Enabling open science and societal engagement in research
Directorate-General for Research and Innovation
Directorate A, ERA and Innovation
The European Commission has the ambition for open science to become the norm for research and innovation across the European Research Area. Universities and other research performing organisations are key locations for realising this aim. As part of its reflection on how universities can support this ambition, the European Commission DG Research and Innovation and the European Research Executive Agency convened a one-day workshop on 1 July 2021. The event was attended by the Science with and for Society (SwafS) ‘Responsible Research and Innovation institutional change’ portfolio of projects funded under Horizon 2020 and the initial group of European University Alliances under the European Universities Initiative https://ec.europa.eu/education/education-in-the-eu/european-education-area/european-universities-initiative_en that received funding under the SwafS programme. This report documents insights from discussions and presentations made at the workshop.
A key insight was that the dynamics between open science and those ‘institutional logics’ Institutional logics can be thought of as the taken-for-granted norms and rules that combine together to guide behaviours and practices within organisations. that configure practices within universities will influence the extent, nature and success of its institutionalisation in these settings. It is therefore important to understand what these different logics are, reflect on how they align with open science and consider whether they should be reformed to help promote institutionalisation of open science in universities.
Universities in Europe tend to be configured by three logics as this relates to research: the first of these, the ivory tower, is grounded in the independence of researchers, who are free to pursue research with the primary goal of producing knowledge that contributes to understanding of the natural and social worlds. It can be thought of broadly as ‘fundamental’ or ‘basic’ research. Open science seems to align well with this logic and, if current European Commission open science initiatives are sustained, the prospects for its institutionalisation in universities seem strong.
A second logic, the utilitarian university, places emphasis on ‘useful’ knowledge, impact and external partnerships. It can be thought of broadly as ‘applied research’, innovation and research that is aimed at meeting strategic policy challenges (e.g. ‘net zero’). Open science in its fullest sense seems to only partially align with this logic. Significantly, the diversity of external actors participating in applied research and innovation is limited, privileging corporate and industrial partners at the expense of civil society groups and citizens.
Additionally, and despite open science’s ambition for research to have an ethical orientation, the extent to which processes of broad ethical reflection (i.e. beyond established research ethics approval processes) and debate are systematically integrated into research and innovation in universities is limited.
Open science also only partially aligns with a third important logic in universities, that of the managed bureaucracy. This is a logic that supports, manages, and resources the other two logics, emphasising bureaucracy, efficiency, centralisation and performance. It combines formal and informal elements that are both internal and external to the university. Workshop participants drew attention to this logic as being a significant area for reform. Insights from the workshop allow the following recommendations for reforms to be made:
1) Universities and other research performing organisations should make reforms to criteria, metrics and processes supporting researchers’ recruitment and career progression in order to reward open science practices. As part of these reforms, the extent to which civil society organisations and citizens have been engaged and included in strategic or applied research and innovation should be specifically assessed. Likewise, the extent to which processes of broad ethical reflection and debate have been meaningfully integrated into research and innovation should be assessed and rewarded. The European Commission should bring together and provide support for those universities that have begun to implement open science reforms to recruitment and career progression processes and learn from those universities that have taken the initiative to embed open science in their processes.
2) The European Commission, national research funders and national policy makers should consider the institutionalisation of open science in universities and other research performing organisations as a long term project for which they should provide leadership, co-ordination and sustained legitimation. This will require continued availability of resources for skills development, training, introduction or enhancement of enabling infrastructures and co-ordination at a European level.
3) The European Commission, national policy makers and research funders, universities and other research performing organisations should continue to make reforms to indicators, measures and processes utilised by them in project, programme, researcher and research unit evaluations to ensure these include assessment and evaluation of open science practices. These reforms should include assessment of the extent to which civil society organisations and citizens have been engaged and included in projects and programmes that are focused on strategic or applied research and innovation, as well as the extent to which processes of broad ethical reflection and debate have been meaningfully integrated into research and innovation.
4) The European Commission and national research funders should continue to improve criteria, metrics and methods that underpin research proposal evaluation processes Note that reforms to the research assessment system are the subject of significant policy discussion, with bilateral meetings ongoing between the Commission and stakeholders. Progress has already been made on this in Horizon Europe as regards “engagement of citizens, civil society and end users” within evaluations of methodology under the excellence criterion. Assessments of research proposals should additionally be adapted to include the extent to which there is integration of broad ethical reflection and debate within the core of research and innovation-oriented projects.
5) University ranking organisations should undertake substantial reforms to criteria, metrics and methods that underpin ranking systems for universities in order to reward open science practices.
© European Union, 2021