Understand Open Science from an Open Data Policy Officer’s perspective

IMPORTANT SPEAKER: Jean-François Dechamp from the European Commission is one of NARMA’s special guests this year. Photo: Eva Beate Strømsted

Jean-François Dechamp from the European Commission is this year’s key note speaker.

About Jean-François Dechamp

  • Works in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation as Open Data Policy and Science Cloud Policy Officer.
  • Before joining the European Commission in 2005, he held various posts in China, the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium. His positions were focusing on European affairs, humanitarian aid, health advocacy and the pharmaceutical industry.
  • He holds a PhD in Pharmacy from the University of Strasbourg, France.
  • He has experience with developing policies for open access to scientific research results in the European Union.
  • He has previously promoted Open Science with an emphasis on copyright/licensing issues, as well as on the evolution of scholarly publishing.

– In your session you are going to talk about the European Research and Innovation Systems in transformation. What kind of transformation are we talking about here?

We could start with open access of course, but it is the nature of science that has been changing from a closed system to an open and sharing one. It affects virtually all components of doing science and research. It shifts in particular the focus from «publishing as fast as possible» to «sharing knowledge as early as possible». Or maybe in the end, the transformation we are talking about, is just about science done right?

– Why is Open Science important for the society today?

Two words here: openness and science.

Openness, as we know it in our society in 2018, has got nothing to do with openness just a generation ago, not to mention how it was in the 20th century. As to science, see with the popularization through books or TV programmes or even sitcoms (“The Big Bang theory” made geeks look cool!), it is getting back in the middle of our society too and brings elements of answers to many of our questions.

So open science is good for science itself: it improves efficiency and the verifiability of science, it brings transparency, it allows inter-disciplinarity…

Open science is good for the economy: with wider access to and increased re-use of scientific information by all and in particular by industry and innovative companies.

Open science is also good for the society: it brings broader, faster, transparent and equal access for citizens, it certainly contributes to increased societal impact of science and research

– Open Science is a concept that covers different topics, such as Open Access, Open Data, Open Source and reproductivity. Where do you think we have gained most ground in the recent years, and where, in your opinion, does challenges still remain?

If I look at how we have proceeded in the Commission, we started with open access because it certainly was the easiest angle. It was very practical yet universal and there were not so many differences among scientific disciplines. Unlike open data, that we addressed in a second step – and that one is not easy.

Open science is a work in process for all of us. When we think we had to focus on technical issues, then came legal issues, and then economical issues, then new technical issues and so on. With open science we are trying all to change habits but that is not easy. Open Science is more than open access and open data, it really is about science being responsible and engaged with and for our society.

– To accomplish change, what might be the mix between culture/habits by the actors and facilitating systems and structures?

If you ask me, for me the answer is in the assessment of researchers. We can do whatever we want with mandates and support, with carrots and sticks… but in the end if nobody rewards researchers for their sharing, if employers do not evaluate them and their teams with the right indicators that are compatible with Open Science… then we are stuck. The key to me is in the moving away from publish or perish and the obsolete way of evaluating the impact of researcher, to a more open science-friendly way to share and succeed. This implies a much more appropriate evaluation of the impact of researchers, their teams, their universities that is fit for the purpose of Open Science.

– Why is the EU so strongly engaged in these questions? Can’t this just be handled by the states, research institutions and the researchers?

Definitely not. We had no other choice because the Commission is a funder as well, not only a global policy maker. This makes us very specific compared to other research funders. And that is the exciting part of my job: we have to do what we preach and we have to preach what we do.

We do not work in isolation so the EU Framework Programmes and all national funding programmes must be in sync – in particular when it comes to Open Science.

THIS IS OPEN SCIENCE: Open Science is defined by three characteristics and multiple indicators. Source: European Commission

– You work especially on Open Data and the European Open Science Cloud. What is the Open Science Cloud?

So much has been said about it! The EOSC (as we call it) probably is only – but that is already very ambitious, a federated environment in Europe for cloud-based research and access to data. Those who had it at heart shared a common vision: giving Europe a global lead in scientific data infrastructures, and offer a virtual environment with free at the point of use, open and seamless services for storage, management, analysis, and re-use of research data, across borders and scientific disciplines. It is a work in progress, it is extremely complex but step-by-step we are getting there.

– What is the best way that Open Science can be promoted in the next framework programme, FP9?

Commissioner Moedas clearly wants a FP that fully supports Open Science at all levels so we have started working on this.

The new FP will probably strengthen and clarify current open access requirements for publications, it will put the Data Management Plan at the centre of the question of open data (still with the idea you can opt out from opening up certain data), it will promote the concept of FAIRness of data (Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability and Re-usability), – and we will try as much as possible to incentivize and reward Open Science.

This means that Open Science should also be considered from our side as a funder for instance in the evaluation of proposals but also in the monitoring of the impact of «FP9». We are working on it, we carefully read the comments and suggestions that we receive from stakeholders, it’s work in progress.

– European Commission Open Research Publishing Platform, when will this platform be available for the researchers for rapid publication?

This proved quicker to announce than to plan – but we are getting there. There will be a public procurement and this heavy and complex internal procedure needed us to carefully consider many aspects, in particular budget-wise. This gave my colleagues severe headaches but we hope to be able to launch the call around Easter this year. Then we will have to allow several months for proposals to be written and then time after the deadline for the careful evaluation of all proposals and the selection procedure to be performed. If all goes well, this means that the contract with the winner could be prepared in autumn and the work could get started around the end of the year 2018.

It certainly is not a quick fix so be patient. In the meantime, remember that for Horizon 2020 there are many publishing solutions to satisfy with our open access mandate – which is by the way focused on self-archiving (Green open access).

– What is your impression of Norway and the Nordic countries regarding accomplishments in Open Science?

When you work in the European Commission as a policy officer, like I do, you need to illustrate your analysis with good examples of what’s going on in the world, and most particularly in Europe. It is not always easy to find front-runners when you are probably one. So in my job you are always more convincing when you bring real case studies, and from Europe. With open science we have found many in the Northern part of Europe. I remember that Sweden was quite a pioneer in open access and Finland always among the top leaders. Most recently very early in March, Denmark has released an analysis of introducing FAIR data in Denmark. And in English too, which is useful to us and is a very appreciated effort that is common to Nordic countries.

As to Norway, although not an EU Member State, I remember that it was the first non-EU country to explicitly ask to nominate a National Point of Reference for Scientific Information in order to be part of the debate. We have had a Norwegian NPR – and an active one, since the beginning.