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The rationale for Open Science being clear, some questions arise as to why it has not been realized sooner, and what are the challenges and opportunities to make this change happen.

The current developments in information and communication technologies have paved the way for Open Science to be possible in practice. The capabilities for producing, processing, storing, sharing and accessing information have progressed tremendously and have transformed every sphere of human activity, notably research. The availability of information, the vast amounts of data that are being produced, the means for collaboration, or the advances on computational simulation techniques that have become a third basic tool to science besides theory and experimentation, have changed the way science is done. There is also the idea that this represents the fourth paradigm of Science (e.g. Gray, 2009), and it is even claimed by the European Commission to be part of the 4th Industrial revolution. Now, more than ever, there is an opportunity and at the same time a requirement, to take advantage of all these possibilities to accomplish Open Science as it should be.

Challenges

However, there are still concerns and issues to be tackled that many consider as challenges to Open Science at its various dimensions:

  • Socio-cultural: these mainly come from researchers and are related to: the lack of awareness on the benefits and importance of opening up their research; the reluctance to change their current workflows and practices regarding the release of data along the research process; researchers consider it as a time and effort-consuming activity adding to their existing workloads; the diverse approaches that may have researchers from different disciplines or at a different stage at their career; or the lack of a clear recognition and a reward system that promotes Open Science practices. But there is also a change to be made on the part of the research institutions, funders, government bodies, libraries and any other stakeholder on their vision, policies, practices and approach to science.
  • Technological: although current information and communication technologies have rapidly improved, and European research e-infrastructures have grown both in quality and quantity, there is still a wide range of aspects to improve in order to support and ease researchers’ workflows to transit to a culture of openness.
  • Political: there is a clear need for political commitment to promote Open Science and integrate it into the government agendas. New policies need to be formulated and developed into clear strategies. Also, the necessary resources need to be allocated in order for these policies to succeed. A true Open Science landscape can only happen at an international level, thus the different paces and approaches of countries will influence its achievement. But also within research institutions themselves, there is a need for policy development and strategic planning.
  • Organisational: as research usually takes place within an institutional framework, the organisation itself has to be ready to smooth the transition towards an open research culture, suiting its units, services and human resources to accommodate an Open Science workflow, therefore developing or acquiring the appropriate skills.
  • Economic: even if one of the main arguments for Open Science is a higher efficiency of research that at the long term will result in a better use of resources and foster spill overs in the scientific and innovation systems, significant investments have to be made at the beginning in order to develop the technical, political and organisational ecosystem of Open Science.
  • Legal: a clear legislation framework must be developed at the international level, that set the rules for disclosure of data and other inputs and outputs of research, while protecting those rights not to be waived as privacy, personal information, commercial interests, safety and national security.

Boundaries

Protection of these rights is setting the boundaries of Open Science. There are some areas where there are warranted restrictions on openness, which relate to (The Royal Society, 2012:44):

  • Commercial interests and economic benefits: a balance is needed between creating incentives for individuals or groups to exploit new scientific knowledge for financial gain and societal benefits through the products and services that are developed and the macroeconomic benefits that accrue when knowledge is broadly available and can be exploited creatively in a wide variety of ways. The following characterises the current boundary of openness as it is shaped by commercial interests, suggesting how policy might adapt to encourage beneficial reuse of open research data:
    • Data ownership and the exercise of Intellectual Property rights: the potential commercial value of reusing publicly funded research data is widely recognised but asserting its ownership is not always required by funders. Open Science policies should promote the reuse and exploitation of results whilst retaining the right to assert ownership of the intellectual property so that it can be exploited for national benefit.
    • Public-private partnerships: the collaboration among companies and the academic sector for research and innovation is a common practice and requires specific attention and clear definition on what could be openly released and what are the restrictions. This should be done carefully not to deteriorate the necessary relations with the private sector, especially in a situation of public budget constraints requiring the search for funds through collaboration with companies.
    • Opening up commercial information in the public interest: there is a strong case for greater openness of data and information from privately funded research that has the potential to impact the public, while respecting the boundaries described here.
  • Privacy: as the use of datasets containing personal information could be essential for research in the medical and social sciences, special attention should be put into the protection of privacy at personal data processing, both from a legal and a technical perspective. Unfortunately, a one-fits-all solution is not easy to define and implement, so public benefit and risks to confidentiality need to be assessed and balanced individually.
  • Security and safety: as sharing confidential, sensitive or proprietary data poses clear challenges for protection against incidents or deliberate attacks, and requires a special effort on building architectures and develop methods and techniques that ensure security of scientific information systems.

 

Strategies

Some strategies and actions are needed in order to achieve the transformation of research, and they have to be global (extended to any scientific domain and discipline), international (within and across countries, languages and cultures), vertical (from researchers and citizens to governments, funders and policy makers) and horizontal (at any stage and for any role involved at the research process).

At the European level, the European Commission Digital Agenda defines five lines of potential policy actions:

1. **Fostering and creating incentives for Open Science,** by fostering Open Science in education programmes, promoting best practices and increasing the input of knowledge producers into a more Open Science environment (citizen science). This area is also concerned with guaranteeing the quality, impact and research integrity of (Open) Science; 2. **Removing barriers to Open Science**: this implies, among other issues, a review of researchers’ careers so as to create incentives and rewards for engaging in Open Science; 3. **Mainstreaming** and further promoting **open access policies** with regard to both research data and research publications; 4. **Developing research infrastructures for Open Science**, to improve data hosting, access and governance, with the development of a common framework for research data and creation of a European Open Science Cloud, a major initiative to build the necessary Open Science infrastructure in Europe; and, 5. **Embedding Open Science in society as a socio- economic driver**, whereby Open Science becomes instrumental in making science more responsive to societal and economic expectations, in particular by addressing major challenges faced by society (European Commission, 2016b:45).

From these five actions, some elements can be identified as the key components of any strategy: people (education and skills development, incentives and rewards, and society involvement); infrastructure (needed to support Open Science practices and data intensive research at the technical and practical level); policies (promoting, regulating and protecting open practices at the institutional, national and international levels); and economic investment (in order to develop and implement the necessary infrastructures, policies, incentives system and skills development).

The European Commission under its Digital Single Market strategy proposes the establishment of a European Open Science Cloud to support the transition to Open Science and to make the most of data-driven science. The aim is to make relevant research data findable, accessible, interoperable and re-useable (‘FAIR’) to all European researchers. The Cloud will bring together existing and emerging data infrastructures to create a virtual environment for all European researchers to store, manage, analyse and re-use data (European Commission, 2016a).

At the national level, it is worth mentioning the Open Science and Research Initiative (ATT) launched by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, as it constitutes a pioneer and holistic approach for the fulfilment of the Open Science vision.

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Authors: Gema Bueno de la Fuente
Publication year: 2016
Language: English (EN)
Level of knowledge: Introductory: no previous knowledge is required
Usage rights: Attribution - CC-BY

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