Guest post by University of Manchester Library scholarship winner Chukwuma Ogbonnaya, PhD Student at the school of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, and early career Lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo in Abakaliki, Nigeria.
OpenCon is a unique conference because it brings Librarians, Publishers, Civil society organisations, Policy makers, Government agencies, Post-doctoral, Doctoral and Undergraduate students, across the globe together. These participants think, discuss, engage and co-create solutions to promote open philosophies. OpenCon2018, which was held at York University, Toronto, Canada between 1-4 November 2018, was my first Opencon attendance. I applied to attend the Berlin conference in 2017 but unfortunately was not selected. When I saw the notification for OpenCon2018 from The University of Manchester Library, I quickly applied because I wanted to be involved in open research based on my findings during the last application. I was pleasantly surprised when I was announced the winner and that was the beginning of a chain reaction of surprises.
Immediately the announcement was made, I was pleased and I did not waste time to share the news with my family, friends and my home University in Nigeria through the Vice-Chancellor (Professor Chinedum Nwajiuba). I quickly started my visa application the following day. It can be time-consuming and stressful for researchers from African countries and the Global South to obtain visas to travel to conferences, which is a real problem as it prevents researchers from these countries participating in important discussions – this tweet by Zaid Alyafeai sums up the problem. I was apprehensive, especially given the tight turnaround time – will it be possible to obtain a Canadian visa in three days for a Nigerian, I pondered? Now, here is the second surprise. I was given a multiple entry Canadian visa that will expire in 2022. What this means for me is that I can easily apply for conferences in Canada to present my research as well as listen to experts in my field. This has been made possible by the OpenCon2018 award.
The third pleasant surprise was the design and programming of OpenCon2018. The programme was so unique with collaborative and engaging sessions. It was highly participatory and everybody has multiple choices of what activity/topic/theme to participate in. There were discussion panels comprising presenters with practical experiences and those at the early stage of their career.
My favourite panel was “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” because it was simply outstanding. They focused on the need to include everyone in the emerging open infrastructure designs irrespective of gender, race, country and region. It was obvious that allowing people to have access to the knowledge infrastructure would empower them to contribute to the development of the wider society. Associate Professor Leslie Chan really made a long lasting impression on me during the panel discussion. He described a situation where open science should not just translate into an “automation of knowledge inequality” but should indeed be a “commitment to think critically and to push the boundaries to imagine a more inclusive, equitable and radical future”.
I want to share my experiences in some of the activities I participated in during the conference:
STORY CIRCLE AND STORY OF SELF
OpenCon2018 believes that “stories are at the core of how we identify and express ourselves, interpret and shape our worlds, and connect with others”. The intention of story circle was to create a safe space where participants can tell a small group of people about themselves as well as share their thoughts on what open science means to them. No comments or questions are expected to follow beyond highlighting what brought the participant to OpenCon2018. For me, it was good that it came quite early in the conference because it provided an opportunity for me to start networking as well as gaining insights into how others perceive open access.
DESIGN THINKING WORKSHOPS I & II
I participated in the Europe workshop. The interactive workshop was to inspire contextual culture change towards a more open, diverse, inclusive and equitable research and education system. We addressed the question of how we might, as open advocates, congratulate our peers on non-open successes while staying true to our values. Within the group, we were divided into clusters based on our current activities/work. I was in a PhD and Post-Doctoral group and we explored how design thinking can be used to understand, design and communicate Open Access solutions for PhD students. The process involves defining the problems based on an understanding of the system, empathising with a typical PhD student based on how they think and feel, brainstorming and ideating solutions, prototyping the solution, testing it and implementing it in the real world. The videos and slides were used for a systematic analysis of the personhood of a typical PhD student. Current experiences and future aspirations of a PhD student were captured in order to reveal where and how interventions can be implemented to help PhD students understand how Open Access can support their current and future career development. The skills and learning acquired from the design thinking workshop are transferable and I will be applying it in designing human-centred systems within my research projects in the future.
PUBLISHING WITH OPEN ACCESS JOURNALS (UNCONFERENCE SESSION)
The unconference session is a hands-on session in which a speaker lead participants through exploring critical questions on the topic. The session focused on how to identify predatory journals and legitimate Open Access journals. It was a discussion session with rich experience-sharing on how fake Open Access publishers can be identified and avoided. It was apparent that Open Access publications can contribute to making a researcher’s work more available, visible and accessible whilst giving the researcher more control on how and who can use their work. When a scholar’s work becomes accessible, it can increase citation, and such recognition can support funding applications to carry out further work. However, falling prey to fake/predatory Open Access publishers could be disastrous. Such predatory journals lack strong peer review mechanisms and reputation within the research community. Consequently, the time and money spent on undertaking quality research could be lost when the wrong choice of journal is made. The degree of openness of Open Access journals were discussed including types of Open Access copyrights. Finally, the presenter (Vrushali) shared how DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals), which indexes and provides access to peer-reviewed Open Access journals, can assist researchers identify recognised Open Access journals. In summary, the session was very informative and I would use the strategies discussed to make informed choices in the future, as well as guiding others.
DITCHING JOURNAL IMPACT FACTORS AND JOURNAL BLACKLISTS FOR GOOD (UNCONFERENCE SESSION)
The unconference session on spotting predatory journals influenced my choice of the discussion group. The discussion group led by Emma Molls focused on how impact factor metrics play a role in influencing researchers to publish in traditional journals instead of Open Access journals. The fundamental question was “how might we rethink journal quality in a way that it benefits authors, editors, and librarians without duplicating the faults of the past?” A critical discussion and questioning on whether impact factor captures the ideals of quality and impact were raised. For instance, a question on whether the impact factor of a journal should be equated to the impact factor of an article was raised. We also explored other possible metrics which can act as a measure of the impact of an article including citation, reproducibility, transparency and significance. We then considered the incentives that could motivate scholars to consider Open Access publishing. These include the recognition system in the research community/workplace and sponsors’/funders’ influence on where outputs should be published, among other factors.
This activity of the OpenCon2018 is the creativity and innovation session where new ideas and organisations are birthed through collaboration and networking. Individuals are encouraged to propose ideas no matter how sketchy they might be! Participants interested in a proposed idea come together and use their diverse skills to develop the idea and create a possible network that can allow them to continue collaborating on the idea after the conference. My group started developing a platform that can bring together those who have good ideas but cannot develop them due to lack of resources or expertise and those who can transform the ideas into reality. We applied a design thinking approach in seeking a solution. Afterwards, we set up a Whatsapp group to continue working on the idea. Members are from UK, Canada, Germany, Jordan and Tanzania and we held a Skype discussion on the project in early December 2018 to review progress on the assigned tasks at the conference.
OpenCon2018 may have come and gone but one thing is certain – it has opened a new world of possibilities for me in becoming an advocate for Open Access, open research, open data, open education, open government and indeed open philosophy. This was what I wanted and I now have it! I’m looking forward to working with The University of Manchester Library to contribute to the promotion of the Open philosophy across the University. My experience will also be promoted in my other institution, Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo, Nigeria after I complete my PhD studies at Manchester.
Finally, I look forward to contributing towards supporting and volunteering with communities/organisations/institutions seeking to build tools, processes, systems and infrastructures that promote open philosophy to achieve an inclusive, fair, participatory and equitable system. I believe that applied open principles can empower people to bring on board their professional and personal diversities and uniqueness into the building blocks of a better society we all desire.