Advancing Open Science globally

Promote Open Science for the achievement of the SDGs Open Science can enhance efficiency, effectiveness and equity in science systems, thereby maximizing the public good achieved through investment in scientific efforts and infrastructure. Open access to scientific knowledge (including data upon which research conclusions are based) can enhance the efficiency of funds and time invested […]

Promote Open Science for the achievement of the SDGs

Open Science can enhance efficiency, effectiveness and equity in science systems, thereby maximizing the public good achieved through investment in scientific efforts and infrastructure. Open access to scientific knowledge (including data upon which research conclusions are based) can enhance the efficiency of funds and time invested in research needed for social progress by enabling scientific efforts to build upon rather than duplicate previous work. It can also increase effectiveness by aligning research to issues relevant to solving societal problems, and create social buy-in for solutions developed through such science. Removal of barriers to participation in the process of science and promotion of equity and fairness in science systems is an additional goal of Open Science that is directly relevant to the SDGs, along with having implications for the relevance and impact of scientific knowledge.

Open Science can additionally be a step towards promoting collaborative approaches that are called for by the 2030 Agenda, across geographies and disciplines. The need for such concerted efforts and shared progress are becoming increasingly clear in the light of current health and environmental emergencies as well as in pursuit of other SDG goals. The Open Science concept encompasses several layers and includes open involvement in science by a diverse set of stakeholders; open access to scientific data; open access to the infrastructures that enable widespread engagement and communication; and open access to the record of science (open science publishing).       

Reform publishing systems to help science better serve the public good

While the number of scientific journals and articles and the quantum of scientific knowledge generated have increased, especially with the advent of digital tools and platforms, access to this knowledge remains restricted and in the hands of commercial publishers (ISC, 2021). This is especially untenable where the research has been funded by taxpayers through universities, public science funders and other public institutions. The metrics for evaluating scientific work that influence funding decisions are currently heavily focused not on scientific merit but indirect indicators such as journal impact factors and citations, which creates an undue pressure to publish (and to do so in certain journals). This skews incentives and remains a barrier to Open Science.

Monopolistic behaviour on the part of certain publishers; the need for ensuring transparent and robust peer review; the development of digital technologies and the changes they have brought to scientific publishing; and questions of access to scientific knowledge, fairness and equity have all come to bear in an increasing demand to reform current publishing systems and move towards Open Science models.

Traditional scientific publishing business models are not conducive to Open Science. High paywalls erected by many publishers inhibit access and are highly inefficient in ensuring that scientific output is openly accessible in ways that maximize its value to science and society. In response to this, several Open Science journals, repositories and platforms have been set up to enable greater access to scientific output with different levels of openness for producers and consumers of content. This is beneficial to users as well as providers of scientific knowledge, who can reach a wider audience and contribute to the work of other researchers more easily, including those who may not have access or ability to pay high journal fees. Sticky issues including sustainable funding models, functional peer review processes and measures to maintain the quality of published work in Open Science models continue to be discussed.

Focus on the critical issues of data and infrastructure in the Open Science puzzle

Robust, transparent and accessible data are likely to be fundamental inputs to any scientific progress addressing the SDGs. The collection, sharing and use of various kinds of data that are relevant to address sustainability challenges needs to evolve. In an Open Science system, scientific data must be accessible for scrutiny and scientists should be positioned not as data owners but as data custodians on behalf of the public. This has implications for scientific practice at various stages for scientists, funders, science organizations including universities, publishers and providers of digital research infrastructure. Structures and processes that enable open data collection, curation and access will need to be supported and incentivized. For instance, funders and journals could require that science they fund or publish is linked to data stored in well-managed open repositories. 

The availability of infrastructure for enabling access to and use of open data for scientific investigations across disciplines is fundamental to achieving the SDGs. Lack of investment in such infrastructure directs critical resources into data collection which is neither transparent nor accessible for re-use. There remain, however, major issues in the governance and management of scientific data and data infrastructure to be grappled with. Data repositories that are well managed and present data in an accessible and transparent way will be essential to the Open Science project. These platforms should be characterized by ease of use for both producers and users of data, and be accessible across borders and institutions (including to users in low- and middle-income countries). Clear guidelines for users and clarity on standards and processes is needed. Capacity building will be required to enable successful embedding of Open Science practices, including data management, into the conduct of science.

Ensure inclusiveness to generate SDG-relevant science

Open Science creates possibilities for previously excluded groups not only to benefit from science, but to participate in its production. This democratization of the scientific process will be essential if research efforts are to address the challenges faced by communities around the world, including the disadvantaged and vulnerable. Enhanced diversity of actors, scientific practices, output and topics along with increased engagement between science and society can expand our ways of knowing and understanding the world, increase the practical applicability of science, and foster socio-political legitimacy through jointly created knowledge.

The possibilities of engaging different stakeholders in knowledge production could range from deliberative processes for public policy development, to community engagement in data collection and knowledge production, to citizen science. Large-scale community engagement, for example, could be very useful in detailed or widespread data collection around key SDG challenges including biodiversity and climate tracking or air and water quality.

Consider equity as a crucial measure of a healthy Open Science system

Open Science has also gathered support in view of its potential to help increase the access and affordability of scientific information and to redress inequalities across geography, gender, ethnicity or capacity to pay. However, questions of equity and inclusiveness need to be actively considered in developing models, policies and structures for Open Science to ensure that the digital divide and difference in context and capacities between high- and low-income countries do not exacerbate current inequalities in practice.

Create an enabling environment, incentives and long-term investments in Open Science

Science funders will need to play a key role in promoting Open Science. They will need to create an enabling environment and apply the right pressures to push science systems to be more open in the productions and dissemination of scientific knowledge. The fact that Open Science can enhance the efficiency of science funding and increase the impact of the output created through such funding is a strong argument in favour of funders supporting these models.

Investments in infrastructure and services required for Open Science (including, but not limited to, repositories and platforms providing research products such as data or publications) remains an important enabling condition, and must be combined with the goal of such infrastructure promoting social over commercial interests. This could include support for research towards sustainable funding models for scientific publishing and data curation. Investments also need to be made in developing and promoting policies, processes and standards aimed at increasing access while maintaining the quality of scientific output.

In order to enhance uptake and address equity concerns, funders will also need to support capacity building efforts for researchers and institutions, especially in low-income countries. Other measures to ensure a level playing field could include efforts to reduce the digital divide, promote international cooperation on Open Science and increase awareness of Open Science principles and processes.

Along with the above-mentioned enabling conditions, where appropriate, funders can also require that scientific knowledge and data produced through their contributions be available openly. This will mean that rather than using the traditional metrics for evaluating scientific work (such as journal impact factor), funders will need to find alternative means of judging scientific merit in order to incentivize Open Science practices.

These measures will contribute to transforming scientific culture and aligning incentives for various actors in science systems to focus efforts on maximizing public good.


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