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The promise of Open Science

22 December 2021

Henk Kummeling, Rector Magnificus, Utrecht University


In these dark winter days, further darkened by a Coronavirus that keeps rearing new ugly heads, there is a ray of light for universities: the promise of Open Science.

At its core Open Science is about giving back to society. About giving greater consideration to society and societal problems as steering elements in academic activity. This is a much-needed development, since the scientific system, as it functioned in recent decades, created severe problems. There was  too much competition and a lack of cooperation, as well as a quality and replication crisis, expensive commercial publication markets, limited knowledge access and scientists who became more inward looking and less interested in societal issues (see more in the open access book by Frank Miedema, Open Science: the Very Idea (2021), available through this link).

Open Science is not only about open access publishing and FAIR[1] data, as some still tend to believe. It is also about public engagement and citizen science. The reform of the research assessment system would be a crucial step towards Open Science. The European Commission took a very important initiative in that direction (see the scoping report Towards a reform of the research assessment system (2021)), strongly guided and supported by the Coimbra Group, especially through its Executive Board Chair, Prof. Ludovic Thilly. Open Science and the transformation of research assessment will be among the priorities of the upcoming French Presidency of the European Union. It therefore seems that Open Science, born in the cradle of the academic world itself, has gained momentum in very important parts outside academia as well, making it a transformation that needs our full attention.

Open Science stands for a major cultural change in the academic world. Many universities in Europe fully embrace this development. Some consider The Netherlands to be one of the front runners. And indeed, the Open Science movement has gained a lot of traction here in recent years, certainly also at Utrecht University.

Transitions come with uncertainty. Some established academics are looking in bewildered awe at the fact that the value and relevance of some of the milestones that paved their path to academic glory are being questioned. Young academics want to know more about the performance indicators that are relevant for pursuing an academic career. Against this background, a constant and strong involvement of leadership is required at the university.  We have learned this in Utrecht over the past three years during which we have carried out an extensive, integral Open Science programme. In that transition process, it is important to apply an integrated approach towards Open Access, FAIR data, Public Engagement and Rewards and Incentives. These are not separate pillars or silos – they are very much interlinked. For instance, Open access and FAIR data lead to more interactions: interactions amongst scientists and scholars, but also with interested parties in society. That leads in turn to all kinds of manifestations of public engagement. And that public engagement can lead to all kinds of new questions in research and teaching.

The real key element of the Open Science effort is the transformation of the system of incentives and rewards. Open Science emphasises ‘team science’ and affects relations among colleagues. We strive to reduce individual competition and achieve an open academic culture. Providing all university employees optimal support in their work and careers will require adjustments to the evaluation system: a new framework for ‘Recognition and Appreciation’. This year, Utrecht University released its policy in this area by presenting the TRIPLE Model as the framework for the future (read more about it here). The TRIPLE acronym stands  for Team spirit, Research, Impact, Professional performance, Leadership and Education.

Of course, such a major shift in the academic world can only be achieved through strong partnerships between the most prominent universities. I am thus very glad that all Dutch universities, as well as our European partners in the Coimbra Group, stand firmly behind this. By learning from each other and pushing the EU agenda, we are working on a brighter future for science and society. A truly enlightening prospect for the new year!



[1]Wilkinson, M., Dumontier, M., Aalbersberg, I. et al. The FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship. Sci Data 3, 160018 (2016), https://doi.org/10.1038/sdata.2016.18