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.
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.
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.
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!
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 email@example.com. The deadline for submissions is 5pm on Monday 25th September 2017.
Why are you interested in OpenCon?
What are your ideas for advancing Open Research?
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.
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.
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.