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Photo of members of the OCSDNet team

Photo of members of the OCSDNet team (from left to right: Becky Hillyer, Angela Okune, Alejandro Posada, Denisse Albornoz, Leslie Chan)

As open becomes the default for science and scholarship, equity must be intentionally built into the foundation of the emerging new system. Inclusion has to be a central consideration and permanent priority in how we pursue an open system—individually, institutionally, and collectively. To achieve this, communities that are marginalized by our current closed system of scholarly communication need be included as central in planning for the future.

The Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network (OCSDNet) has examined the diversity of modes of scientific discovery and dissemination in the Global South since 2014. The initiative includes 12 research teams working in 26 countries from Lebanon to Cameroon to Costa Rica carrying out projects involving critical issues such as climate change and water quality under a variety of local contexts.

Insights from OCSDNet’s partnerships in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia have been translated into numerous reports, conference presentations, and will be in an upcoming book, Contexualizing Openness, to be published in an open-access collection by University of Ottawa Press this fall. The network also produced an Open Science Manifesto outlining key principles to ensure inclusivity.

For its contributions to promoting diversity in Open Science and representation of the Global South, the SPARC has honored OCSDNet with its June 2018 Innovator Award.

“The projects that comprise OCSDNet demonstrate how open research can center the needs of researchers working in diverse contexts around the world but who have been marginalized by our current system,” said Nick Shockey, Director of Programs and engagement for SPARC “These projects and the network itself are building a vision for the future of science and scholarship that is open, equitable, and inclusive—and demonstrating how that vision can be brought to life.”

“Open is not a neutral term and positive on its own,” says Denisse Albornoz, a research associate from Peru and liaison with the Latin America projects for OCSDNet. Albornoz believes the network has challenged the mainstream approach to Open Science and encouraged the community to question assumptions. “[Open] is embedded in a context and connected to power relations and historical legacies. Recognizing this has led to more nuanced conversations”

Moving forward, it’s important to take into account the lived experiences of researchers in different parts of the world and not lump everyone into one homogeneous group. “We need to be aware of their needs and barriers. Scholarly communications is a multilayered system, and we need to pay close attention to where are the gaps,” says Albornoz.

“There are existing structural systems based in the past from the colonial period that favor certain people and institutions. These power dynamics remain,” says Leslie Chan, principal investigator of OCSDNet and associate director of the Centre for Critical Development Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough. “We wanted to better understand how researchers in other parts of the world dealt with challenges in their local context—how people create and share knowledge effectively.”

This year’s Open Access Week theme of “designing equitable foundations for open knowledge” will highlight the need for all stakeholders to be intentional about designing these new, open systems to ensure that they are equitable, inclusive, and truly serve the needs of a diverse global community. Furthermore, the design of these systems must be done in full partnership with those around the world that the system must support—important work that OCSDNet has helped to lead.

OCSDNet was supported with a grant from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Canada and the Department for International Development (DFID) in the United Kingdom. Funding ended in December 2017, but aspects of the work continue and the conversation about inclusion is gaining traction.

Raed Sharif, senior program officer of technology and innovation for IDRC, says OCSDNet has helped develop better understanding, a vibrant community and ongoing collaboration about challenges in the Open Science context. “There were assumptions about what constitutes Open Science and how it should work,” says Sharif. “It’s not as straightforward or easy as it appears. It’s complex and dynamic, and key stakeholders — researches, practitioners, donors and policy makers — need to understand the power structures, conditions, and need for continuous negotiation.”

In Brazil, one of OCSDNet’s projects analyzed the open sharing of information about biodiversity through a national virtual herbarium. Principal Researcher Dora Canhos, a food engineer with a doctorate in science and technology policy, has operated with open data for years, but wanted to go deeper to look at the impact of sharing plant data online.

Canhos says open initially was a difficult concept to grasp and there was a cultural reluctance to post information about plant species in the herbarium. Researchers were concerned if the data was readily available online that people would not visit collections at their institutions or others might use the information to scoop them on a publication. “They were scared they were going to lose, but the opposite happened,” she says. “The outcomes were fantastic.”

Researchers discovered the exposure online drew more attention to their work and resulted in increased citations. The key was giving the curator full control about what became public. “It’s not a question of right or wrong. It’s more a question of getting people used to more openness,” said Canhos. “It’s all very new.”

A collective conclusion from the research network is that Open Science is not a single “umbrella term.” Rather, its diverse aspects are integrated when they are mobilized to respond to local development challenges and demands.

The OCSDNet projects were tracked and managed by a small team of researchers working around the globe. They represented different disciplines and levels of education.

Becky Hillyer coordinated monitoring and evaluation as a research associate on the network team, creating monthly reporting templates for the projects, which in the spirit of the work were open for review.

“The regular and open reporting process allowed us to gain immediate insight into the projects, as they were happening. For instance, in the case of the research team in South Africa, we recognized that there is often tension in building knowledge-sharing relationships with communities, and in some instances, there is huge resistance and distrust by community leaders,” says Hillyer, noting that past knowledge exploitation had occurred in some indigenous cultures. Those in the field realized it took a flexible, interactive approach to craft a research contract that the community agreed upon and allowed for negotiation of how information should be shared.

Several representatives of the network shared their insights with early career researchers at OpenCon gatherings. While it’s easy to be an unabashed “fan girl” of openness, says Hillyer, the network challenged the one-size-fits-all idea of open and sparked a more complex discussion of how to best apply the principles in light of local traditions.

The OCSDNet project in Kyrgyzstan used a citizen science model for environmental education. The goal was to generate locally relevant data on water quality involving students and teachers in the mountains of the central Asian country.

At first, there was skepticism of the approach, says Researcher Aliya Ibraimova, a sociologist working for CAMP Alatoo, a public foundation involved in sustainable natural resource management for improving livelihoods of mountain communities in the Central Asia.

“Science is perceived in our community as task that can be done only by trained scientists,” says Ibraimova. Yet, residents didn’t always believe government officials provided accurate data. Once the project began, however, Ibraimova says 30 schools in the remote Naryn province were cooperative, and the participating community members were engaged in learning about their environment including quality of water they drink. The collected data was shared with others and used to improve environmental education activities and ensure informed decision making on the local environment.

As locals, the children and teachers knew their environment best, and participants came to realize their contributions were valued. The study enabled the residents for the first time to have information about the quality and drinkability of their water that they didn’t have access to before from large national labs, says Ibraimova.

People all over the world are advancing knowledge and doing science—just not in the way that the West understands it, says Chan. The network looked closely at how people create a livelihood based on knowledge and use that information to solve relevant problems.

Melissa Hagemann, senior program officer at the Open Society Foundations, says Open Access began because of concerns about equity. “Open Access needed to be a global movement,” says Hagemann, convenor of the 2002 Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) that defined the term. As laid out in that document 16 years ago, Open Access has, from the beginning, included the dual notions of better supporting the dissemination of knowledge produced in historically under-represented regions as well as the removal of restrictions on accessing and reusing research results.

“Many feel they are fighting an uphill battle in the sense that their research is just as good as anybody else’s, yet coming from the Global South, sometimes it’s not recognized as such,” says Hagemann. The rich diversity of projects in OCSDNet highlights the value of researchers’ work in all parts of the world and in their approaches to what open means in local contexts. “This is a great example of what can be achieved when funders support the movement,” she says.

OCSDNet’s work is vital because it looks at the impact of Open Science in the Global South and how open research is conducted in a variety of regional contexts, says Kathleen Shearer, executive director of the Confederation of Open Access Repositories.

“The research shows that we need to respect a diversity in approaches to Open Science,” says Shearer. “Through the OCSD network, [Chan] has created a community of practice for Open Science across developing countries that I hope continues to thrive and becomes an active voice in the broader discussion of openness in research and education.”

Chan, who has been advocating for the open agenda for more than 20 years, says there remains much work to be done to remove barriers and disrupt the scholarly communication system.

“There are a lot of regional innovations, but by and large we still have a global system dominated by major commercial publishers in terms they dictate,” says Chan. “I’m still optimistic that we can design different ways of allowing us to better control of how we communicate and collaborate with people all over the world.”

As Denisse Albornoz said in closing her presentation at OpenCon 2017, we all have to “stay critical” and take personal responsibility for designing on open system that is equitable and inclusive for all. Open is important, but equity is essential.

-by Caralee Adams

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