The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed fault lines in how we as a society solve important problems. It has shown the urgent need for affordable, open and cooperative action informed by evidence — and inspired by imagination. Science alone doesn’t solve problems; at its best, it answers questions. Useful solutions require finding, incentivizing, and coordinating many more actors in the innovation system to work together.
To help facilitate this kind of environment, the Australian-based nonprofit social enterprise, Cambia, created and runs an online open platform called The Lens. It currently hosts 120 million global patent documents linked to a vast searchable database of over 220 million scholarly works and their metadata, compiled and normalized from numerous collaborators and sources, includes Microsoft Academic, PubMed, ORCID, Crossref, CORE, UnPaywall and many others.
“The Lens is part of our long-term strategy to make innovation systems more inclusive and effective,” says Richard Jefferson, founder of Cambia and executive director of The Lens. “We need to encourage partners to discover each other and work together for impact. This is particularly true for public funding, which is evolving from spending to true investing, by mapping the pathways that are more likely to lead to social outcomes, and rewarding those who take that journey. For this, new types of open metrics and maps are needed.”
The Lens hopes to shift the public sector away from closed siloed metrics that few academics like, but which all are required to use. “For metrics to be useful, they have to show us how to improve,” says Jefferson.
Supported by grants from philanthropic organizations (including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Wellcome Trust, Sloan Foundation, Lemelson Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation), the initiative is now positioning itself to displace and supersede proprietary and closed systems from commercial competitors that fragment what could be a community of enterprise and public sector, working to advance outcomes, says Jefferson.
“Rather than living within separate silos of domain expertise, we need to link knowledge of diverse types,” says Osmat Jefferson, director of Lens Product. “Our work bridges industry and academic cultures, and soon will add policy, regulation and legislation. We serve as an independent aggregator of open knowledge as a public resource, in a way, an open ‘due diligence’ facility for policy-makers, investors and funders who seek impact.”
Open metrics are a key to improving the system. For example, Lens enables anyone to see who is involved in relevant research areas to identify potential collaborators, funders or partners, says Richard Jefferson. “With our ‘In4M’ tool (International Industry and Innovation Influence Mapping), businesses, universities, or government agencies can find and coordinate capabilities. This tool can even allow students to identify the right universities to further their objectives for future employment.”
With its Dynamic Collection and ORCID Plus Profile, universities and research institutions can create and share comprehensive and open collections of their published works — both patents and scholarly — effectively providing ways to manage and promote their institutional strengths.
The Lens is building an open facility to enable mapping the complex jigsaw puzzle of capabilities that need to be coordinated to solve real problems. “We are passionate about moving past the surveillance culture in which financially free use is obtained by a massive subversion of privacy. We never expose, share or sell user data, advertise or monitor a user’s journey,” says Osmat Jefferson.
The Lens recently introduced a prototype of Lens Reports, for creating evidence-based, open, automatically updated and shareable reports and landscapes that are linked to scholarly and patent data with customized analytics. Topics of early reports include regenerative agriculture, ultra-low-cost electricity storage, and human coronaviruses.
In the future, The Lens is hoping to encourage collective action from major institutions including universities, funders, law firms and companies to further its work. As the public sector grapples with the financial impacts of the global coronavirus pandemic, its founders say there is a compelling case to decrease costs and improve impact. The Lens was featured on a SPARC OpenCon Librarian Community call in September, highlighting the value of open platforms to bring about clarity and shared evidence for collective action.
“We just don’t have the luxury of business as usual,” says Richard Jefferson. With new support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Lens is launching a member cooperative that could save the public and private sectors billions, while improving inclusiveness and impact. Along with government and philanthropic funding in grants and contracts, The Lens is working to create a community of practice for more rapid, effective and inclusive problem solving.