The way forward to a more open future … together

On 5 November 2020, Astrid Verheusen (Executive Director of LIBER), and OCLC Research program officers Rebecca Bryant and Titia van der Werf presented webinar to summarize the OCLC-LIBER Open Science Discussion Series. This multi-part discussion series, which took place through the month of October, was based upon the LIBER Open Science Roadmap to guide participants in envisioning an ideal future for Open Science (OS) and to discuss the roles of research libraries at local, national, and global levels in achieving a more open future.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

In total, 53 participants from 18 countries contributed to the seven-part series of small group discussions. Sessions had no more than 14 attendees – just the right number for conducting engaged and stimulating conversations. Discussants liked the free format and the interactive, participatory, and supportive nature of the conversations. They also appreciated that groups had representation from different points of view from both Europe and North America. A summary of each discussions has been shared via posts on (the blog of OCLC Research) and the LIBER website:

  1. Scholarly Publishing
  2. FAIR Principles
  3. Research Infrastructures and the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC)
  4. Metrics and Rewards
  5. Skills
  6. Research Integrity
  7. Citizen Science

On reflection, we realized that the discussions reinforced each other in many ways and taken together, they offered a unified conceptualization of an open science future and a shared idea of how to overcome the obstacles on the way to this more open future.

Conceptualization of an open science future

The participants’ ideal future state closely matched LIBER’s vision for the research landscape in 2022 – as set out in its Strategy 2018-2022 -, echoing its depiction of a future world where:

  1. Open Access is the predominant form of publishing
  2. Research Data is Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR)
  3. Digital Skills underpin a more open and transparent research life cycle
  4. Research Infrastructure is participatory, tailored and scaled to the needs of the diverse disciplines

Participants added tone, texture and shade to these four basic lines, mostly in terms of what open science wouldn’t be and by describing it as the opposite of what it is now. So, for example, they described the expectation that “. . . in the future, more staff [will] be involved in supporting open science and their time [will] be spent on assisting researchers with actual data management instead of having to defend it or justify it” or “Collaboration will be the motor that drives open science, instead of competition”, or “In this new open science environment, the researcher is central, not the outputs”. The discussions also yielded a long list of requirements for open science to thrive: “We need to be empathetic”, “We need someone (a peer) to translate the open principles for each discipline”, “We need to measure the way open impacts society”.

If one would wave a magic wand to resolve the obstacles and satisfy the preconditions, the resulting vision would lead to a rosy picture: one where open is the default and access is frictionless; where collaboration cuts across institutional and disciplinary boundaries, organizational silos and policy areas; where citizens, governments, companies, researchers and students work hand in hand to make research and society better; where diversity and inclusion make open science a truly global endeavor and lead to greater understanding and learning. In this ideal state, librarians have all necessary skills – both soft and hard – and they cooperate with everyone in the research lifecycle. They walk in the shoes of researchers and in those of citizens, with empathy. With all these skills in place, The Library is the best place to go to.

The need for culture change

The discussions yielded a long list of problems to a more open future. There was much overlap across the seven discussion sessions. The following five broad categories encompass the obstacles that received most votes during the polling exercise:

  1. Culture change is necessary

Culture change is necessary because of ingrained attitudes that inhibit the adoption of open science, such as the tendency towards risk-avoidance by librarians and the lack of responsiveness by senior researchers and administrators on campus. Culture change was most often mentioned in relation to the lack of collaboration, engagement, and common ground between librarians and researchers, the silos on campus and the different perspectives of different stakeholders on “Open”. It was also seen as necessary for change in a larger sense: the need to internalize the principles of openness as second nature in life and society.

Although mentioned as an obstacle alongside the other 4 categories, culture change really encompasses them all and is the precondition for the success of changes in the other categories.

  1. Inadequate rewards and incentives

Recurring themes in this category were: the evaluation of researchers and institutions, the funding of research, the metrics and rewards system, the competitive nature of the rewards system (in which competition trumps ethics) and the lack of recognition, incentives or rewards for “doing Open”. The latter was deplored in particular and listed as a problem in the session on Metrics & Rewards: “Many open science activities don’t directly result in articles (e.g., open methods, open infrastructure, open data) – other stuff also matters but is not measured/supported and based on unpaid and unrecognized”.

  1. Lack of researcher awareness and involvement

Lack of researcher buy-in and ownership of open science principles is problematic. Obstacles range from lack of awareness to lack of involvement, including lack of knowledge (mentioned in relation to research integrity and ethical issues). Lack of involvement may be borne not just from reluctance, but may be due to exclusion in the design stage (this was mentioned specifically during the EOSC session). Finally, researchers perceive open science practices as a burden – ‘this is yet another thing we need to do’ – referring to the administrative overload of having to register their profiles, outputs and projects in multiple, non-interoperable systems. Participants described the tension between ideals and practices as “the Big Divide between open science advocacy and the day-to-day research work”.

  1. Lack of skills relating to open science

The lack of skills was raised as a general problem, not only in librarianship but also in academia. While the need for specific technical skills was mentioned, the discussions primarily focused on the importance of soft skills in librarianship. Librarians are currently not all equally skilled to connect to researchers or other stakeholders and this was felt as an important skills gap. In addition, the necessary skills are not integrated in academic curricula, let alone in those of library schools.

  1. No agreement on standards & interoperability

Lack of interoperability across existing information systems and emerging OS infrastructures is a significant pain point for all stakeholders. Participants deplored the lack of agreed standards, the proliferation of fragmented, non-interoperable solutions, and the overdue implementation of basic standards, such as persistent identifiers (PIDs) for researchers and institutions, in existing systems. They also mentioned the need to unlock metadata, citations, and abstracts which are essential ingredients for the assessment and discoverability of open science.

The library cannot do this alone

When we discussed how libraries can overcome these obstacles and make culture change happen, we heard repeatedly about the need to work outside the library: “The library cannot do this alone” and “open science must be a collective effort, not just libraries”.

Discussions revolved around the theme of collaboration, the need to work with others, including the multiple other open science stakeholders.

It was much more difficult to strategize and ideate around collaboration than it had been to identify and analyze the obstacles. We heard anecdotal evidence of successful collaboration with units on campus (e.g., the Research Office), with Open Science communities (e.g. GO-FAIR) and in the context of national policy initiatives (e.g., Dutch Program for Digital Competence Centers).

There is a multiplicity of stakeholders that libraries must effectively engage with in order to advance open science goals, and we believe it is helpful to categorize them in two groups operating at different levels:

  1. Above the institution stakeholders operate at consortial, national, regional, and global levels. EU-policy initiatives and accompanying funding are strong incentives for collaborative action and for catalyzing structural change that can percolate down at the country level. Research funding agencies are very influential stakeholders with the ability to enact policies and assessment activities that can accelerate change. Open science and scholarly communication coalitions were also mentioned as networks for collaborating on innovation. Other stakeholders were mentioned, such as publishers, PID providers, public libraries, and citizens.
  2. Below the institution stakeholders operate at the institutional or campus level. All have a stake in supporting research, but not all are equally aware or supportive of open science. Many different campus units were mentioned as relevant to work with, to influence culture change and develop local infrastructures to support open science.

The examples given reinforced the findings from the OCLC Research Report on Social Interoperability in Research Support: Cross-Campus Partnerships and the University Research Enterprise. This report introduces the term “social interoperability” as a key concept to promote collaboration, communication, and mutual understanding. An important take-away from this report is that other stakeholders on campus see an important role for the library to play as a central campus unit with expertise in many relevant areas. The report discusses several strategies and tactics for successful intra-campus social interoperability, of which we heard echoes in our OCLC-LIBER discussions – such as, for example: “speak their language”, “leverage shared staff”, “be confident in your value”. The discussions contributed strategies and tactics specific for each category of obstacles identified earlier, but ultimately there was a strong realization that collaboration with stakeholders needs to become more ingrained – as one discussant put it: “We need to be more deliberate about those conversations and [cross-campus] collaborations (…) have them be a little more organic to the organization”.

We found the outcomes of the OCLC-LIBER Open Science Discussion Series very inspiring, and it has been a fruitful collaboration between OCLC and LIBER—so much so that we are discussing possible follow-up opportunities. Thank you all for your contributions and stay tuned!