OpenCon 2017OpenCon, the annual conference on Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data, was held in Berlin 11-13 November 2017. The conference was organised by the Right to Research Coalition, SPARC, and an Organising Committee of students and early career researchers from around the world.

The conference brings together over 180 researchers, early career academics and students, and those from organisations that work to support research and teaching including libraries, educational initiatives, infrastructure, and research funders. This year, in addition to the broad international representation, several delegates from the UK (including myself) attended. Several work at RLUK member institutions, and others received support from RLUK members to attend. The majority of delegates receive support to attend the conference, and this year’s supporters included a number of libraries in the UK and abroad. For those not able to attend OpenCon, a growing number of satellite events are held around the world. Upcoming satellites in the UK include events in London, Oxford, and Cambridge.

The conference model is different: there are few formal presentations, and much of the event is designed by participants through unconference, workshop, and hands-on sessions. The panel sessions tackled questions about how to advance open, to consider equity, diversity and inclusion, and regional approaches.

New research was presented on the inclusion of open access in promotion and tenure documents at North American universities. Of over 800 policies, only 3 mentioned open access at all, and some of these only mentioned in a negative/predatory light. This result was disheartening, but provides accurate data to begin changing the way open access is valued in the promotion and tenure process.

Other projects and research highlighted issues as diverse as student engagement in open access and licensing campaigns, overcoming skills gaps, the development of an African open science platform, and the role citizen science and open data can play in verifying data released by government. Infrastructure challenges were mentioned frequently, as they have revealed and in some cases increased issues in accessing research. For example, if researchers do not have access to fast internet and data centres this can compromise field work being done in rural areas. This situation is critical for all researchers worldwide – as connectivity and infrastructure gaps exist everywhere.

Several presentations emphasized the human cost of open access and open data. There was weariness about expectations that producing research data could be viewed as extra work on top of a full workload, and that very technical projects require a high investment in skill and expertise. Much of this work requires extensive collaboration to be successful – across institutions, disciplines, and borders. Planning for and accommodating collaboration also takes time. Lastly, the tendency of research to be published in one or two languages (usually English) was raised. Open access and open licensing makes translation into other languages legally possible, but intensive resources are required to undertake translation. Continuing this theme, the panel on equity, diversity and inclusion explored the relationship between identity, values, and politics in the open movement, and the growing realization that solutions must be appropriate to cultural contexts and pay more attention to ethics. We must ask whose voice is missing, and recall that not everything should be open.

Workshops and unconference sessions explored topics including national policy campaigns, and the launch of a new group on Open Humanities and Social Science. This group seeks to redress the balance in the open debate to include a broader range of perspectives on values and ethics in open, to think about open science in the HSS context, and to consider models for monographs and other HSS materials. The group distinguished itself from Digital Humanities, as open doesn’t necessarily imply the use of DH approaches.

OpenCon’s final day was an experimental approach, and provided space for delegates to self-organise and either work on existing projects and challenges, or new ones. The Open Humanities and Social Science group took time to start drafting a toolkit, and to discuss engagement with the Open Science agenda. In the afternoon, I ran a session, ‘public policy 101’, which discussed the typical elements of national policy processes and how to engage. One of the characteristics of OpenCon is that it attracts people committed to engaging at different levels, from opening their own research, to developing projects, or connecting with broader advocacy efforts. The flexible conference model provided opportunities for participants to do all three, and across the event ensured that participants had the opportunity to meet and work with a large number of other delegates.

All of the conference materials including outcomes of the sessions and videos will be made available from the OpenCon site. Observations during the conference were also shared on Twitter with the #opencon hashtag.

Fiona Bradley
Deputy Executive Director, RLUK