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Research data management at a public university in Malawi: the role of “three hands”

Winner Dominic Chawinga (Department of Information Sciences, Mzuzu University, Mzuzu, Malawi)
Sandy Zinn (Department of Library and Information Science, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa)

Library Management

ISSN: 0143-5124

Article publication date: 21 May 2020

Issue publication date: 10 August 2020




Considering that research data is increasingly hailed as an important raw material for current and future science discoveries, many research stakeholders have joined forces to create mechanisms for preserving it. However, regardless of generating rich research data, Africa lags behind in research data management thereby potentially losing most of this valuable data. Therefore, this study was undertaken to investigate the research data management practices at a Malawian public university with the aim to recommend appropriate data management strategies.


The study is inspired by the pragmatic school of thought thereby adopting quantitative and qualitative research approaches. Quantitative data was collected using a questionnaire from 150 researchers and 25 librarians while qualitative data was collected by conducting an interview with the Director of Research.


Researchers are actively involved in research activities thereby generating large quantities of research data. Although researchers are willing to share their data, only a handful follow through. Data preservation is poor because the university uses high risk data storage facilities, namely personal computers, flash disks, emails and external hard drives. Researchers and librarians lacked core research data-management competencies because of the lack of formal and information training opportunities. Challenges that frustrate research data-management efforts are many but the key ones include absence of research data management policies, lack of incentives, lack of skills and unavailability of data infrastructure.

Research limitations/implications

The study's findings are based on one out of four public universities in the country; hence, the findings may not adequately address the status of research data management practices in the other universities.

Practical implications

Considering that the university under study and its counterparts in Malawi and Africa in general operate somewhat in a similar economic and technological environment, these findings could be used as a reference point for other universities intending to introduce research data management initiatives.


With seemingly limited studies about research data management in Africa and particularly in Malawi, the study sets the tone for research data management debates and initiatives in the country and other African countries.



Chawinga, W.D. and Zinn, S. (2020), "Research data management at a public university in Malawi: the role of “three hands”", Library Management, Vol. 41 No. 6/7, pp. 467-485.



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