The benefits of Open science are not inevitable: monitoring its development should be value-led

The benefits of Open science are not inevitable: monitoring its development should be value-led

Open science is increasingly becoming a policy focus and paradigm for all scientific research. Ismael Rafols, Ingeborg Meijer and Jordi Molas-Gallart argue that attempts to monitor the transition to open science should be informed by the values underpinning this change, rather than discrete indicators of open science practices.

Following a flurry of policies and investments in Open Science (OS), there are currently a wave of efforts to monitor the expected progress: OS monitors at the European and national levels (see France and Finland), a monitor of the European Open Science Cloud, and various European Commission projects, for example looking into indicators for research assessment (Opus) and impacts of OS (PathOS). UNESCO is also striving to monitor the implementation of its OS Recommendation, which includes an explicit commitment to the values and principles for science to be a global public good.

Yet monitoring Open Science is proving difficult. OS is an umbrella term (or as some say a mushroom!) referring to a diverse constellation of practices and expectations, from open access (OA) publishing, to citizen engagement (see Fig. 1). A quick look at policy documents reveals striking diversity and ambiguity in the focus and scope of OS initiatives. Different stakeholders emphasise different goals: increasing accessibility or efficiency, fostering flows across academic silos, engaging non-academics, democratising science within and across countries… this multiplicity of activities and ambivalence of goals, makes monitoring extremely complex.

Fig.1: A mushroom illustrating the diversity of activities included within Open Science. Source: OpenAire (based on Eva Méndez).

We argue efforts to monitor open science should focus on shedding light on which and how the various strands of open science are making progress and what their respective effects and impacts are. In other words, we shouldn’t monitor whether there is more or less open science, but what types of OS are developed and adopted, by whom, and with what consequences. This means monitoring should include not just the diversity of OS channels (the supply side), but also the multiplicity of usages and outcomes (the demand side).

we shouldn’t monitor whether there is more or less open science, but what types of OS are developed and adopted, by whom, and with what consequences.

To achieve this requires a focus on open science ‘trajectories’. Similar to how monitoring the ‘colours’ of open access aids understanding of both OA development and who benefits from it, it is essential to understand the trajectory of both OS in practice and whether it is making, or not making, science more equitable and responsive to global needs. For example the way in which some open access investments in rich countries, such as transformative publishing agreements, may result in less equitable outcomes in access to publishing services for other countries. More open science does not always lead to better outcomes.

New models of science require new monitoring frameworks

Monitoring and evaluation frameworks draw on theoretical models of how science and science policy works. After the WWII the so-called ‘linear model’ assumed that science contributed to human development by supporting technology and thus innovation. Since this model assumed a linear relationship, it was monitored by input-output indicators, as illustrated in the OECD Frascati Manual.

In the 1980s, it became apparent that countries like Japan succeeded at innovation without having the largest or best scientific inputs. Innovation was achieved through fluid interactions of companies with researchers and other stakeholders. This led to the development of the policy model of ‘innovation systems’ and its associated monitoring frameworks, for example the OECD’s Oslo Manual or the European Innovation Scoreboard.

In the last 30 years we have witnessed how more innovation does not always lead to increases in well-being.

In the last 30 years we have witnessed how more innovation does not always lead to increases in well-being. While many innovations have improved people’s livelihoods, other innovations have led to negative consequences. This new understanding of science gave birth to a third science policy model, known as transformative innovation policies. According to this model, science policies should aim to direct research and innovation towards ‘good ends’, as described for example by the sustainable development goals (SDGs). As a result, a new generation of evaluation frameworks is being developed.

The principles of these new monitoring efforts can be useful for thinking how to monitor open science. Under conditions of high uncertainty, epistemic diversity and pluralism which are characteristic of transformative innovation policies, three strategies are highlighted:

  • Learning: fostering reflection and self-assessments as transformation of science unfolds.
  • Directionality: mapping the trajectories or directions pursued across the various dimensions observed
  • Outcomes: focusing on effects and outcomes in the beneficiaries of initiatives, in addition to the more traditional monitoring of outputs (science supply).

Monitoring open science as a systemic transformation: learning, directionally and outcomes

Science is currently undergoing a transformation that is driven in part by the revolution in communication technologies and artificial intelligence, in part by a more fluid and more problematic interaction between science and society. This is a response to the contribution of science to harmful innovations and a willingness to redirect research towards well-being and sustainable development goals.

This transformation has led to policy developments such as Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), research integrity, public engagement, evaluation reform and research for SDGs – which overlap with OS. We can think of this constellation as part of the last (third) science policy model, which aims to transform research systems in order to respond to societal demands and needs.

If open science is understood as not just an optimisation by improving information flows, but as part of a wider transformation, comparable to how scientific journals changed the social and technological basis of science in the 17th century, then it would be wise to adopt a monitoring framework that captures various aspects of the change. Monitoring should therefore include the effects and broader social implications, especially those relevant to the values and principles as expressed in the UNESCO OS Recommendation (Fig.2).

1692012598 254 The benefits of Open science are not inevitable monitoring its | lifefromnature

Fig.2: The values and principles of Open Science according to the UNESCO Recommendation. Source: UNESCO (2021).

Let us apply three insights from transformative innovation evaluation to OS monitoring.

Learning: Monitoring should be designed with a formative framework that supports learning and strategic decision-making – ‘opening-up’ in terms of policy options. This means that it should not concentrate on a few ‘Key Performance Indicators’, as is the case in monitoring programmes with narrowly defined dimensions of success. Instead, it should be pluralistic, embracing multiple dimensions and be flexible for its application in a variety of contexts.

Directionality: Monitoring should capture the trajectories of open science within and across the dimensions considered. This means looking into the various options and the implications for the effects of a given OS activity. For example, some routes to OA (such as gold or hybrid) may have potential implications in terms of equity (excluding some communities from publishing), integrity (effect of APCs in the reviewing process) and collective benefits of science (making some topics with resources more visible). Similarly, in Open Data (OD), both the FAIR and the CARE principles of data are highly relevant, as they have effects on who can use and benefit from the research outcomes.

Outcomes: Given that science is a complex system, policies can lead to unexpected and undesirable outcomes. Therefore, not only the outputs, but also the uses and effects of OS need to be monitored. This means broadening the focus of monitoring from outputs (what is done to support OS) towards activities that tell if OS is making a difference. What are the uses OA publications outside of academia? How is Open Data re-used and by whom? How much participation is there in a given university? How does public engagement influence research agendas in a given field? To answer these questions about usages and effects and usages of OS, we believe that it will be necessary to conduct interviews first and surveys later, following the same path as the OECD in the Oslo Manual and the project SuperMoRRI on indicators for RRI.

Monitoring if open science lives up to its ideals

Open science holds promise as a process of transformation, but the relationship between OS activities and the values it espouses are not inevitable. The promises of modern science have rarely been kept and have instead often led to unanticipated and troubling consequences, from nuclear energy to the internet. The question is not whether there is more or less open science, but what type of open science we are making. Monitoring OS should be aimed at reflective learning if OS activities are to take directions that transform science towards desired outcomes, towards a more inclusive and sustainable future.


This blog is based on a draft paper and presentation in the 2023 Eu-SPRI conference. A special session of the 2023 S&T Indicators Conference will continue this discussion.

The content generated on this blog is for information purposes only. This Article gives the views and opinions of the authors and does not reflect the views and opinions of the Impact of Social Science blog (the blog), nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Please review our comments policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

Image Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash.

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