Science is in transition. Major steps are being taken nationally and internationally to reform the way research is being conducted and evaluated. Dutch universities have joined forces to reform the way research and other academic tasks are evaluated. With the launch of the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment (CoARA), the national Recognition & Rewards programme now has a International counterpart. Great progress is also being made to make research more open, participatory and collaborative, with Europe setting the tone and with a clear ambition supported by substantial investments in the Netherlands. Sometimes open science and recognition and rewards seem to move in parallel. In reality, they are closely intertwined and cannot do without each other.
Let’s start by clearing up a persistent misunderstanding. Open science is, of course, much more than just providing open access to publications. UNESCO defines open science as a broad concept that aims to make scientific knowledge openly accessible and reusable. It is about sharing data, code, software and hardware. It also entails opening up the scientific process itself, by involving the public (citizen science) or through open methods such as open peer review. Ultimately open science aims to make science a more participatory and collaborative endeavour, for the benefit of science and society.
Making open the new norm
To transition to open science, a cultural shift is imperative. In his well-known blog, Executive Director of the Centre for Open Science (COS) Brian Nosek argues that this change cannot rely solely on the motivation of individual researchers. It requires a comprehensive approach from making open science possible by ensuring the infrastructure is in place to providing the right incentives. If we want open to become the new normal, it is essential that researchers get rewarded for putting open science into practice.
Of course, existing academic reward structures often work against open science practices. For a long time, researchers have been evaluated on the basis of the number of publications in high-impact journals (which often did not offer open access options). In such a system, it’s unlikely researchers will feel encouraged to share their data and software, let alone involve societal stakeholders: all time-consuming and costly activities that detract from writing that extra paper that secures tenure or promotion. A clear misalignment has existed between what is good for science and society (openness, sharing, collaboration) and what is good for an individual researcher’s career. All this is now changing, with reforming research assessment programmes in the Netherlands and at international level.
National level. National research assessment protocols need reform to incorporate open science. In the Netherlands, the SEP Protocol 2021-2027 has been adapted to include open science criteria. Similar changes are underway in the UK for the Research Exercise Framework (REF 2028).
Institutional level. Institutions play a pivotal role in fostering open science as part of the recruitment, promotion and tenure policies. A wealth of material has been developed to assist institutions. From repositories of academic job descriptions that mention open science, to full-fledged frameworks identifying which open science indicators are to be used, such as the Open Science Career Assessment Matrix (OSCAM) developed by the European Commission. Two EC funded projects (OPUS and GraspOS) have been specifically funded to help institutions to reform research assessment procedures to promote open science.
Funding agencies. Funders also have a part to play in reshaping recognition and rewards of open science practices. The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has taken some steps, for instance by including open science aspects in the Narrative CV. NWO also launched its Open Science Fund, specifically designed to reward pioneers in open science. In this programme, NWO also experimented with an Open Science Track Record question.
‘Open science is, of course, much more than just providing open access to publications.’
Much more work remains to be done, however. Since the launch of Horizon Europe, the European Commission has led the way by including open science in the assessment under the ‘excellence’ and the ‘quality of implementation’ criteria. It is therefore very encouraging that the new roadmap for the Recognition & Rewards programme states that in 2024 it will be clarified how activities relating to open science and open education will be considered in the development, assessment, appointment and promotion of staff.
Catalysing team science
There is another – often overlooked – reason why the open science and reforming research assessment movements are closely interlinked. The move to open science requires the support of a growing number of data stewards, research software engineers, lab technicians and research managers. Modern science is team science, with researchers working closely with highly skilled support staff, often former PhDs themselves. The future success of research institutions will depend, to a large extent, on their ability to not only attract the brightest researchers, but to also attract and retain a well-trained professional support staff. A category of employees that, by virtue of their skills, is also in high demand outside of academia.
Hans de Jonge is director of Open Science NL. He has worked at NWO since 2018, where he was programme leader and responsible for various aspects of NWO Open Science policy.
Hans de Jonge presents the relationship between Recognition & Rewards and the Open Science programme during a Recognition & Rewards meeting