Tag Archives: Open Data

‘A new world of possibilities’ – reflecting on OpenCon2018

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.

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Chukwuma and fellow attendees enjoying a discussion session during OpenCon2018

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”.

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The diversity, equity and inclusion panel at OpenCon2018 included discussion of “the need to include everyone in the emerging open infrastructure designs irrespective of gender, race, country and region”

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.

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Chukwuma’s Design Thinking team

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.

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Unconference session on identifying credible and predatory journals

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.

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OpenCon 2018 Discussion Group

DO-A-THON GROUP

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.

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The Doathon group hard at work designing a platform that can bring together those who have good ideas but cannot develop them due to lack of resources or expertise

SUMMARY

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.

Chukwuma Ogbonnaya

Opening up the conversation about Open Research

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Awareness of Open Access (OA) and Open Data have increased substantially over the last few years, with new mandates and funder policies increasing the levels of OA at The University of Manchester for 2016-17 to 75%. Whilst this is a huge improvement on historic levels of approximately 10% Green OA, the emphasis on compliance with funder requirements has meant that many of the underlying reasons for working openly can be forgotten, presenting a risk that OA starts to be seen as another box to tick.  For Open Research to become the norm across academia, major cultural change is required, and most researchers require strong incentives to make that change. In order to help counter the focus on compliance the Library is hosting an Open Research Forum at the Contact Theatre on Thursday 26 October, as part of Open Access Week 2017.

In Classical times the forum was a place where news was exchanged and ideas thrashed out, and it is that spirit of open debate which we are hoping to capture through the Open Research Forum. We have a great selection of researchers lined up from across the University who will be speaking about the issues, challenges and benefits of openness, and what it means to be an ‘open researcher’. In keeping with Open Access Week 2017, the theme for the event is ‘Open in order to…’, focusing on the practical outcomes of working openly.  Topics include preprints, OA as part of wider public engagement, and newly emerging data labs which actively re-use data created by other researchers.

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The Library as a Broker

Whilst the Library is coordinating the event it will be researcher-led and -focused with a series of slide-free, story-based talks from academics complemented with interactive activities and discussion. Our speakers represent a range of disciplines and we hope to capitalise on the Library being a ‘neutral’ space on campus to encourage exchange from across the Schools. Speakers and participants are encouraged to be honest about their experiences with, and ideas about the future of, open research. We hope that by bringing researchers together to focus on open research without reference to mandates or policies we can help facilitate a more inspiring and substantive discussion on the opportunities and consequences created by researching in an open manner.

Learning from each other

As service providers in a central cultural institution, it’s easy to get lost in the mechanics of how to make research open and in our enthusiasm for this new mode of scholarly communication, and lose sight of how these changes affect researchers’ day to day lives. Thus, as organisers we are hoping to learn lots from our speakers so we can make our services more relevant. The speakers are all actively ‘open researchers’ in different ways so we hope that other researchers can learn from their example and be inspired.

Book now:

Book your place at the Open Research Forum now to be part of the conversation: www.manchester.ac.uk/library/open-research-forum

Open Data Champion secures our sponsored OpenCon 2017 place

We’ve now assessed all applications for our sponsored OpenCon 2017 place and are pleased to announce that the successful applicant is Rachael Ainsworth. Rachael is a Research Associate in the School of Physics and Astronomy and the Open Science Champion for the Interferometry Centre of Excellence at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics.  In this role she promotes, advocates and organises events relating to open science in astronomy but she’s also behind the creation of the Manchester branch of XX+Data – a networking community for women who work with or love data – and been selected as a Mozilla Open Leader and will receive mentorship and training through the Mozilla Network on a project designed to advance open research.

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Her project, ‘Resources for Open Science in Astronomy’ (ROSA), aims to collaboratively compile and tailor open science best practices from around the web into a kit for astronomers to work openly from proposal to publication, and will equip senior researches with a single resource so that they can mentor the next generation of open science practitioners . The project will also produce a general open science resource toolkit to encourage adaptation and reuse for any field of research, which will benefit all departments of the University.

Rachael was keen to attend OpenCon because she believes that open and reproducible research is fundamental to the scientific method and that attendance will aid her development: “OpenCon will make me a more confident advocate and allow me to disseminate these tools more effectively within my department and throughout the University in order to empower other researchers with the skills to work openly.”

We look forward to hearing more from Rachael as part our Open Access Week activities (on which, more soon!) and when she shares her OpenCon experience in a blog post later in the year. We also look forward to engaging more with the applicants who weren’t successful on this occasion, facilitating further opportunities to bring advocates of open research together.  We’re feeling quite excited about the energy and passion we sensed in all our applicants and we expect them all to make progress in the quest for open!

Sponsored place at OpenCon 2017

We’re excited to be sponsoring a University of Manchester PhD student or early career researcher with a passion for Open Research to attend OpenCon 2017 in Berlin, from 11th-13th November.

OpenCon is organised by SPARC, the Right to Research Coalition and a global conference committee.  The event brings together early career researchers and scholars from around the world in a positive and supportive environment (see Code of Conduct) to showcase projects, discuss issues and explore ways to advance Open Access, Open Data and Open Education.

Attendees learn more about Open Research issues, develop critical skills, contribute to collaborative projects and meet members of a growing global community advocating for a more open system of sharing the world’s information.

The travel scholarship covers the cost of the registration fee, flight and shared accommodation. The University Library will reimburse the cost of sundries not covered by the scholarship.  In return we’ll ask the successful applicant to contribute to one of the Library’s upcoming Open Research events and write up their conference experience in a short report for our blog.

To apply, please submit answers to the following questions by email, using the Subject header ‘OpenCon Application’, to uml.scholarlycommunication@manchester.ac.uk.  The deadline for submissions is 5pm on Monday 25th September 2017.

  1. Why are you interested in OpenCon?
  2. What are your ideas for advancing Open Research?
  3. How will attending OpenCon help you advance Open Research at the University of Manchester?

We’ll review applications and contact all candidates  by the end of September.

Whistleblowers sculpture. Image by Davide Dormino, CC BY SA.

The Battle for Open

The University of Manchester launched a postgraduate certificate in Higher Education in 2014, aimed at its academic and professional staff. This qualification seeks to encourage staff to think more deeply about their sector, and by doing so to increase their understanding of their roles and progress professionally. The course ran very successfully in 2014-15 and is now into its second intake.

This year, the University Library is very pleased to be leading an elective module: Open Knowledge in Higher Education, which examines the context, contribution and constraints of the relationship between open knowledge and higher education. The course represents an opportunity to bring people together to discuss the issues at a level of detail that is usually impossible to achieve. Instead of focusing on the operational priorities and policy compliance requirements which we tackle in university committees, we can instead engage in a more intellectual debate about why we are on a trajectory towards ‘open as default’, whether that’s a good thing, what the implications are for professional and academic careers, and whether tensions between openness and other drivers can be overcome.

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Whistleblowers sculpture. Image by Davide Dormino, CC BY SA.

As I prepare my notes to launch the module on 10 February, it strikes me that this is a fascinating time to be thinking about these issues, given that we are witnessing simultaneously the rapid rise of the openness agenda, new attempts to introduce censorship, and efforts to access data that many people would prefer remained personal. The image that accompanies this post epitomises for me the opposite sides of the argument: on the one hand, Assange, Manning and Snowden are regarded as criminals, recklessly putting lives at risk by breaching necessary security laws. On the other, they are perceived as heroes of free speech, to the extent that these sculptures of them now exist, alongside an empty chair which invites the viewer to join them and use the artwork as a platform for his or her own free speech.

Openness in higher education

But can we argue that, safe in our ivory towers, we are in a very different environment? The majority view now holds that published scholarly research ought to be freely available if it has been funded from the public purse, and open education resources (known widely as MOOCs) serve to bring learning to new audiences, and, we hope, drive new students through our doors. On the surface, at least, these seem to be sensible and entirely beneficial developments. But we should not analyse the Open Access (OA) and MOOC movements in a vacuum, somehow shielded from wider social debates about privacy, sharing, security and censorship. We might think that the distribution of academic research is very different from the release of the Wikileaks documents, or Snowden’s publishing of classified National Security Agency materials. But it would be a mistake to hold this view: the case of Aaron Swartz, facing 35 years in prison for sharing JSTOR documents when he committed suicide in 2013, is surely evidence enough that it is time to bring very careful thought to the issues raised by the growth of networked digital information and the existence of an environment in which anyone can be a publisher. It is difficult not to regard the heavy-handed response to Swartz’s case as being driven by anxiety about loss of control following the Wikileaks affair and it is a strong, if tragic, example of the need to understand the bigger picture.

We now live in an HE environment which, certainly in the UK, broadly encourages openness. Many of our research funders require it, and universities are putting policies, services and standards in place to achieve it. But we are part of a wider political, commercial and legal society which is a long way from making this as easy and free of risk as advocates of Open (and I count myself among them) think it needs to be. Commercial publishers still seek to protect business models which depend on paywalls, and initiatives like Open Access Button and the Elsevier boycott try to challenge them. Copyright legislation still lags behind digital and networked technologies, and so we witness illegal filesharing, and we see publishers fighting to prevent it. Meanwhile, university researchers are caught in the middle. While there are a number of encouraging stories about independent researchers making breakthroughs as a result of accessing open research, some university researchers face harsh penalties as a result of illegal, if arguably not immoral, sharing practices.

Looking ahead

In the first half of 2016, the Dutch Presidency of the European Union has committed to push the Open agenda very hard, having been through a fierce national struggle about the costs and availability of the research it funds. In the UK, HEFCE will introduce a policy that links OA to research assessment. Openness extends beyond publishing to encompass data, and the open data movement is gaining momentum. There are also signs that the world of online learning is growing faster than ever, but at the expense of the original concept, that it would be available for free. Now is an excellent time for staff at Manchester to be thinking about these issues. Indeed, this opportunity is not restricted to Manchester; it would be very hypocritical of us if we did not open our course up to others! To that end, we are making all of our materials available on Medium, and hope to see widespread interest beyond the course participants. We are working with excellent colleagues, and our academic lead, Professor Martin Weller, is a highly-regarded thinker and teacher in this space. I have taken the liberty of using the title of his book as my blog post heading. We will also see contributions from a major funder, a leading publisher, other academic experts and senior academic administrators, as well as what I know will be some insightful contributions from a strong group of students. So join us, contribute to the debate, and form your own views! Hashtag #OKHE