21 november, 2022

How familiar are science communicators with Open Science? A very non-scientific ‘study’

During the Dutch National Science Communication Day, we set out to identify how much attendees knew about Open Science and whether they related the concept to science communication. Our interactive ‘scientific’ poster session yielded a number of interesting observations. We believe that these insights are timely considering recent calls for collaboration between the science communication and Open Science communities.

A growing number of voices advocate for a more explicit connection between science communication (from here on abbreviated as ‘scicom’) and Open Science. This October, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) recommended linking up scicom and Open Science policy. Last year, the Rathenau Institute’s report ‘Samen verder met Open Science’ (‘moving forward together with Open Science’) explored how scicom can – or should – be a vehicle for meaningful public engagement in the context of Open Science.

Mutual connections?

Bridging scicom and Open Science: it is a topic that SciCom NL also endorses. In September of this year, board member Frederike Schmitz called for including the whole spectrum of scicom into Open Science policy at the Dutch Open Science Festival. At the moment, the Open Science community’s focus often lays with Open Science principles that primarily affect the scientific community itself (for instance data standards and such).

So what about the scicom community? How aware are science communicators of developments in Open Science, and if they are, what do they care about? Do we – as science communicators – collaborate with members of the Open Science community? And do we recognize joint values and goals?

Exploring viewpoints at the Dutch National Science Communication Day

We tried to answer these questions during the Dutch National Science Communication Day (‘Nationale Wetenschapscommunicatiedag’) on 10 October 2022. This day-long conference gathered over 500 people working in, or interested in, scicom.

During the conference, Dutch science minister Robbert Dijkgraaf already mentioned current developments in Open Science during the plenary sessions. We highly appreciated that, given that this was actually the topic of our thematic lunch session later on. Because Dijkgraaf emphasized the importance of public engagement in Open Science, we assume that this could have also influenced people visiting our session.

For our session, we had prepared an interactive (meaning empty) poster, which we purposefully designed to look like your average scholarly output (meaning heavy on jargon and academese). With this poster we managed to ‘collect data’ from about 20 participants. Of course, this was never intended to be a serious survey or such, but it helped us to start some very interesting discussions. Here’s what we found out.

Our interactive poster, after the session.

Observation 1: Different ideas of what ‘Open Science’ means may lead discussions astray

Straight out of the gates, everyone who visited our session said they knew what Open Science means. It was the first question we posed to participants, and we immediately countered affirmative answers with a request to please write down personal definitions of Open Science on a post-it.

The resulting collection of post-its illustrates that participants’ background knowledge levels varied quite a bit.

When asked to define Open Science, participants most often cited open access (“making science free to be read by everyone”) and, in more than a few cases, coupled it to FAIR data principles (“aimed at impact and thus, valuable data (FAIR)”) and stakeholder engagement. Only a few answers captured the complete scope of Open Science (“performing science in a way that is transparent, shareable, replicable, engaged”) while for others it was difficult to identify any specific Open Science principles (“connecting science and society”).

Is it Open Science, opening up science, or both?

To be fair: Open Science can be interpreted in different ways. This was most obvious when one of the participants corrected their answer to the statement ‘I am actively involved in Open Science’. Having originally answered no, they considered that maybe they actually were involved in Open Science – and they just didn’t know it yet? After all, they were bringing science and society closer together, and thereby opening up science to the outside world.

Interestingly, science communicators that visited our session did not agree on whether they were actively involved in Open Science or not.

About half of our audience claimed an active role in Open Science; of these, again half (and yes, that’s becoming a very small number of people) worked in science communication and/or in public engagement roles. At the same time, another group of science communicators did not consider their work to count as active involvement in Open Science.

If this leaves you wondering about the definition of Open Science, we recommend having a look at the extensive definition included in UNESCO's Recommendation on Open Science (chapter II).

In short: "Open science is defined as an inclusive construct that combines various movements and practices aiming to make multilingual scientific knowledge openly available, accessible and reusable for everyone, to increase scientific collaborations and sharing of information for the benefits of science and society, and to open the processes of scientific knowledge creation, evaluation and communication to societal actors beyond the traditional scientific community."

Graphical summary of Open Science from the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science (2021), shared under a CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO license.

Observation 2: Enthusiasm for the role science communication can play

Even though not everyone seemed aware of the details of Open Science, poster visitors appeared to recognize (or believe in) shared values and goals that drive the scicom and Open Science communities.

Did respondents see a link between Open Science and scicom? The answer to this question was a resounding ‘yes’ – and interestingly, even more of a ‘yes’ than respondents’ confidence in their knowledge of Open Science in the first place. Furthermore, a large majority of respondents indicated they knew someone involved in Open Science, often citing the researchers they work with.

Future importance

We later on asked respondents whether scicom is currently important to specific Open Science topics (see below) and whether it should become important in the future. As it turns out, the individual Open Science topics aren’t well known (yet). Quite a few respondents picked ‘no idea’ despite having expressed confidence in their Open Science knowledge at the start of the session.

Of the five specific Open Science topics we prompted – open scholarly communications, FAIR data and software, scientific evaluation, citizen science and societal engagement in the broader sense – open scholarly communications received the most ‘no idea’ votes, followed by FAIR data and software.

The second point of interest is that scicom was overwhelmingly voted important for the future of every single topic. Even though people who chose to visit our poster obviously had an interest in Open Science, and there likely was a bit of peer pressure from other people’s input going on, we were still surprised. We would love to hear your ideas about this!

So, what's our point?

Although we won’t generalize based on our poster experience, we are excited to see that the topic of Open Science is starting to attract attention in the scicom community. It’s great that the people who visited our poster – on the National Science Communication Day! – embraced the connection to Open Science unequivocally and in some cases purely instinctively.

We should use this positive energy to kickstart the collaboration between the Open Science and scicom communities. In doing so, it’s important to level the playing field and ensure that everyone participating in the discussion has the same thing in mind when talking about ‘Open Science’. The same holds true for the Open Science community when talking about science communication and public engagement. This does not yet seem to be the case, and we think that it could prevent us from truly collaborating.

Join the discussion!

SciCom NL is in close contact with the Dutch Citizen Science community of the Dutch National Program Open Science (NPOS) and the team behind the Open Scholarly Communications action line of NPOS. They kindly allowed us to bring one of their case studies to our poster session.

We are happy that we started to grow closer together as communities and that we can continue talking about the connection between scicom, citizen science and Open Science. You're warmly invited to join the discussion.

Do you feel inspired? And do you want to participate in the discussion on how to bring the Open Science and scicom communities together? Leave your e-mail address via this form and we’ll keep you posted about a follow-up session.

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