised some concerns; especially on the difficulty of challenging traditional and rigid research norms in vigor on campuses where senior researchers do not always appreciate sharing and disclosure.  At the end of the two day training and following the suggestions of some of the participants, a knowledge and collaborative platform named “BITSS-Yaoundé” was created as an open discussion forum on methods and ideas to foster the dissemination of transparency and openness practices in national higher academic institutions in Cameroon. Besides, participants were urged to apply for the upcoming 2016 BITSS Summer Institute and one of the trainees, Mr. Faha Dief, a newly appointed 2017 Catalyst,  was selected to attend the fully expenses paid three-day workshop in Berkeley, California.

2016 Young African Statisticians Conference (YASC) in Pretoria (Johannesburg).

The Young African Statistician Conference (YASC) “ISIbalo” is considered one of the biggest gatherings of the brightest young African statisticians and demographers of the continent. It is sponsored by Statistics South Africa and is held every two years. With the generous funding of the BITSS Catalyst program, I ran a one-day workshop on June 14th with a diverse audience mostly coming from economics, demography, and statistics undergraduate studies.  I was lucky enough to have 40 participants in the same room coming from almost all the sub regions of Africa: Southern Africa (Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa); Central Africa (Cameroon, Burkina Faso); West Africa (Benin, Nigeria); East Africa (Uganda, Ethiopia) and North Africa (Egypt).

The undergraduate student participants presenting their very first research outputs were tremendously interested in p-hacking, publication bias, and replicability and reproducibility issues presented during the first part of the workshop. I also had the opportunity to discuss various practical issues on Stata, especially do file organization and structure for better replicability. Similar to the BITSS training participants in Yaoundé, they also raised the difficulty of challenging existing pre-established, traditional norms in their respective home institutions as a key impediment to the widespread adoption of transparent and reproducible practices throughout the continent. Most of them were also very interested in being part of the Catalyst Program in their own country, especially one participant from Uganda.

2016 British Society of Population Studies (BSPS) in Winchester (UK)

On September 13, I also had the opportunity to run a workshop on transparency during the 2016 British Society for Population Studies (BSPS) Conference. This yearly academic event gathers young demographers primarily from the UK, but also from other European countries. About 25 trainees, mostly coming from the London School of Economics, Southampton University, Oxford University, University College London (UCL) and Hull University, attended the event and were very excited to learn about ways to improve the reproducibility of their results. Some open discussions happened at the end of my three-hour workshop about the necessity to establish incentives to push researchers to share their data as some of the participants mentioned they are still not confident enough to do so.

2016 OpenCon Conference in Washington DC

Lastly, I was invited in November 2016 to speak at an OpenCon plenary panel on research evaluation led by Erin McKiernan, to share my experience on drivers of and constraints on adoption of reproducibility and openness practices in Sub-Saharan Africa. During my half hour plenary speech, I shared my experiences from my Catalyst workshops in Cameroon, South Africa, and the UK. I also pointed out the outcomes of the discussions I had with my workshops’ participants on the potential constraints they face. I also discussed evaluation methodology used in higher academic institutions in Africa to define the move up the academic ladder of researchers. At the end of my speech, I suggested the performance of a Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) to understand what works to foster adoption of transparency norms, openness and reproducibility practices among academic researchers in Sub Saharan Africa. The audience was really excited to hear about this idea, which will be implemented soon. Stay Tuned!

Elise Wang Sonne gave a workshop at the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon.
Elise Wang Sonne gave a workshop at the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon.


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