Questions about ‘how’ to transition to an Open Science future

A GenR Theme

Image: Google Maps glitch, Google Maps, Map data ©2018 Google, from the blog INTENSIVE PRODUCTION,

GenR has an editorial theme on questions of ‘Socializing Infrastructures’ for Open Science. The theme will run over November and December 2018, with blogposts, visualizations, and conversations.

Join us on Twitter @gen_r_ and tweet your own Open Science infrastructure questions with the hashtag #infraQA

What has drawn many people to the cause of Open Science is the idea of ‘universal access to knowledge’ using the technologies of computing and digital networks to enable human knowledge to be in free circulation. At GenR we want to ask a number of questions about the ‘how’ to transition current scholarly systems to meet this inspiring idea of knowledge being freely available for all.

For GenR we are grounding our questions in what is at hand to researchers today, the—tools, methodologies, pedagogy, knowledge, and institutions, etc.—and how these can form this new generation of Open Science infrastructures.

To give some framing as to what is meant in the context of this GenR theme by Open Science infrastructures we have outlined two points.

  • Firstly, it’s worth noting why we are using the plural ‘infrastructures’, this is because each discipline has its own specific needs and practices, hence own specialist systems. At the same time we can look for commonalities about what is needed in those different infrastructures when looking at questions of how to maximize benefits.
  • Secondly, that infrastructures are not just large scale technical structures or facilities, but instead they can also be understood as complex meshes of knowledge, practices, and technical systems. A notable example of this second point, in the context of Open Science infrastructures, is ‘software as infrastructure’ (Hammitzsch 2017). Where software should not be thought of as a static ‘product’ but as a dynamic meshed assemblage, that in turn will have a ‘life cycle’, needing: shared ownership via free and open source licensing, development methodologies, governance, co-creation, skilling of users with ‘The Carpentries’ (‘The Carpentries’ n.d.), and more.

In terms of what the Open Science infrastructures should end up looking like, that is to be seen, but we have lots of pointers available: about the problems that exist currently in scholarship and its infrastructures, what the future could look like, and how it should be organized.Here are a few examples:

The problem space

In reaction to Plan S and OpenAccess publishing (‘Science Europe – COAlition S’ n.d.),

we are not talking of improving a well-functioning system, but of reforming a dysfunctional system that may not be self-correcting”

(Ribault2018) via Twitter (Tennant 2018)

There are mixed approaches to free and open source software (FOSS) in tenders and grants. For example FOSS is not mandated in European Commission (EC) tenders, like the tender for the Open Research Europe platform for Open Access publishing, but instead the EC has a positive FOSS strategy. (‘Open Source Software Strategy’ n.d.) Funders like the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) give larger match funding to FOSS projects. (BMBF-Internetredaktion n.d.) And various agencies mandate all software be FOSS, such as in the Barcelona Digital City policy of the major Ada Colau as outlined in the Open & Agile Digital Transformation Toolkit (Barcelona Digital City 2017).

Then there is the issues of how metrics and incentives are damaging scholarship, see “Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining the Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hypercompetition” (Edwards and Roy 2017).

And how for a long time scholarly communications has woefully lagged behind available technology.

the linearinformation chain is being fundamentally transformed into aninteractive communication network… A starting point is that ourcurrent policies and practices in science and communication are notideal for an optimal exchange and refinement of our knowledge

“Forces andFunctions in Scientific Communication”(Roosendaal and Geurts 1997)

Possibilities for what will the future look like AKA ‘the new normal’

In Open Access, from part of a discussion session at FORCE11 in Berlin 2017 two alternate futures were put forward for publishing futures. Scenario 1: The Big Flip, and Scenario 2: A Public Open Access Infrastructure, as featured in the LSE Impact Blog posting “Journal Flipping or a Public Open Access Infrastructure? What Kind of Open Access Future Do We Want?” (Ross-Hellauer and Fecher 2017)

And for scholarly communications in general Herbert Van de Sompel speculates about how to move beyond data silos using W3C Social Web and Linked Data Activities technologies (Worthington 2018) in his presentation “Scholarly Communication: Deconstruct & Decentralize?” (Van de Sompel2017)

Credit: Van de Sompel, Scholarly Communication: Deconstruct & Decentralize? 2017

A note on technical organization

A definition of the Decentralized Web (DWeb) and guide to its application from the 2017 paper”Systematizing Decentralization and Privacy” give a clear and well-grounded guide as to the technical organization of scholarly infrastructures.

Decentralized system:

A distributed system in which multiple authorities control different components and no single authority is fully trusted by all others.

(Troncoso et al. 2017, 308)


These are some of the questions that GenR has been formulating to explore how Open Science infrastructures can become ‘the new normal’.

Join us on Twitter @gen_r_ and tweet your own Open Science infrastructure questions with the hashtag #infraQA

  1. What are the forms of governance, ownership, coordination, and communication needed for Open Science infrastructures?
  2. What tools and infrastructures available at hand to researchers now will become part of the new systems?
  3. What are the skills and practices needed by researchers, that can be passed onto colleagues and follower that will enable sustainability? (Hammitzsch and Wächter 2015)
  4. What is meant by ‘software as infrastructure’ and what impact will the adoption of the idea have on science and scholarly practices, and quality and types of research results?
  5. What are the business and economic models, and economic impacts of new formulations of systems guided by the ideas of ‘Socializing Infrastructures’? And what can be learned from other sectors such as the push back against the commercial sharing economy platforms of the likes of Uber, or Airbnb, such as in the movement of Platform Cooperativism to provide an alternative model to Platform Capitalism? (Scholz 2016) (Scholz and Schneider 2017)
  6. What can speed up the pace of change in moving to Open Science infrastructures? Is it: scholarly activism; technological changes and practices, like automation and ‘Infrastructure-as-code’ reducing costs and increasing development cycles; or/and mandates and policies; or government nationalization and/or big investment; new skills and practices; or better communications?
  7. What’s missing in infrastructures? What are ‘the known unknowns’, and how do we find ‘the unknown, unknowns’? (Rumsfeld 1992)
  8. A perplexing question. Why is the realization and implementation of Open Science infrastructures happening so slowly? When there is so much, almost frenzied, activity going on in Open Science from top-down institutional programmes and bottom-up initiatives, almost to the point of bursting. What is holding back the work?

Thanks to Sarven Capadisli and Karmen Condic-Jurkic for their insights and pointers to literature.


Hammitzsch, Martin. ‘Interview | Martin Hammitzsch – “Understanding Software as Part of the Infrastructure”’, 11 May 2017.

‘The Carpentries’. The Carpentries. Accessed 21 November 2018.

‘Science Europe – COAlition S’. Accessed 20 November 2018.

European Commission. ‘Open Source Software Strategy’. Text. European Commission – European Commission. Accessed 3 July 2018.

Ribault, Sylvain. ‘Research Practices and Tools: How Strong Are the Objections to Plan S?’ Research Practices and Tools (blog), 17 November 2018.

Tennant, Jon. ‘Further Discussion of the Open Letter Criticising #Plan_S, by Sylvain Ribault http://Researchpracticesandtools.Blogspot.Com/2018/11/How-Strong-Are-Objections-to-Plan-s.html … I Am Still of the View That, Wherever You Fall on Plan S, There Are Deeper Systemic Issues within Scholarly Publishing That Need to Be Addressed https://Zenodo.Org/Record/1472045#.W_KkX-J7RPY …’.Tweet. @Protohedgehog (blog), 19 November 2018.

BMBF-Internetredaktion.‘Bekanntmachung – BMBF’. Bundesministerium für Bildung undForschung – BMBF. Accessed 20 November 2018.

‘Open & Agile Digital Transformation Toolkit’. Text. Barcelona Digital City, 15 May 2017.

Edwards, Marc A., and Siddhartha Roy. ‘Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hypercompetition’. Environmental Engineering Science 34, no. 1 (1 January 2017): 51–61.

Roosendaal, Hans E., and Peter A. Th. M. Geurts. ‘Forces and Functions in Scientific Communication’, 1997.

Ross-Hellauer, Tony, and Benedikt Fecher. ‘Journal Flipping or a Public Open Access Infrastructure? What Kind of Open Access Future Do We Want?’ Impact of Social Sciences (blog), 26 October 2017.

Worthington, Simon. ‘An Interview with Sarven Capadisli, Dokieli-Developer, on Autonomous Linked Research’. Text. https://Genr.Eu/Wp/ (blog), 26 October 2018.

Van de Sompel, Herbert. Scholarly Communication: Deconstruct & Decentralize? Washington, DC: CNI: Coalition for Networked Information, 2017.

Troncoso, Carmela, Marios Isaakidis, George Danezis, and Harry Halpin. ‘Systematizing Decentralization and Privacy: Lessons from 15 Years of Research and Deployments’. pp308, ArXiv:1704.08065 [Cs], 26 April 2017.

Hammitzsch, Martin, and Joachim Wächter. ‘Relevance and Challenges Regarding Research Software Sustainability’. Zenodo, 14 December 2015.

Scholz, Trebor. ‘Platform Cooperativism’, 2016. and Scholz, Trebor, and Nathan Schneider. Ours to Hack and to Own:The Rise of Platform Cooperativism, a New Vision for the Future of Work and a Fairer Internet. New York, NY: OR Books, 2017, 

Rumsfeld, Donald. Donald Rumsfeld Unknown Unknowns !, 1992.

DOI: 10.25815/


Citation format: The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition

Generation R. “Socializing Infrastructures #InfraQA: Questions About ‘How’ to Transition to an Open Science Future,” 2018.