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Getting in the Access Loop: The Local Journal, The African Researcher and The Article-Level Metric

In the third post of a short series reflecting on last month’s Getting in the Access Loop webinar organised by the Humanitarian Centre, HIFA2015 and PLoS, Allan Mwesiga from the Pan African Medical Journal discusses the role of the local journal in the internet age.

As local journals struggle to build a competitive internet presence that will make them more accessible to their primary local audience, a drop in submissions as internationally competitive migration (a trend in which authors from developing countries submit manuscripts to international journals) starts to take hold is imminent.

A strong internet presence, a rapid increase in internet connectivity in Africa and a variety of incentives are making access to international journals increasingly easy for researchers from the developing world. At the same time, the “local”-“international” divide is being undermined by one of the very same factors, namely internet connectivity. It is becoming “less appropriate in an electronic world” to use this classification. The divide is, at present, still in force and is increasingly a blurry distinction; what exactly qualifies one journal as being local and another as international? Is it geographical or, perhaps, institutional?

If “local” journals in an African context are those that are based and publish mainly research carried out on the continent, the concerns of researchers about how well their research will be disseminated and whether publication will further their career aspirations seems justified. The broad opinion seems to be that local journals, most of them with limited internet presence, do not offer as much as the international journals.

Local journals, it is true, have a lot of ground to cover. However they have the opportunity to be the most immediate facilitators of scientific publishing. Local journals are, for instance, best positioned to provide capacity building and training for scientific writers through writing workshops. Though at times resource strained, through the use of technology and institutional partnerships local journals can provide the required support to researchers for the publication of their work by providing mentoring opportunities and information about the journal publishing landscape. However, this can only be done if local journal actors themselves have acquired the relevant skills to fulfill these tasks.

How can the reach of a journal be assessed?  Authors often base their decision on where to submit a manuscript on journal-level metrics, such as the impact factor. These metrics are not perfect and there is room for alternative article metrics  that can provide a more comprehensive picture of the impact of a journal’s content. Local journals can develop their own metrics, as the Pan African Medical Journal has with its Article-Level Metrics system, and initiatives like Google Scholar Metrics provide a listing of which articles were cited most and who they were cited by. This particular feature moves a journal’s impact away from a simple count to an inclusive assessment that helps to indicate how a particular article is influencing the work of other researchers.

Local journals will continue to be relevant. As technology and the internet continue to level the playing field internationally and as local journals improve their standards competitive migration may prove to be a fear unfounded.

“Getting in the Access Loop” was run by the Humanitarian Centre, with support from PLoS and HIFA2015.  A full recording of the webinar is available to download here

Related blog posts can be found here:

Getting in the Access Loop

Getting in the Access Loop: Time for Research and Action

Getting in the Access Loop: Mentorship for Publishing African Health Research

Getting in the Access Loop: The Local Journal, The African Researcher and The Article-Level Metric

Getting in the Access Loop: Nurturing the Open Access Ecosystem


Allan Mwesiga

Allan Mwesiga is an editor with the Pan African Medical Journal (PAMJ) based at the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) Secretariat in Kampala, Uganda


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