AuthorAID is brought to the test
>by Anthony Robbins and Phyllis Freeman
Co-editors Journal of Public Health Policy
AuthorAID aims to help developing country researchers publish their work in ways that will have the greatest influence - on research, policy and action - by pairing authors with scientific mentors and 'author's editors'. The concept has met a strong response amongst health researchers interested in influencing health policy, but it can be applied to almost any subject. If funding efforts succeed, a major trial is about to begin under the auspices of the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), focusing on tropical disease research, biological and water resources. Readers are invited to participate.
In the last three years, efforts to test the AuthorAID concept have garnered expanding interest in the worlds of science, development assistance, publishing, and editing. AuthorAID, as a concept, has its origins in three key observations:
- Researchers who are closest to the problems of poor health and poverty in developing countries rarely manage to publish their work where it can have the greatest impact on policy, practice, and ongoing research.(i),(ii),(iii) (Impact here denotes influence on policies, practices, and research to alleviate poverty and poor health, rather than the conventional use in science publishing, as in impact factor.) Thus AuthorAID focuses on helping authors from developing countries communicate results and ideas to those best able to put them to use.
- Many scientists worldwide who have published extensively are at or near retirement, and are willing and able to serve as mentors to developing world researchers who want to publish their work, taking on one manuscript project per year.
- Research institutions and researchers with abundant resources often employ developmental editors, often called author’ editors, to increase the chances of publication in the chosen venue. Many of these editors have offered to donate time to AuthorAID, providing teaching materials and working with authors from developing countries.
In 2003, the Rockefeller Foundation, asked the editors of the Journal of Public Health Policy to serve as developmental editors for 10 groups of health researchers based in more than 25 countries, International Health Research Awardees. The Foundation and the researchers wanted their work published where it would have the greatest impact in local languages and in English. This was the first opportunity to test an element of AuthorAID.
From the perspective of development assistance, and research capacity strengthening in particular, AuthorAID constituted a missing element. If the results of research in developing countries were not disseminated by publication, the investment in research capacity, both by the countries and by the development agencies, was less than fully effective in fighting poverty and poor health.
Confident that developmental editing assistance could often make the difference between acceptance with publication and rejection, the JPHP editors presented the concept to many groups: the World Federation of Public Health Associations, the Global Forum for Health Research, the Council of Science Editors, the European Association of Science Editors, and the Center for Global Development.
When Richard Horton, 2005 President of the Council of Science Editors, formed a Task Force on Science Journals, Poverty, and Human Development, it adopted AuthorAID as its project. The Task Force chairperson, Paul Bozuwa, proceeded to solicit and receive small underwriting contributions for AuthorAID from CSE itself, Science, Nature, Cell, PNAS, EHP, and others. CSE will use its website to test informally the AuthorAID concept, posting requests for help and offers of volunteer assistance.
AuthorAID focuses initially on science and development, but conceptually is far broader. The concept could be applied in many disciplines, in many languages and regions, and for many forms of writing. The JPHP editors simply made a strategic decision to focus on scientific research and policy articles that might influence policy, practice, and future research. This reflects their longstanding interest in “research to policy”, and early interest from international science journals suggested that starting there would attract the greatest attention.
The JPHP editors have also resisted suggestions that AuthorAID start with a health focus alone. With a planning grant from the Swedish International Development Agency’s research division, they sought an institutional home from which to test the concept in a carefully evaluated project – in a particular field, language, and form of writing. Will AuthorAID work? If so, can it be replicated and expanded?
In mid-July 2006, the report on the planning project informed Sida that the International Network for Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP)(iv) had been chosen to host the AuthorAID test. Two developing world research networks, one working on biological and water resources at the International Foundation for Science and the other covering infectious diseases at the Tropical Disease Research programme (TDR), have offered to work with INASP to target researchers who could benefit from developmental editing help.
Two key elements emerged from early discussions:
- A web-based programme would match developing country authors (with promising manuscript projects) to scientific mentors and author’s editors - who would then collaborate to help the author write and publish the manuscript. (Mentors would never accept or request authorship, but would receive generous acknowledgment.) The process would be managed on the Internet with software for collaboration and tracking.
- A web-based knowledge community would focus on communicating science effectively, to make it easier for developing world authors to find and share information for preparing articles for publication. A knowledge community can facilitate sharing content and ideas with peers, with editor/mentors, and with others who share interests and needs. (As the site would be open to all, policymakers may find it a useful way to stay on top of developments in their fields.) It could create dynamic interest groups, information collections, and channels for monitoring and exchanging information. By building profiles of user interests and by using taxonomies that reflect those areas of interest to classify content assembled by the AuthorAID staff, submitted by users, and gathered from a wide variety of other sources, the system could match users with each other, with the information they need, and with opportunities to participate in exchanges of experience and knowledge. The knowledge community would also maintain a repository of manuscripts, in all their stages, assisted by AuthorAID. Authors, once published, might choose to open access to their manuscripts in the repository.
INASP suggests that in addition to these two components, that it would be helpful to use local workshops in developing research institutions to teach about AuthorAID and learn more about authors’ needs.
The World Federation of Public Health Associations, with which JPHP is affiliated, provided an opportunity during its August meeting in Brazil to explore further demand for AuthorAID. Public health leaders from Vietnam and Hungary spoke of the need for developmental editing assistance in their two regions, Southeast Asia and Central Europe. Most recently, the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology has decided to provide AuthorAID-type assistance to its developing country members who want help preparing manuscripts for publication. The Society, with about 1000 members, has a large number of senior researchers, in both industrial and developing countries, who have volunteered to mentor their junior colleagues.
Remembering that AuthorAID is first and foremost a concept, we invite anyone and everyone to use the idea in the spirit in which it was conceived, to help those would write to communicate do so more effectively.
For more detailed information, please contact Anthony Robbins at: [email protected] or Phyllis Freeman at: [email protected]
(i) Freeman, Phyllis & Robbins, Anthony (2005) Closing the 'publishing gap' between rich and poor. SciDev.Net, 2 September 2005
(ii) Freeman, Phyllis & Robbins, Anthony (2006) Editorial: The Publishing Gap Between Rich and Poor: the Focus of AuthorAID. J Public Health Pol 27: 196-203; doi:10.1057/palgrave.jphp.3200071
(iii) Paraje G, Sadana R, Karam G. (2005) Increasing international gaps in health-related publications. Science 308: 959-960.
(iv) International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) http://www.inasp.info/