OCLC-LIBER Open Science Discussion on Research Infrastructures and the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC)

Astrid Verheusen

Thanks to Astrid Verheusen, Executive Director of LIBER, for contributing this guest blog post.

What is the ideal future vision for the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) in the global Open Science ecosystem? What are the challenges in getting there and how can research libraries help address these challenges through collective action? The third installment of the OCLC/LIBER discussion series on open science brought together an international group of participants with a shared interest in research infrastructures and the EOSC.

The EOSC is an initiative of the European Commission and the vision behind it is as follows:  

The EOSC will offer 1.7 million European researchers and 70 million professionals in science, technology, the humanities and social sciences a virtual environment with open and seamless services for storage, management, analysis and re-use of research data, across borders and scientific disciplines by federating existing scientific data infrastructures, currently dispersed across disciplines and the EU Member States.”


What does an ideal future state look like for Research Infrastructures and the EOSC?

The conversation began with a participant emphasizing the importance of awareness raising and promotion; all researchers in Europe should know what the federated infrastructure of EOSC aims to be. This is necessary to activate their involvement. The EOSC should become the backbone for storing, sharing, processing and archiving research data. If this core functionality is realized, then the EOSC would be a huge success. It would not only allow researchers to use data within their own discipline but also to easily find relevant data from other disciplines, according to the FAIR data principles. The EOSC should become part of the global Open Science endeavor and be embedded in a global network of federated infrastructures leading to a so called “Internet of FAIR data and services.”

Photo courtesy of LIBER

In this future environment, researchers will be supported by “data experts” who will get credits for their work and reduce the workload of researchers. This would lead to a more balanced distribution of labor, reduce duplication, boost scientific output and improve data quality. One participant expressed the growing need for large numbers of data experts, while another indicated that EOSC should train users and be user friendly so that that fewer data experts are required.

Another participant envisioned the EOSC as offering a participatory and inclusive infrastructure, not limited to a select group of users. In this vision, citizens would be allowed to have access to the data and scientific processes, in addition to scientific researchers. Transparency and access to data and services across different user communities and disciplines would lead to a more homogenous system, bridging information silos. The EOSC services layer should also support scientists with the many issues related to open data, such as license management, copyright, and intellectual property rights (IPR).

Other participants in the discussion confirmed these views, adding that the EOSC should be user-friendly. There was concern about how the EOSC compares and relates to the many national and local research infrastructures and services already in place or under development. The EOSC should ideally complement and integrate these existing infrastructures and services and build upon them. Duplication should be avoided. One participant even suggested that the EOSC should not be about data at all—because local repository infrastructure is already quite mature in much of Europe, and therefore, the EOSC should focus on new and innovative services—such as support for innovative peer-review or for linked data.

Finally, it was stated that the EOSC should include the principle of co-creation, so that researchers and data stewards at universities are involved from the start. Cross-system interoperability is also a priority, as researchers do not want to interact with multiple systems. Currently this is not the case.

What are the main challenges and obstacles preventing progress toward this ideal state?

While formulating a vision of what an ideal EOSC might look like in the future, the discussion revealed how far away we are from this ideal state. After a real-time online polling of the obstacles, a listing of the top three challenges ahead was defined and further discussed.

  1. Cultural change
  2. Involvement of researchers (and libraries)
  3. Current reward system
Cultural change

Researchers must become more aware of the importance of open science, and cultural change is necessary regarding open science and data sharing. But how do we catalyze this cultural change? What are the right incentives? Researchers who have already adopted open science can serve as champions. And researchers must be incentivized by reaping rewards that they value: research gets more dissemination, recognition, and funding when it is open and shared with everyone. For research libraries it is however not always easy for libraries to connect with researchers.

Participants also agreed that culture change is also needed in libraries. In general, libraries are risk averse, and they are not always engaging in new developments. This is another reason why libraries are not yet participating in the development of the EOSC.

Involvement of researchers (and libraries)

In the discussion, concerns were expressed about the (lack of) involvement of universities, libraries, and researchers in the development of the EOSC. Many libraries already have Open Science programmes in place and can be part of other initiatives like the development of the EOSC. However, the EOSC is being developed by a small group of organisations with significant funding from the European Commission. Universities are not involved in its development and it is difficult to contribute. The principle behind building the EOSC should be co-creation and universities need funding to be able to contribute.

Participants in this discussion were divided on how involved researchers should be at this stage of EOSC development. One discussant suggested that in order to avoid frustration, we should not involve the researchers yet, but engage them after the EOSC has been developed a little further. But another participant expressed concern that the EOSC effort is too confident about who the researchers are and what they want. That it wants to build a system and then want to present it to “the researcher,” ignoring the fact that researchers are a diverse group and that significant disciplinary differences inform their practices. The development of the EOSC must be researcher-driven and taking the needs of researchers as its starting point.

Current reward system

The current reward system for researchers does little to incentive participation in open science and data sharing activities. (This issue was also discussed in the “Rewards and Metrics” discussion within this series, and a blog on that discussion is forthcoming.) Therefore, without changes to the current system of metrics and rewards, EOSC will not operate optimally.

How can library (and other) communities take collective action to address these challenges?

Cooperation between research libraries, between librarians and their institutions, and beyond, is desperately needed to meet the challenges. The LIBER Open Science Roadmap also emphases cooperation, but the European landscape of research libraries is very diverse. We need to put extra energy into learning from each other to avoid making the same mistakes. One participant encouraged more transnational opportunities to exchange good practices, to learn, and to prevent pitfalls and mistakes.

Research libraries can also learn and become stronger by talking with other parts of the universities (e.g., the research office) and assist in developing innovative metrics for research evaluation. They can also work together with organisations such as the Research Data Alliance (RDA) and the GO-FAIR initiative and can provide input to funding agencies on institutional policies.

Participants offered some examples of collective action, taking place at national and international levels:

  • In the Netherlands, impulse funding for Digital Competence Centres was awarded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) in September 2020. Universities of Applied Sciences will work together in a Digital Competence Centre for practice-based research to further facilitate research data management, FAIR data, and data-intensive research at universities of applied sciences in order to realize their open-science ambitions. NWO has awarded an impulse grant of 900,000 euros for this purpose.
  • In Germany, a National Research Data Infrastructure (NFDI) is under development. The aim of this initiative, which began in 2015, is to systematically manage scientific and research data, provide long-term data storage, backup and accessibility, and network the data both nationally and internationally. The NFDI will bring multiple stakeholders together in a coordinated network of consortia tasked with providing science-driven data services to research communities.
  • In the context of other initiatives for the development of research infrastructures, the GAIA-X project was also mentioned. GAIA-X is an initiative created to ensure that commercial parties in the EU have a better grip on their own data and to meet the desire for greater data sovereignty.

Although these examples can serve as a guide and good practice, the development of an interdisciplinary European or even global infrastructure is complex. The discussion on the role of research libraries in research infrastructures and the EOSC has only just begun. One participant concluded that libraries should take the risk — even if we do not know where we are going, we should keep walking along.

About the OCLC-LIBER Open Science Discussion Series

The discussion series is a joint initiative of OCLC Research and LIBER (the Association of European Research Libraries). It focusses on the seven topics identified in the LIBER Open Science Roadmap, and aims to guide research libraries in envisioning the support infrastructure for Open Science (OS) and their roles at local, national, and global levels. The series runs from 24 September through 5 November.

The kick-off webinar opened the forum for discussion and exploration and introduced the theme and its topics. Summaries of all seven topical small group discussions will be published on the OCLC Research blog, Hanging Together: including the first two: (1) Scholarly Publishing, (2) FAIR research data.

Join us! We invite all members of the open science community to join our organizations for the closing round-up webinar on 5 November, where we will synthesize and share the findings from all seven group discussions. Register today.