Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Open AIR made significant research progress. Field research was largely halted but desk research continued apace and, in some cases, accelerated. Our large cohort of QES Fellows helped within all our research themes and our NERGs were mentored online and virtually. Thanks to Open AIR already being a global network, we had many features already in place for remote working. These were used to the utmost. In addition, many of our knowledge mobilisation activities went online, enabling more people within and outside of our network to participate, live. Though 2020 was certainly a challenging year, we are proud of all that we have accomplished. The following pages outline key Open AIR research outputs during the reporting period.

Global discussions often repeat the need for African businesses to “scale-up” in order for the continent to experience rapid economic growth that is truly homegrown. This is especially the case for knowledge-based businesses, which are essential in the modern global economy. Clarity as to what is meant by scaling-up and how African businesses can and should do this, however, is often lacking.

Drawing from more than 20 case studies of open, collaborative innovation in Africa, Open AIR has identified numerous dimensions of, and approaches to, enterprise-scaling. These case study findings are the core of Open AIR’s newest report, Scaling Innovation: How Open Collaborative Models Help Scale Africa’s Knowledge-based Enterprises. This report draws on research conducted since 2015 in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Botswana, and South Africa.

The report shows there are four scaling “archetypes” that are frequently present in African knowledge-based enterprises:

  • scaling by expanding coverage
  • scaling by broadening activities
  • scaling by changing behaviour
  • scaling by building sustainability

The report also finds that there are clear challenges African enterprises face when trying to scale. In addition, we highlight the ways in which African enterprises’ knowledge governance systems are often intertwined with their approaches to scaling, impacting these enterprises’ abilities to be socially and economically inclusive.

Innovation Metrics

The Innovation Metrics team continues to progress with research on developing measures of innovation that capture innovation realities in Africa, so as to complement existing measures of innovation.

We are most proud to announce that the Alternative Innovation Measurement (AIM) Lab at The American University in Cairo (AUC) was officially launched at the Access to Knowledge for Development Center’s (A2K4D) 9th Workshop in October 2019. This new lab complements Open AIR’s work on innovation assessment in Africa in collaboration with A2K4D.

In addition, our hub at A2K4D is now jointly working with Egypt’s Academy for Scientific Research & Technology (ASRT) to better understand Egypt’s position in the Global Innovation Index (GII). This involves mapping the data ecosystem for innovation data that feeds into the GII for Egypt and working towards more accurate methodologies for data collection. In terms of the Alternative Innovation Survey, the survey script is now updated after close work with A2K4D’s mathematical consultant and Open AIR NERG, Islam Hassouna. This version has now been translated into Arabic. The plan, pending restrictions due to the pandemic, is to test the final script on a few MSMEs in Egypt – to verify the translation – and then to  begin expanding data collection to other countries across the continent to test the new Index.

As part of A2K4D’s research into innovation metrics and the maker movement, AUC and the University of Johannesburg signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to expand collaborative research. This MoU will also be of significant assistance for our survey research into better capturing innovation in African contexts.

Finally, the Innovation Metrics team continues to host events and participate in panels on the need for more inclusive data and the biases within current data sets.

Indigenous Entrepreneurs

The Indigenous and Local Communities team has been prolific in both research and outreach. One study is examining the experience of Rwanda in respect of incorporation of Indigenous knowledge in its educational programmes, specifically its TVET courses in animal health.

On the subject of data justice, we have completed and published two studies. One examined the dynamics of the governance of farm data in Africa as part of an ongoing global consciousness around data justice. The second examined the interfaces between Indigenous and local community (ILC) demands for data sovereignty and the growing appeal of big data, open data, and open science. Further, Open AIR Steering Committee member Chidi Oguamanam has made substantive progress in a continent-wide, cross-sectoral study of the degree to which Indigenous knowledge systems are integrated into Africa’s development cooperation as the continent engages with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Open AIR has also been actively engaging with policymakers internationally. Chidi Oguamanam has continued to provide technical support to the African Group negotiations at WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (WIPO IGC). And significantly, the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada’s 2020 virtual conference included a panel on “Indigenous IP: Is it Possible to Square the Circle?” Such a discussion would not have even happened five years ago, and is a result of continuing efforts over numerous years, by Open AIR and others, to bring attention to this issue.

Informal Innovation

The Informal Innovation team has spent much of the past 18 months analysing data from earlier fieldwork and publishing a number of findings from this research. Open AIR Steering Committee member Erika Kraemer-Mbula co-edited the book, Leap 4.0: African Perspectives on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which included three chapters by Open AIR Steering Committee members: Chidi Ogumanam, Erika Kraemer-Mbula, and a joint chapter by Caroline Ncube and Isaac Rutenberg.

Two chapters of the latest Research Handbook on Development and the Informal Economy, edited by Jacques Charmes, feature Open AIR research: one written by Open AIR Steering Committee member Jeremy de Beer and Open AIR NERG Nicole Tumaine, the other co-authored by Erika Kraemer-Mbula and Lorenza Monaco. This book is now a leading resource for those analysing the informal economy and should have a substantial impact within the field.

In addition, Kraemer-Mbula presented at the Canadian Science Policy Conference in November 2020, showing that African research and African voices can help developed countries to be more innovative; and at the Global Research Council conference on Responsible Research Assessment, emphasising that the diversity and inclusion of marginalised communities need to be prioritised in research excellence.

Open AIR NERG Bertha Vallejo and Erika Kraemer-Mbula also produced an opinion piece on the informal sector under COVID. Research into maker communities and the maker movement continues, with several more publications upcoming in 2021. As part of this research, we are proud to announce that a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between two of our hub institutions, The American University in Cairo and the University of Johannesburg, to expand institutional collaboration on research about this topic.

High Technology Hubs

The High Technology Hubs team has had a number of publications during the reporting period as a result of our earlier research. A 2020 special issue of The African Journal of Information and Communication (AJIC) featured research articles on “Drivers and Modalities of Collaborative Innovation among Nairobi’s Mobile Tech Start-Ups”, “Innovation Entanglement at Three South African Tech Hubs”, and “Innovation Modalities at Makerspaces in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco”. Two of these pieces of research were also the subject of longer Working Papers published on Open AIR’s website.

We participated in the 2020 We Robot conference, convened virtually by the Ottawa Centre for Law, Technology and Society, with one of the Open AIR papers, “Narratives of AI in a Gendered and Racialized World: Emergence on the African Continent”, being awarded best paper, showing the crucial importance of African viewpoints to discussions of AI policy.

The topic of AI and ethics is of growing interest across the world, and no less for Africa. Open AIR researcher Arthur Gwagwa and four Open AIR Steering Committee members jointly authored an article for the AJIC special issue entitled “Artificial Intelligence (AI) Deployments in Africa: Benefits, Challenges and Policy Dimensions”, drawing on a paper presented to the We Robot conference.

The podcast hosted by Open AIR’s East Africa hub, the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT), has continued, and Steering Committee member Isaac Rutenberg of CIPIT presented at the Next Einstein Forum’s virtual Global Gathering 2020, speaking on “Disruptive Thinking for Resilient Educational Systems”. Our research continues, and the team is excited to see that so much of it is garnering broad public interest.

Laws and Policies

Our Laws and Policies team made significant progress both in producing novel research and in ensuring that this research is used by policymakers at the highest levels. New research has been conducted by Chijioke Okorie and Desmond Oriakhogba concerning multi-territorial digital copyright licensing within the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). In addition, Open AIR Steering Committee member Caroline Ncube has been extensively involved in work relating to the AfCFTA, including participation in the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) African Policy, Research & Advisory Group on STI. Ncube also attended, by invitation, the ECA Experts Group Meeting to review a draft publication, “Towards a Common Investment Area in the African Continental Free Trade Area”, in September 2020.

Further, Ncube has worked on a commissioned IP and Investment paper for the ECA’s next Assessing Regional Integration in Africa report, as well as participating in the WIPO “Regional Bureau for Africa Capacity Building for Small and Medium Enterprises” webinar.  Ncube has also been involved in discussions on the gender dimensions of IP for women in business within the context of the AfCFTA. She participated in an International Trade Centre webinar for Women’s Business Associations (WBAs) in December 2020, and authored a commissioned policy brief for WBAs. 

In addition, Open AIR’s flagship report, Scaling Innovation: How Open Collaborative Models Help Scale Africa’s Knowledge-Based Enterprises, has been gaining traction. Steering Committee member Chidi Oguamanam presented on the report at the Canada-Africa Chamber of Business “Africa Accelerating 2020” online conference. These are just some of the ways in which Open AIR is ensuring that our research and expertise are being used beyond academe.