Open Science: Make the connection!

Response to the Open Consultation on the NPOS2030 Ambition Document

After being heavily involved (as main author) in the process of writing the first national plan Open Science 2017-2020, I (of course) wanted to see what the main areas of focus would be in the coming years, up to 2030. My reaction below is my own, so not (yet) shared with my VU colleagues of Student & Educational Affairs, the university library, IT, other services or the faculties.

Yes I was curious to read the NPOS2030 Ambition Document “Open Science 2030 in The Netherlands” (version 0.8). It took a few weeks after the consultation opened on 22 November before I had the time to sit down, read it and make some notes. (BTW the consultation is open until 22 December 2021.)

It may come handy to give context where my comments are coming from, i.e., to share three observations I developed or were strengthened in my current position as director of Student and Educational Affairs at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Sense of belonging – our communities

The driver for change is more and more coming from communities. We should support the communities over and across the boundaries of our institutions.

(What I wrote earlier about this.)

Diversity, equity and inclusion

I attended one of the round tables organised by WAHED/Magna Carta about “Building back better – can we make access to higher education across the world more equitable after the pandemic”, which was a stepping stone to their annual Education Day. Here 2030 was also introduced as the horizon. And in the discussion we were challenged by adopting an “equity lens”, to avoid (only) looking at rankings, and I saw an impressive example from Newcastle, where they work with amongst others an inclusion centre, and are proud to be a university of sanctionary.                 .

Integrated and focused support

How do we place our students, teachers, researchers, administrators and the public really central in our services and processes? And how can we create awareness that in our endeavours to make the world a better place we all are in this together and should overcome our differences and break down the pillars between the service units?

(What I wrote earlier about this, here and here.)

From the NPOS2030 Ambition Document.

Open consultation

I am positive about the fact that there is a consultation. Perhaps the process could have been more open and transparent “by design”, but I know that this is not always feasible. I am also positive that there is reference being made to open education, research integrity, reproducibility, and recognition & rewarding, next to the three main programme lines of Open Access, FAIR Data and Citizen Science. I applaud the fact that we have the ambition to really work towards “a national consortium including all research performing and research funding organisations in national transformative deals to control the costs for read and publish and to increase visibility and impact of research in the Netherlands” and that a (sustainable national) network for citizen science will be formed. And I am curious what will result from the FAIR Data Table 2021 where an inventory and appropriate tuning of relevant FAIR-related initiatives research performing and research supporting organisations will be made. It is wise to work with Guiding Principles, though we could try to see if can link them to the more generic public values (such as privacy, autonomy and transparency).

So what am I missing?

Reading the vision for 2030 (“what open science will bring in 2030”), I do miss the real contribution that open science (or the transition from science “that is” to science “that will be”) brings or will bring to society at large. If we look at other ambitions that the Netherlands or the EU have, then this transition is utmost crucial. To name just three:

  • We will help realizing the ambition in life long learning by opening up our processes and all scholarly objects or output.

In life long learning the higher education sector and the business community are working together to enforce the development of life long learning together for major social and economic issues. The Universities of The Netherlands recently launched their online platform, to make their  existing online courses more visible to those who wish to continue learning at the university.

  • We will increase accessibility to education for all if we take the road to open education serious and make it an integral part of open science.

From the Report released by the European University Association, also with a vision for 2030: “The nature and structure of universities will be hybrid. They will be open as physical and virtual spaces and will work to cultivate both of these when engaging with society. In the future, this will entail that physical and digital learning and research environments must be designed in a holistic way to accommodate the different needs of a diverse university community and allow for flexible blended approaches. The physical campus will continue to be crucial as a place for social interaction and dialogue: a place that will host encounters that challenge and inspire, but will also offer quiet spaces for focused learning and research. The virtual campus will make the university ubiquitous. It will be developed to improve access for all to participate in research and learning, enhance cooperation, and explore new, innovative ways of pursuing university missions.

  • If we enhance FAIR to other areas (software / education /innovation), we can take back ownership of our own intellectual property.  

“What applies to the future of democracy applies equally to the future of universities and of independent education and research as vital building blocks for the organisation of knowledge. We cannot simply leave the future of knowledge to the corporate boardrooms”, part of the speech delivered by Rector Magnificus Karen Maex of the University of  Amsterdam on 8 January 2021 during the Dies Natalis. In December 2021 Ingrid van Engelshoven, The Dutch Minister for Education, Culture and Science, suggested to the European Commission that a platform should be developed “that also safeguards the public values that we in Europe share”. She hopes to obtain wide support for this in Europe and consequently to limit the dependence on companies.

And what could be added?

So are we, in this new NPOS, not too much thinking from our own focus and needs? Are we having the researchers, teachers, students, administrators and citizens in mind and what the transition will mean to them as diverse and national/international connected communities? And are we not too modest in what we may achieve in almost ten years’ time?

As universities we really should make the connection between what we are doing with open science, with what this will bring, and how we can work in an efficient way with integrated research and education support services to make it work and happen. Reading Gartner’s Top 12 Strategic Tech Trends For 2022 And Beyond, I think that the last two, about a distributed enterprise and the total experience (TX), are relevant to take into account. It is not only education that transforms into active and blended elements, but it is the entire university, where perhaps the ideas that we had at the TU Delft about open labs might come in place. Either through virtual experience, or via sharing physical “research cores” around the globe.

Finally for citizen science I wonder whether we tap into what the civic society needs, how we can make better use of the network of (public) libraries, and whether we involve them enough in the bridging function that they have, and the potential makerspace they could be. At the VU we are strong in involving the community and “a broader mind” in our curriculum (that was actually one of the reasons I changed universities last year). We realize that there is a mutual benefit or need for reciprocity in this endeavour. We need each other to develop and grow.

I am looking forward to work again on this topic within the VU and with other partners!

Wilma van Wezenbeek
9 december 2021

Two references that I read (though one is in Dutch):

And three recent posts (though two are in Dutch):

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