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Nature article looks at consortia as a key to kickstarting open science


Note: RENCI has a successful track record in launching and sustaining consortia, including the iRODS Consortium and the National Consortium for Data Science. Now, a team of multidisciplinary, multi-institutional scientists has collected evidence showing consortia work as mechanisms that facilitate open science and data sharing. To read the full Nature article about the about their findings, click here.

Sharing research data, models and software to improve scientific reproducibility is becoming easier, however, changing the entrenched practices of the scientific community is a harder nut to crack.

In an article published March 30 in Nature, members of the Stakeholder Alignment Collaborative, including RENCI Senior Data Scientist Chris Lenhardt, point out that science, like most established institutions, finds change difficult to implement even when that change is positive. Open sharing of data and other resources, for example, can speed up the process of scientific discovery and enable discoveries to be more quickly translated into better products, treatments for diseases, and solutions to intractable problems.

Scientific consortia offer one way to fight the inertia of the scientific establishment, according to the article. The Stakeholder Alignment Collaborative, a group whose members include researchers with varied backgrounds from multiple institutions, studied more than 50 consortia, including more than a dozen involved in data sharing, to determine their effectiveness in catalyzing open science. They found that when consortia work well, they can accomplish what individual scientists cannot do alone. The article summarizes what the collaborative learned from their field work into five examples of how to foster build effective consortia for open science:

  • Build out from the middle. Top-down and bottom-up initiatives are not always effective. Cross-cutting entities such as professional societies or consortia can bridge the gap between leadership and working scientists.
  • Forge a shared vision. Get your stakeholders to clearly express their goals and build consensus.
  • Accommodate diverse, changing interests. Understand competing stakeholder interests and that needs change over time. Adjust your shared vision as needed.
  • Multiply impacts. Allow new coalitions or consortia to devise and formalize new ground rules and procedures that lead to more open science.
  • Co-evolve. Be flexible enough to adapt to the changing social, technical and practical needs of your stakeholders.

The bottom line: Implementing the technical infrastructure and the social changes needed to allow easy scientific collaboration and data sharing takes more than simply issuing directives or engaging in wishful thinking. The Stakeholder Alignment Collaborative has ideas on how consortia can help.

—Karen Green