For the last 20 years or so, Coalition for Networked Education (CNI) and Jisc have been working together on a wide range of issues involving technology and digital content, sharing knowledge and supporting higher education in the US and UK.
Every two years we have assembled a small group of leaders from the two countries to explore and learn from each other about developments in a selected area. Over the years it’s been fascinating to track the parallel yet distinct evolutions of some of the areas we’ve looked at.
Most recently we have been taking a high level look at progress towards openness in scholarship and research. There’s a lot going on in this area – much more than simply a shift in access to published journal articles, although certainly that is an important issue.
The report issued this week summarises discussions at our last gathering and some important subsequent developments. Here are a few highlights.
Scholarship as a global enterprise
It is now widely recognised that scholarship is a global enterprise. International collaborations are commonplace and increasingly essential; the evidence necessary to support scholarship comes from all over the world.
It is less well recognised that most scholarly communications take place in international marketplaces, drawing authors and readers from around the world. We’re in a period where we’re rethinking economic and access models around publication. Much of this rethinking is being led by national funding bodies and, to some extent, by national scholarly societies, higher education institutions and influential private funders, who often have a strong national focus.
We must understand the different national strategies and, most importantly, how they interact in the international publication marketplaces.
Ultimately, we may need genuine international coordination of these strategies.
An open world
The movement towards openness is about much more than publishing. It includes being open about methods, tools, software, and data. It is manifesting itself in a renewed commitment to reproducibility and replicability in scholarly work, and the challenges here are enormous.
Data-driven scholarship means that universities and researchers need to address the challenge of collecting and preserving data that will enable others to reproduce and build upon their findings. Scholarly projects that create data need to organise and document it for reuse by others and make long-term provisions for its preservation.
Beyond all of the technical and cultural issues, recognising the demands of research in an open world means that fresh investment in the future will be needed and economic models will need to be in place to make this possible. We will need strategies and models that reflect international scholarly collaborations. The reality is that we probably won’t find all the funds we need and a significant part of the challenge will be prioritisation and assessment.
Museums, libraries (through their special collections) and archives hold a tremendous amount of material that is important for research and education. The move to openness is reaching into these institutions as well, whether they are freestanding or part of universities. We’re seeing a growing number of them digitising content, often to a very high quality, and making the collections available on the web.
Most importantly, when they can, they are making content available under terms that encourage not just viewing but creative reuse in much the same spirit that scholars are making their data available for creative use by others.
So what’s next…
Stepping outside the research and education landscape, we’re seeing governments adopting similar policies about how they manage their data, encouraging easy open access and reuse. Corporations are also rethinking policies about opening up access to data. Both of these will help scholarship but also have broader benefits.
At CNI, we believe that this move towards openness is really a social and philosophical phenomenon that is both broad and deep and that it is going to have lasting effects not only on the world of scholarship, but also beyond. We believe that it is important to continue looking at both specifics and at the very broad picture, and we hope that our new report will be a helpful step in continuing that conversation.
International open access week takes place between 19-25 October 2015.