Why is open research better research?

I am presenting at the Norwegian Forskerutdanningskonferansen on Monday, which is a venue for people involved in research education. I have been challenged to talk about why open research is better research. In the spirit of openness, this blog post is an attempt to shape my argument. It can be read as an open notebook for what I am going to say.

Open Research vs Open Science

My first point in any talk about open research is to explain why I think “open research” is better than “open science”. Please take a look at a previous blog post for details. The short story is that “open research” feels more inclusive for people from the arts and humanities, who may not identify as “scientists”.

Why not?

I find it strange that in 2020 it is necessary to explain why we believe open research is a good idea. Instead, I would rather suggest that others explain why they do not support the principles of open research. Or, put differently, “why is closed research better research”?

One of the main points of doing research is to learn more and expand our shared knowledge about the world. This is not possible if we do not share the very same knowledge. Sharing has also been a core principle of research/science for centuries. After all, publications are a way of sharing.

The problem is that a lot of today’s publishing is a relic from a post-digital era, and does not take into account all the possibilities afforded by new technologies. The idea of “Science 2.0” is to utilize the potentials of web-based tools in research. Furthermore, this does not only relate to the final publications. A complete open research paradigm involves openness at all levels.

What is Open Research?

There are many definitions of open research, and I will not attempt to come up with the ultimate purpose here. Instead, I will point to (some) of the building blocks in an open research paradigm:

One can always argue about the naming of these, and what they include. The most important is to show that all parts of the research process could, in fact, be open.

How does open research help making better research?

To answer the original question, let me try to come up with one statement for each of the blocks mentioned in the figure above:

  • Open Applications: Funding applications are mainly closed today. But why couldn’t all applications be made publicly available? These would lead to better and more transparent processes, and the applications themselves could be seen as something others can build on. For people to avoid stealing ideas, such public applications would, of course, need to have tracking of applicant IDs, version-controlled IDs on the text, and universal time codes. That way, nobody would be able to claim that they came up with the idea first. One example is how DIKU decided to make all applications and assessments for the call for Centres of Excellence in Education open.
  • Open Assessment: If also, the assessment of research applications were open, this would increase the transparency of who gets funding, and why. The feedback from reviewers would also be openly available for everyone to see and learn how to develop better applications in the future.
  • Open Notebooks: Jumping to when the actual research starts, one could also argue for opening up the entire research process itself. This could involve the use of open notebooks explaining how the research develops. It would also be a way of tracking the steps taken to conduct the research, for example, getting ethics permissions. This could be done on web pages, blogs, or with more computational tools like Jupyter Notebook.
  • Open Methods: During review processes of publications, one of the trickiest parts is to understand how the research was conducted. Then it is crucial that the methods are described clearly and openly. Solutions like the Open Science Framework try to make a complete solution for making material available.
  • Open Source: An increasing amount of methods are computer-based. Sharing the source code of developed software is one approach to opening the methods used in research. It is also of great value for other researchers to build on. Some of the most popular platforms are GitHub and Gitlab.
  • Citizen Science: This is a big topic, but here I would say that it could be a way of opening for contributions by non-researchers in the process. This could be anything from participating in research designs to help with collecting data.
  • Open Data: Sharing the data is necessary so that reviewers can do their job in assessing whether the research results are sane. It is quite remarkable that most papers are still accepted without the reviewers having had access to the data and analysis methods that were used to reach the conclusions. Of course, open data are also of value for other researchers that re-analyze or perform new analysis on the data. In my experience, data are under-analyzed in general. There are numerous platforms available, both commercial (Figshare) and non-profit (Zenodo).
  • Open Manuscripts: Many researchers have been sharing manuscripts with colleagues and getting feedback before submission. With today’s tools, it is possible to do this at scale, asking for feedback on the material even at the stage of manuscripts. There are numerous new tools here, including Authorea and PubPub.
  • Open Peer Review: A traditional review process consists of feedback from 2-3 peers. With an open peer review system, many more peers (and others) could comment on the manuscript, thereby also improving the final quality of the paper. One interesting system here is OpenReview.
  • Open Access: Free access to the final publication is what most people have focused on. This is one crucial building block in the ecosystem, and much (positive) has happened in the last few years. However, we are still far from having universal open access. This is a significant bottleneck in the sharing of new knowledge. Fortunately, the political pressure from cOAlition S and others help in making a change.
  • Open Educational Resources: Academic publications are not for everyone to digest. Therefore, it is also imperative that we create material that can be used by students. This is particularly important to support people’s life-long learning. The popularity of MOOCs on platforms such as EdX, FutureLearn, and Coursera, has shown that there is a large market for this. Many of these are closed, however, which prevents full distribution.
  • Open Citations: Whether you work is cited by peers or not is often critical for many people’s careers. It has become a big business to create citation counts and various types of indexes (the h-index being the most common). The chase for citations has several opposing sides, including self-citations, and dubious pushing for citations to reviewers’ material. Therefore, we need to push for more openness, also when it comes to citations and citation counts.
  • Open Scientific Social Networks: The way people connect is vital in the world of research (as elsewhere). Opening the networks is crucial, particularly for minority researchers, to get access. Diversity will generally always lead to better and more balanced results.
  • Open Assessment: The last block takes us back to the first one. This relates to the assessment of research and researchers and is a topic I have written about before. I also helped organize the 2020 EUA Workshop on Academic Career Assessment in the Transition to Open Science, which has a lot of excellent material online.

Conclusion

As my quick run-through of the different parts of the building blocks has shown, it is possible to open the entire research process. Much experimentation is happening these days, and convergence is happening for some of the blocks. For example, the sharing of source code and data has come a long way in some communities. Some journals even refuse manuscripts without complete data sets and source code. Other parts have barely started. Open assessment may have come shortest, but things are moving also here.

My main argument for opening all parts of the process is that is “sharpening” the research process. You cannot be sloppy if you know that it will be exposed. I often hear people argue that it takes a lot of time to make everything openly available. That is also my experience. On the other hand, why should research be so fast. It is better to focus on quality than quantity. Open research fosters quality research.

One of the most common objections to opening the research process is that other people will steal your ideas, data, code, and so on. However, if everything is tagged correctly, time-stamped, and given unique IDs, it is not possible to steal anything. Everything will be traceable. And plagiarism algorithms will quickly sort out any problems.

The biggest challenge we are facing is that it is challenging to balance between the “old” and the “new” way of doing research. That is why policymakers and researchers need to work together with funders to help flip the model as quickly as possible.

NIME Publication Ecosystem Workshop

During the NIME conference this year (which as run entirely online due to the coronavirus crisis), I led a workshop called NIME Publication Ecosystem Workshop. In this post, I will explain the background of the workshop, how it was run in an asynchronous+synchronous mode, and reflect on the results.

If you don’t want to read everything below, here is a short introduction video I made to explain the background (shot at my “summer office” up in the Hardangervidda mountain range in Norway):

Background for the workshop

The idea of the NIME Publication Ecosystem Workshop was to continue community discussions started in the successful NIMEHub workshop in Brisbane in 2016 and the Open NIME workshop in Porto Alegre in 2019. Besides, comes discussions about establishing a NIME journal, as well as better solutions to archive various types of NIME-related activities.

The term “publication” should in this context be understood in a broad sense, meaning different types of output of the community, including but not limited to textual productions. This is particularly important at NIME since this community consists of people designing, building, and performing new musical interfaces.

When I gathered a workshop team and proposed the topic back in January, this was mainly coming out of the increasing focus on Open Research. Please note that I use “open research” here, not “open science”, a significant difference that I have written about in a previous blog post. The focus on more openness in research has recently received a lot of political attention through the Plan S initiative, The Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), EU’s Horizon Europe, funder’s requirements of FAIR data principles, and so on.

Of course, the recent coronavirus crisis has made it even more necessary to develop open research strategies, as well as finding alternative ways of communicating our research. This also includes rethinking the format of conferences. The need to travel less is not something that will go away after the coronavirus crisis calms down, however. Long-term change is necessary to reduce problems with climate change. While such a move may feel limiting to some of us that could travel to international conferences every year, it also opens possibilities for many others to participate. The topic of this year’s NIME conference was “accessibility,” and it turned out that the virtual conference format was, indeed, one that promoted accessibility in many ways. I will write more on that in another blog post.

When it comes to openness in research, this is something the NIME community has embraced since the beginning. The paper proceedings, for example, have been freely available online all the time. Also, the database of the archive has been made available as a collection of BibTeX files. Some people don’t understand why we do this, but opening up also the metadata for the archive makes it much more flexible to integrate with other data sources. It also makes it much easier to research the community’s output.

Despite these efforts, there are also several things about the NIME conference that we have not been able to make openly available, such as hardware designs, code, empirical data, music performances, installations, and so on. This is not that we don’t want to, but it has proven hard to find long-term solutions that are maintainable by a volunteer-driven community. People in the community have different interests and skills, so it is essential to find solutions that are both innovative and user-friendly at the same time. The longevity of chosen solutions is also important since NIME is central to an increasing number of people’s careers. Hence, we need to balance the exploration of new solutions with the need for preservation and stability. 

In addition to finding solutions for the NIME conference itself, the establishment of a NIME journal has been discussed for several years. This discussion has surfaced again during the testing of a new paper template for the conference. But rather than thinking about the conference proceedings and a journal as two separate projects, one could imagine a broader NIME publication ecosystem that could cover everything from draft manuscripts, complete papers, peer-reviewed proceedings papers, and peer-reviewed journal papers. This could be thought of as a more “Science 2.0”-like system in which the entire research process is open from the beginning.

The aims of the workshop were therefore to:

  1. discuss how a broader publication ecosystem built around (but not limited to) the annual conference could work
  2. brainstorm and sketch concrete (technical) solutions to support such an idea
  3. agree on some concrete steps on how to proceed with the development of such ideas the coming year

Workshop format

We had initially planned to have a physical workshop in Birmingham but ended up with an online event. To make it as accessible as possible, we decided to run it using a combination of asynchronous and synchronous delivery. This included the preparation of various types of introductory material by the organizing committee and some participants. All of this material was gathered into a pre-workshop padlet, which was sent to the participants some days before the online workshop.

The synchronous part of the workshop was split over two-hour-long time slots. We ended up doing it like this to allow people from all time zones to participate in at least one of the workshops. Since most of the organizers were located in Europe, and the conference itself was scheduled around UK time, we ended up with one slot in the morning (9-10 UK time) and one in the afternoon (17-18 UK time). The program for each of the slots was the same so that everyone would feel that they participated equally in the event.

Around 30 people showed up for each time slot, with only a few participating in both. Since preparatory material was distributed beforehand, most of the online workshop time consisted of discussions in breakout rooms with 5-6 people in each group. The groups wrote their feedback into separate padlets and also reported back in a short plenary session at the end of the hour-long session.

A post-workshop padlet was created to gather links after the workshop. The topic was also lively discussed in separate threads on the Slack channel that was used during the conference. After the conference, and as a result of the workshop, we have established a forum on nime.org, with a separate ecosystem thread.

All the pre- and post-workshop material from the workshop has been archived in Zenodo.

Conclusions

It is, of course, impossible to conclude such a vast topic after one workshop. But what is clear is that there is an interest in the community to establish a more extensive ecosystem around the NIME conference. The establishment of a forum to continue discussion is one concrete move ahead. So is the knowledge gained from running a very successful online conference this year. This included pre-recorded talks, written Q&A in Slack channels, plenary sessions, and breakout rooms. A lot of this can also be archived and be part of an extended ecosystem. All in all, things are moving in the right direction, and I am very excited to see where we end up!

Podcast on Open Research

I was in Tromsø to hold a keynote lecture at the Munin conference a month ago, and was asked to contribute to a podcast they are running called Open Science Talk. Now it is out, and I am happy to share:

In this episode, we talk about Music Research, and how it is to practice open research within this field. Our guest is Alexander Jensenius, Associate Professor at the Department of Musicology Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Rhythm, Time and Motion (IMV) at the University of Oslo. He is also behind MusicLAb, an event-based project where data is collected, during a musical performance, and analyzed on the fly.

Thanks to Erik Lieungh and the rest of the team at the University Library at UIT The Arctic University of Norway. They are doing a great job in developing Open Science tools and strategies!

Workshop: Open NIME

This week I led the workshop “Open Research Strategies and Tools in the NIME Community” at NIME 2019 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. We had a very good discussion, which I hope can lead to more developments in the community in the years to come. Below is the material that we wrote for the workshop.

Workshop organisers

  • Alexander Refsum Jensenius, University of Oslo
  • Andrew McPherson, Queen Mary University of London
  • Anna Xambó, NTNU Norwegian University of Science and Technology
  • Dan Overholt, Aalborg University Copenhagen
  • Guillaume Pellerin, IRCAM
  • Ivica Ico Bukvic, Virginia Tech
  • Rebecca Fiebrink, Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Rodrigo Schramm, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul

Workshop description

The development of more openness in research has been in progress for a fairly long time, and has recently received a lot of more political attention through the Plan S initiative, The Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), EU’s Horizon Europe, and so on. The NIME community has been positive to openness since the beginning, but still has not been able to fully explore this within the community. We call for a workshop to discuss how we can move forward in making the NIME community (even) more open throughout all its activities.

The Workshop

The aim of the workshop is to:

  1. Agree on some goals as a community.
  2. Showcase best practice examples as a motivation for others.
  3. Promote existing solutions for NIME researcher’s needs.
  4. Consider developing new solutions, where needed.
  5. Agree on a set of recommendations for future conferences, to be piloted in 2020.

Workshop Programme

TimeTitleResponsible
11:30WelcomeIntroduction of participantsIntroduction to the topicAlexander Refsum Jensenius

11:45Open Publication perspectivesAlexander Refsum JenseniusDan OverholtRodrigo Schramm
12:15Group-based discussion:How can we improve the NIME publication template?Should we think anew about the reviewing process (open review?)Should we open for a “lean publishing” model?How do we handle the international nature of NIME?
12:45Plenary discussion
13:00Lunch Break
14:30Open Research perspectivesGuillaume PellerinAnna XambóAndrew McPhersonIvica Ico Bukvic
15:00Group-based discussion:What are some best practice Open NIME examples?What tools/solutions/systems should be promoted at NIME?Who should do the job?
15:30Final discussion
16:00End of workshop

Background information

The following sections present some more information about the topic, including current state of affairs in the field.

What is Open Research?

There are numerous definitions of what Open Research constitutes. The FOSTER initiative has made a taxonomy, with these overarching branches :

  • Open Access: online, free of cost access to peer reviewed scientific content with limited copyright and licensing restrictions.
  • Open Data: online, free of cost, accessible data that can be used, reused and distributed provided that the data source is attributed.
  • Open Reproducible Research: the act of practicing Open Science and the provision of offering to users free access to experimental elements for research reproduction.
  • Open Science Evaluation: an open assessment of research results, not limited to peer-reviewers, but requiring the community’s contribution.
  • Open Science Policies: best practice guidelines for applying Open Science and achieving its fundamental goals.
  • Open Science Tools: refers to the tools that can assist in the process of delivering and building on Open Science.

Not all of these are equally relevant in the NIME community, while others are missing.

Openness in the NIME Community

The only aspect that has been institutionalized in the NIME community is the conference proceedings repository. This has been publicly available from the start at nime.org, and in later years all publications have also enforced CC-BY-licensing.

Other approaches to openness are also encouraged, and NIME community members are using various types of open platforms and tools (see the appendix for details):

  • Source code repositories
  • Experiment data repositories
  • Music performance repositories
  • MIR-type repositories
  • Hardware repositories

The question is how we can proceed in making the NIME community more open. This includes the conferences themselves, but also other activities in the community. A workshop on making hardware designs openly available was held in connection to NIME 2016 , and the current project proposal may be seen as a natural extension of that discussion.

The Problem with the Term “Open Science”

Many of the initiatives driving the development of more openness in research refer to this as “Open Science”. In a European context this is particularly driven by some of the key players, including the European Union (EU), the European Research Council (ERC), and the European University Association (EUA). Consequently a number of other smaller institutions and individuals are also using the term, often without thinking very much about the wording.

The main problem with using Open Science as a general term, is that it sounds like this is not something for researchers working in the arts and humanities. This was never the intention, of course, but was more the result of the movement developing from the sciences, and it is difficult to change a term when it has gotten some momentum.

NIME is—and is striving to continue to be—an inclusive community of researchers and practitioners coming from a variety of backgrounds. Many people at NIME would not consider that they work (only) in “science”, but would perhaps feel more comfortable under the umbrella “research”. This term can embrace “scientific research”, but also “artistic research” and R & D found outside of academic institutions. Thus using the term “Open Research” fits better for the NIME community than “Open Science”.

Free

The question of freedom is also connected to the that of openness. In the world of software development, one often talks about “free as in Speech” (libre) or “free as in Beer” (gratis). This point also relates to issues connected to licensing, copyright and reuse. Many people in the community are not affiliated with institutions, and receive payment from their work. Open research might have a close connection with open source, open hardware and open patent. This modern context for research and development of new musical technologies are also beyond academia and must be well planned in order to also attract the industry as partners. How can this be balanced with the needs for openness?

FAIR Principles

Another term that is increasingly used in the community is that of the FAIR principles, which stands for Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. It is important to point out that FAIR is not the same as Open. Even though openness is an overarching aim, there is an understanding that privacy matters and copyright issues are preventing general openness of everything. Still the aim is to make data as open as possible, as closed as necessary. By applying the FAIR principles, it is possible to make metadata available so that it is openly known what types of data exist, and how to ask for access, even though the data may have to be closed.

General Repositories

There are various “bucket-based” repositories that may be used, such as:

What is positive about such repositories is that you can store anything of (more or less) any size. The challenge, however, is the lack of specific metadata, specialized tools (such as visualization methods), and a community.

There are also specific solutions, such as Github for code sharing.

As of 2018 a new repository aimed at coupling benefits of the aforesaid “bucket-based” approach with a robust metadata framework, titled COMPEL, has been introduced. It seeks to provide a convergence point to the diverse NIME-related communities and provide a means of linking their research output.

Openness in the Music Technology community

Looking at many other disciplines, the music technology community has embraced open perspectives in many years. A number of the conferences make their archives publicly available, such as:

There are also various types of open repositories and tools, including:

Best Practice Examples

  • CompMusic as a best practice project in the music technology field 
  • COMPEL focuses on the preservation of reproducible interactive art and more specifically interactive music
  • Bela platform

Towards Convergence in Research Assessment

I have a short article in the latest edition of LINK, the magazine of the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators.

You can look up my text on page 14 above, and for convenience here is the text version:

Open Science is on everyone’s lips these days. There are many reasons why this shift is necessary and wanted, and also several hurdles. One big challenge is the lack of incentives and rewards. Underlying this is the question of what we want to incentivize and reward, which ultimately boils down to the way we assess research and researchers. This is not a small thing. After all, we are talking about the cornerstone of people’s careers, whether an inspiring academic gets a job, promotion, and project funding.

Most research institutions and funding bodies have clear criteria in place for research assessment. Some of these are more qualitative, typically based on some kind of peer review. Others are more quantitative, often based on some metrics related to publications. With increasing time pressure, the latter is often the easiest solution. This is the reason why simplified metrics have become popular, of which citation counts (H-index, etc.) and/or journal impact factors (JIF) are the most popular. The problem is that such simple numbers do not even try to reveal the complex, multidimensional reality of academic practice. This type of metric also actively discourages academic activities beyond journal publications, including a large part of Open Science activities, such as code and data sharing, education, and so on.

From my own perspective, both as a researcher, research leader, and former head of department, I have been involved in numerous committees assessing both researchers and research over the last decade. I know the Norwegian landscape best, but have also sat on committees in numerous other countries in Europe and North America, as well as for the European Research Council. My experience is that all the institutions have clear criteria in place, but they differ largely in naming, interpretation and weighting.

What is the solution? In my opinion we need to work towards convergence on assessment criteria. There are currently several initiatives being undertaken, of which I am fortunate to be involved in the one coordinated by the European University Association (EUA). Inspiration is coming from the Open Science Career Evaluation Matrix (OS-CAM), which was proposed by the “Working Group on Rewards under Open Science” to the European Commission in 2017. The OS-CAM is organized into six main topics: (1) Research Output, (2) Research Process, (3) Service And Leadership, (4) Research Impact, (5) Teaching and Supervision, (6) Professional Experience. Each of these have a set of criteria, so there is a total of 23 criteria to assess, several of which target Open Science practices directly.

Many people will recognize the OS-CAM criteria from their own research assessment experience. It may not be that the proposed criteria are the ones that we will end up with. But if we within European institutions can agree on certain common topics and criteria to use when assessing researchers and research, we have taken a giant step forward in acknowledging the richness of academic activity, including that of Open Science practices.