UNESCO Agrees Open Science Recommendation – Implications for Libraries
28 November 2021
During its General Conference, held on 9-24 November, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) agreed a new Recommendation on Open Science.
Following up on its Recommendations on Open Educational Resources (2019) and on Science and Scientific Researchers (2017), this new document aims to provide a new energy and direction to work around open science around the world.
As key actors in ensuring the success of Open Science (and recognised as such in the Recommendation), this is a useful document for libraries, both in their practice and their advocacy. We are glad to see views shared by IFLA, during the preparation process, incorporated into the final document, and are grateful to the volunteers who provided these.
An inclusive definition
UNESCO has agreed the following definition of Open Science: ‘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. It comprises all scientific disciplines and aspects of scholarly practices, including basic and applied sciences, natural and social sciences and the humanities, and it builds on the following key pillars: open scientific knowledge, open science infrastructures, science communication, open engagement of societal actors and open dialogue with other knowledge systems’.
Through this, it makes clear that openness needs to be about far more than just publications, and extend to the way of doing science itself, across disciplines. These principles, it argues, should apply to all research, not only that funded from public sources.
It also makes clear that openness is not just about access, but also about re-use, allowing people to build on existing ideas and work to create new insights.
Importantly, the Recommendation stresses how important the long-term preservation of open science outputs, as well as their curation in order to facilitate discoverability is. It recognises strongly the role of repositories (often run by libraries), as well as libraries themselves, in achieving the Recommendation’s goals.
The importance of inclusiveness
Throughout the Recommendation, there is also a strong emphasis on the need to ensure that Open Science works for all, both in terms of supporting wider development (not least the Sustainable Development Goals), but that the insights and interests of all people can be reflected. In particular, it highlights the connection between promoting Open Science, and the human rights of freedom of access to information and freedom of expression, and the right to science (Articles 19 and 27 respectively of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
This takes place not just through ensuring access without unnecessary restrictions, but also in ensuring that funding models and other factors do not serve to exclude any groups, while also taking full account of the interests of indigenous groups in particular. The need to build bridges with indigenous knowledge systems appears a number of times.
As a further pillar of inclusiveness, the Recommendation stresses the value of ensuring that openness leads to greater citizen engagement, as well as more effective connections into policy-making.
Finally, the need to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach becomes clear; while the agreement of the Recommendation underlines a global consensus around the importance of achieving Open Science within key parameters, it recognises that the paths towards achieving it may vary depending on circumstances. This is seen as supporting efforts to achieve bibliodiversity and multilingualism in particular.
Delivering the public interest
As already highlighted, the Recommendation sets out the integral connection between Open Science and sustainable development from the start. It stresses clearly the value of collaborations and inclusion in accelerating progress in this sense.
Interestingly, there is a clear statement of promoting education and research exceptions to copyright that enable the distribution and re-use of works (while of course giving attribution to the author).
In particular, there is also a warning around leaving too dominant a role to the private sector, and rather promoting community ownership. The Recommendation warns about ‘vendor lock-in, predatory behaviour and unfair and/or inequitable extraction of profit from publicly funded scientific activities’ (including through high Article Processing Charges), as well as ensuring ‘that the market for services, relating to science and open science, functions in the global and public interest and without market dominance on the part of any commercial entity’.
What implications for libraries?
So what does this mean for libraries? First of all, there is the welcome recognition of the role and contribution of librarians in advancing towards achieving Open Science. This is not just through the explicit reference that there is, but also tasks which usually fall to libraries or library-related organisations to carry out, such as preservation.
Secondly, there is the call on governments, institutions, and funders alike to work on their own strategies and statements, in order to reinforce the message from UNESCO, while also adapting to local circumstances. Libraries are well placed to engage in the preparation of such documents, where they have not already done so.
Third, the Recommendation’s clear points about copyright exceptions, as well as the need to watch out for and counter market failures can support wider library advocacy. So too can the recommendation to increase research finding and investment in Open Science infrastructure.
Fourth, there is the strong recognition of the importance of repositories is welcome, as well as the emphasis on ensuring that these are interoperable – an area where the library field has a significant and growing expertise.
We therefore encourage you to take a look at the Recommendation, and think how you can use it in your own planning and advocacy.