Open Science, bureaucratisation and learning curves: some practical ideas

Open Science demands a major cultural change that has two obstacles: the growing bureaucratisation and the need to learn how to use new technologies.

Engaged hands by Kenneth Lu (CC BY 2.0)

Open Science is here to stay. Over the last years, it has become a popular perspective, and it has earned an important place in the social agenda. Either by its commitment to Open Access, transparency, reproducibility and replicability, or by its labour for a fair knowledge distribution, OS has captivated us. And it has captivated us so much that no one could doubt its potential benefits.

As a developmental psychologist advocating for sociocultural perspectives, I believe OS is not a way but “the” way for scientific progress. OS drives us to provide, apart from results, the tools and instruments of research themselves. Imagine the consequences. This would ease the dialogue between researchers and the design of large-scale joint projects. But, on the other hand, it would allow us to build large systems of data and analytical categories. Studies on cognitive development usually involve the longitudinal observation of subjects in ecological contexts. And this demands a great deal of effort. So, they are difficult to undertake without a collaborative knowledge construction framework. How much easier it would be if we could investigate jointly, adding small contributions to a core database! Maybe OS is the only strategy we have to understand psychological development in a detailed fashion.

However, the transition to OS will not be straightforward. OS challenges us as subjects. It invites us to rethink our social participation and to redefine the value of sharing. As an ideology, OS opposes the individualistic capitalism that has dominated the world in the last three centuries, because it conceives science as a social practice. Therefore, it demands a profound cultural change that will create resistances [1]. On a general level, constructing an OS culture involves changes in the behaviour of researchers, work routines, beliefs about private property, institutional dynamics, trust and collectivism. On a more concrete level, it requires the practical appropriation of OS epistemological contributions, theoretical frameworks and tools. One principle of OS is that available research is not accessible research. This same principle applies to OS itself: despite it had a remarkable conceptual impact on the social imaginary, it has not had a clear instrumental impact. To achieve that, we would have to promote actual changes, even when we are not sure if they will work 100% well.

I want to propose that the cultural change towards OS has two obstacles: the growing bureaucratisation and the need to learn how to use new technologies. Let me unpack this.

  1. Researching under the OS model involves bureaucratic efforts not considered until now. Some examples are pre-registration procedures, the creation and permanent updating of open lab notebooks and codebook management.  Also, if researchers use environments like Open Science Framework, they must take time to create a project and add folders, files, notes, communications and keywords. And if they publish results in green open-access journals, they should deposit the final manuscript version of the article in an institutional repository. In the case of university professors, these activities coexist with other institutional bureaucratic requirements. These include preparing teaching guides, keeping their curriculum vitae updated on the institutional website (and other websites, such as ResearchGate), writing reports on student performance, uploading these reports to online platforms, outlining justifications to get funding to travel to scientific events and drafting reports of expenses of R&D projects. Nowadays, there is a procedure for everything. And since time is limited, this goes against research activities. I propose we could sort out this by hiring personnel to collaborate with professors in fulfilling bureaucratic tasks. And I also propose that money to pay for it could come from cancelling contracts with publishing companies that fail to meet OS requirements [2][3][4]. I believe funding redirection could bolster a better coordination of investments in OS innovations. 
  2. The OS movement has developed new powerful tools, procedures, digital platforms and toolkits. But this means that, besides gaining general knowledge about OS, researchers must learn to use these new technologies. The range is impressive: EU Open Science Monitor, OSF, OpenAire, Zenodo, the not yet implemented European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), ORCID, applications to create data management plans (such as DMPTool), open access journals search engines (e.g. DOAJ, ROAD, Ulrich’s Directory) and even procedures to promote a change of attitude when reviewing articles [5]. Some also suggest that for research to be reproducible and transparent, researchers must learn to code (for instance, in R or Python) [6]. Even when researchers want to step in, this will take time. There is a learning curve we must consider. I think universities should design specific programs for OS skill development. However, as universities usually have training programs in other skills (i.e. languages, teaching, management, and research ethics), the real challenge would be to integrate OS skills into researchers’ everyday life. I can think of four ways to achieve this goal: (i) asking professors to include OS contents in the curricula; (ii) encouraging undergraduate and master students to carry out their research practices from the OS perspective and using OS technologies; (iii) guaranteeing the organisation of an annual conference on OS for the exchange of successful experiences; and (iv) rewarding teachers who take part in OS skills courses, both with a financial incentive and exempting them from other tasks. 

These are just some ideas to promote OS. We have an amazing challenge before us: changing the traditional worldview about researching. This encompasses rethinking, questioning, and overcoming deeply embedded practices. And today is the time for action. I am confident that, thanks to the many interesting discussions opening up in universities, cultural institutions and social media, we will soon be much more involved. Hopefully we will be able to take OS to the next level!

Nicolás Alessandroni [UAM][RG]

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