Last week, the COAR Annual Meeting took place from May 14-17, 2018 in Hamburg, Germany. The meeting was filled to capacity and, with representatives from 30 countries, was the most diverse COAR meeting to date. It offered an opportunity for COAR to take stock of the current status of the work being done to build a global knowledge commons through strengthening and connecting next generation repositories across the world.
Meeting participants were taken on a (virtual) world tour of the open science landscape from Australia – through South Africa, Ethiopia and Sudan – to the European Union and Russia – through the nine Latin American countries participating in LA Referencia – through Canada and the US – and to Asia via China, South Korea and Japan. While there is significant diversity in approaches across these regions and countries, we also share much in common and have many similar challenges.
The critical components for building the knowledge commons were discussed intensively. In particular, the issue of how we can reflect local needs while still supporting the global nature of research through a distributed, networked system. Efforts are progressing towards the widespread adoption of next generation repositories and there is significant interest by the repository platforms to implement the technological recommendations, as well as the national and regional networks to support new functionality that will enable social networking, annotation and peer review and common usage statistics across our systems. It was agreed that we need to support the adoption of common standards, data sharing, and strengthening communities of practice at the local, national and regional levels.
Breaking down geographical silos will be critical for the commons, but there are other silos that need to be addressed as well. We envision an integrated, international ecosystem that bridges the disparate worlds of data, publications, and other valuable research outputs. In his opening talk, Klaus Tochtermann, Director of ZBW Leibniz Information Center for Economics, discussed the intersections between the COAR next generation repositories concept and another parallel effort in Europe to build an Open Science Cloud. He pointed out that while our principles and aims are very well aligned, there has not been much interaction between these two initiatives and we need to develop better ways to engage. Working together on the implementation of the FAIR principles may offer just such an opportunity.
As we aim to define the technological requirements for the knowledge commons, we are also aware that the social aspects are extremely important and present us with a grand challenge. Jean-Claude Guedon, Professor at the Université de Montreal and respected open access advocate, urged us to consider two important principles within our repository network: intellectual proximity and problem solving complementarity. These principles will act as the social glue to tie our repositories together and only when we adhere to these principles, he says, can we offer a viable option for the research community. Demonstrating this value to research communities and supporting intellectual dialogue on top of our collective content will be a priority for us in the coming years.
During the meeting, there was an announcement about the Swedish consortium, BIBSAM’s move to cancel their national license for access to Elsevier journals. This came as a striking reminder of why we are building a knowledge commons. Journal prices are at an all-time high, and the large commercial publishers have little incentive to innovate. This has created an extremely flawed system that is propped up through our over reliance on journal based impact measures to evaluate research, measures that are in large part defined and controlled by the commercial publishers themselves. Is it time to radically reimagine the system so that it better serves the academy and our societies?
At the organizational level, I am pleased to announce a new and expanded Executive Board that was elected during our General Assembly. Four members will remain for a second term, providing continuity from previous years, while four new members will bring us fresh perspectives and wider regional representation. There are now board members from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America.
I left this meeting with renewed energy and great enthusiasm for pursuing the many great ideas that surfaced during our discussions. Thanks again to the COAR community for their engagement and participation, and to our partners for their financial and organizational support: Leibniz Information Centre for Economics, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition, OpenAIRE, SPARC NA and the University of Alberta Libraries. All the presentations are now available on the COAR website. For the photos from the Annual Meeting, please click here.
Kathleen Shearer, COAR Executive Director