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Research Projects

Current Research

Scaling Up African Technology Startups - Open African Innovation Research (Open AIR) Partnership

Open AIR is a unique collaborative network of researchers spanning 14 African countries and Canada that work together on insights to ease tensions between intellectual property and access to knowledge. Open AIR research aims to understand how knowledge-based businesses can take advantage of global opportunities while sharing the benefits of innovation throughout society. The Scaling Up African Technology Startups Project addresses two overarching questions: How can open collaborative innovation help businesses scale up and seize the new opportunities of a global knowledge economy? And which intellectual property and associated knowledge governance systems will best ensure that the social and economic benefits of innovation are shared inclusively across society as a whole?

Open AIR research on knowledge governance in Africa focuses on four main themes. These are: 

(1) High technology hubs

(2) Informal sector innovation

(3) Indigenous and local entrepreneurs

(4) Metrics, laws, and policies

Guided by the project’s overarching research questions, A2K4D is leading the Metrics, Laws, and Policies theme. The objective of A2K4D’s work on the Metrics, Laws, and Policies theme is to assess the variety of innovation activities that are occurring in Africa and that are not typically captured by conventional measures. This work is being informed by previous and current Open AIR research, where African innovation is highlighted to a significant extent.

A2K4D is also undertaking two case studies, one under the high technology hubs theme and the other under the informal sector innovation theme. A2K4D’s first case study titled Power Relations and Knowledge Governance Systems at High Technology Hubs: the Case of Egypt examines and analyzes the knowledge governance systems and existing power relations at different types of technology hubs in Egypt. The study also assesses the extent to which these systems facilitate or hinder startups’ ability to scale. A2K4D’s second case study, titled The Maker Movement across North Africa, aims to map and explore the maker movement phenomenon across North Africa, focusing specifically on Egypt and highlighting stories from Morocco and Tunisia.

The Scaling Up African Technology Startups project is being undertaken in collaboration with the University of Ottawa (Canada), University of Cape Town (South Africa), Strathmore University (Kenya), and the Nigerian Institute for Advanced Legal Studies (Nigeria). The Access to Knowledge for Development Center is the North African Hub of Open AIR. The Open AIR partnership has secured funding from the International Development Research Center of Canada (IDRC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and the Queen Elizabeth Scholars (QES) which will help ensure that the network further strengthens its position as a sustainable, influential bridge of co-operation between the African continent, Canada, and the rest of the world and conduct research on gender and innovation in Africa.

Harnessing the Economic Power of Data in the Middle East and North Africa

Amidst the growing global interest in the openness and availability of data for more effective planning, monitoring, and evaluation, Harnessing the Economic Power of Data in the Middle East and North Africa project also known as the Data Revolution project is one of the first research initiatives in the MENA region that explores the connection between data and economic development. It is a new project that the Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) is undertaking, funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The project aims to explore innovative technologies and approaches to improve data production, management, and usability, particularly in areas that could enhance entrepreneurship and youth employment in the region. The project will highlight policies and regulations that govern data production and usability, develop and test innovative tools to improve the collection, management, and use of data, as well as introduce educational modules that focus on the specific skills needed to build capacities in the field. The project led by A2K4D will bring together partners from the region, including partners from Morocco, Tunisia, and Palestine.

Open Data for Development MENA

Building upon previous work in the field of Data for Development with IDRC, A2K4D was selected to be the first node for The Open Data for Development (OD4D) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region. The node functions as a coordinating body, providing support and initiative for the data ecosystem at large. The creation of a MENA node was essential to make strategic progress towards Open Data in the region. First by bringing focus to goals and aligning efforts to common challenges, and second by highlighting the critical role of various different actors across the region working in unison. The node brings the region to the global Open Data scene, building stronger connections with international open data initiatives and partners. A2K4D Center is currently concentrating on three main objectives: streamline activities and initiatives towards common goals, coordinating strategic partners and themes, and focus on gender inclusivity and initiative across the node.

Cellular Technologies and Access to Knowledge

The A2K4D team is working on a book project analyzing mobile telephony within the Access to Knowledge framework. Together with our partners in the Access to Knowledge Global Academy, we are investigating opportunities and challenges that arise from the widespread of mobile phones, especially in terms of access and control. The focus on mobile telephony allows our research to analyze a complex network of actors and their relationships with states, private companies, and citizens. For the Call for Proposals, click here. 

The book is edited collaboratively by Ramesh Subramanian, A2K Fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale University, and Stefanie Felsberger, Senior Researcher at A2K4D.

Knowledge Sharing Project for Renewable Energy in Egypt

In partnership with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Egypt, A2K4D undertook a year-long project with the objective of sharing ideas and challenges between different actors in the sector, in order to strengthen interpersonal relationships and emphasize the benefits of the network. The overall objective of the project is to encourage Access to Information on the sector and its political economy, providing material with which different actors can advocate for better policies, create a fairer playing field for small-to-medium enterprises, while identifying gaps in the industry to be acted upon by the relevant bodies.

Artificial Intelligence and Inclusion

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now at the forefront of debates on the changing role of technology and its impact on socioeconomic and human development. A2K4D is embarking on new research in this field.  The center's research interests are threefold. First, we seek to contextualize narratives about AI in previous theories and research on the role of technology for economic and social development.  Second, our proposed research explores the role of intellectual property (IP) and data in companies utilizing AI technologies. How do data, knowledge governance, and IP feature in the debate over AI production vs. AI use? Third, research investigates the intersection between AI and the future of work with a special focus on the Global South.  We are currently exploring potential collaborations on the subject within our existing international networks and partnerships as well as opportunities with new ones.

Previous Research

Mobilization for Change: The Role of the Networked Public Sphere in Advancing Civic Participation and Collective Action in the Arab Region

This project is undertaken in partnership with Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. It aims to assess the networked public sphere’s impact on civic engagement and democratic transitions in the Arab world. The project also includes Innova Tunisia and the Arab Policy Institute as our regional partners, both based in Tunisia. Project publications are due in Fall 2015.

Global Censorship and Access to Knowledge 

The A2K4D team has co-edited and contributed to a book in collaboration with Access to Knowledge Global Academy partners. The book is titled Global Censorship: Shifting Modes, Persisting Paradigms, A2KGA Research Series. It includes chapters underscoring the different forms of censorship that are utilized today by political regimes, with cases from the United States, Syria, Brazil, India, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, North Korea, Burma, and Egypt. The chapter on Egypt, drafted by the A2K4D director, is titled “Behind Egypt’s Communication Outage of 2011: Censorship and Economic Liberty.” You can download a PDF of the book here

Knowledge and Innovation in Africa

A2K4D is the North African hub of the Open African Innovation Research and Training Project (Open A.I.R.). For more information about the project and network, please click here. 

Research Outputs

Knowledge & Innovation in Africa: Scenarios for the Future, edited by Shirin Elahi, Jeremy De Beer, Dick Kawooya, Chidi Oguamanan, Nagla Rizk, and the Open AIR Network. Cape Town: UCT Press, 2013.

Innovation and Intellectual Property: Collaborative Dynamics in Africa, edited by Jeremy De Beer, Chris Armstrong, Chidi Oguamanam, and Tobias Schonwetter. Cape Town: UCT Press, 2014.

Copyright and Creativity

A2K4D has been involved in several studies exploring copyright and creativity. Most recently, fieldwork exploring artistic expressions in Egypt and Tunisia has been undertaken with support from the Open AIR project. Published research on this topic include:

Rizk, Nagla. “Egypt’s Independent Music – Copyright, Commons and Revolution." In Emerging Musical Scenes – rethinking music industry in the Global South, edited by Pedro Augusto Francisco and Mariana Valente. FGV Direito Rio, Brazil (in press).

Rizk, Nagla. "From De Facto Commons to Digital Commons? The Case of Egypt's Independent Music Industry." In Innovation and Intellectual Property: Collaborative Dynamics in Africa, edited by Jeremy De Beer, Chris Armstrong, Chidi Oguamanam, and Tobias Schonwetter. Cape Town: UCT Press, 2014. 

"Notes from Egypt's Alternative Music Scene: Business Models, Commons and Copyright" Journal of World Intellectual Property (January 2010)  

"Stories from Egypt’s Music Industry: De Facto Commons as Alternatives to Copyright," in Access to Knowledge in Egypt, New Research on Intellectual Property, Innovation, and Development, Rizk and Shaver eds. Bloomsbury Academic, 2010.  

Open Source Software

The A2K4D team, led by Nagla Rizk, drafted the National Strategy for Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in Egypt, as requested by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. The proposed vision of the FOSS strategy is to build a well-developed knowledge society those benefits from a healthy ecosystem of IT-producing and IT-using sectors in Egypt. 

The National Strategy for Free and Open Source Software in Egypt comes as a culmination of previous A2K4D and affiliates’ work on FOSS, including:

Rizk, Nagla. and Kamel, S. (2013). "ICT and Building a Knowledge-Based Society in Egypt," International Journal for Knowledge Management (IJKM), 9(1), 1-20.

Rizk, Nagla. (2012). “Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) as a Vehicle for Human Development in Egypt: Some Evidence and Insights,” International Journal of Technological Learning, Innovation and Development, 5(3), 221-236.

"The Software Industry in Egypt: What Role for Open-Source?" Nagla Rizk and Sherif El-Kassas, in Access to Knowledge in Egypt, New Research on Intellectual Property, Innovation, and Development; Bloomsbury Academic, 2010.

International Media Concentration

A2K4D is a member of a global research project on media concentration in 30 different countries in partnership with the Columbia Institute of Tele-information. The project aims at a data-driven analysis of trends and their drivers for 12 major media industries in each country, for a period from 1984 to 2008.  An integral part of the research is collecting first-hand data on market shares for the different media sectors in Egypt. This has been complemented by field interviews for narratives that capture market concentration and diversity, in both the economic and political sphere. 

Research Outputs

Rizk, Nagla. (forthcoming). “Media Concentration in Egypt.” In Noam, E. (Ed.), International Media Concentration, New York: Oxford University Press.

Rizk, Nagla, and Attalah, L. (2011), "Egypt's Evolving Media Landscape: Access, Public Interest and Control," in A New Frontier, An Old Landscape, Dixie Hawtin and Andrew Puddaphatt eds., New York: Ford Foundation, 118-136.