4 min read

What's bringing open science together?

Looking back at CZI’s 2024 Open Science Meeting

Beth, Dan, and Jonah recently attended the CZI Open Science 2024 meeting in Boston, MA, where a diverse group of open science practitioners shared insights on a variety of topics—challenges they face in building and sustaining open science tools, successes their projects and platforms have generated, and the policy changes driving (or inhibiting) open science, to name a few.  Jonah was also able to attend a bonus event for grantees in CZI’s sixth cycle of the Essential Open Source Software (EOSS) program, which supports scientific software projects with funding, resources, and a community to engage with. The projects being funded in EOSS 6 are going to be announced soon and range from bioinformatics software, to Python array packages, to open medical records, to imaging and neuroimaging tools. Keep an eye out for those, and we’re really excited that OrgMycology will be facilitating community calls for EOSS grantees past and present.

The bigger picture: Why did this group come together? 

Beyond the awesome conversations and connections (old and new!) that we made, all three of us came away thinking about the bigger picture. What exactly motivates these individuals and groups to transcend their usual scientific disciplines, computing languages, geographic regions, and levels of experience to come together? What can we learn about the broader open science ecosystem by taking a closer look at the types of conversations these participants were having and the information they were sharing? And how does this diversity of interests and experiences both benefit and challenge the open science community?

We started asking ourselves these questions after realizing that the meeting—and CZI’s Open Science program in general—had a much larger blast radius than CZI’s explicit focus on human health and biomedicine. We met folks who were developing geospatial software, building platforms to change the way scientific peer review and publishing are done, and providing guidance to governments on the benefits of open science. 

A snapshot of the CZI EOSS program*

💰 Over $50 million invested in open source projects 

📊 Over 50% of projects are building technical tooling and data
management workflows that are not biomedical-specific

📄 Over 50% of projects report producing community resources and
documentation as core outputs

🗂️ The vast majority of projects identified project management
capabilities as a high priority need (e.g., governance, sustainability,
managing contributors, and building inclusive communities)

*Look for a report from CZI in July with more specifics and data!

The list of impressive work goes on and on. Yet the conversations flowed smoothly, at least from where we were “sitting” (acknowledging that we have identity privileges that others may not), and tended to be at a level of detail that everybody in the room could engage without feeling out of their depth.

In light of this, we started to take a look at themes in the topics that emerged both as planned talks/discussions and organically over lunch or during breakouts. Some of these topics included:

  • Infrastructure: What are the “roads and bridges” needed for open science to move forward? Who is responsible for funding, building, maintaining, and governing the use of these infrastructures, and what challenges do they face? What exactly is an infrastructure in the first place? How do we develop models for the essential long-term maintenance for this kind of infrastructure?
  • Project Leadership: What are the phases of project development in open science? How do projects get started on solving a problem, when do they decide to scale (or not scale), and what unforeseen challenges arise as the project matures? What does it look like to build a healthy, productive community of volunteers, paid workers, supporters, users, and other stakeholders? Where do open science leaders learn the skills needed to be a leader?
  • Funding and Sustainability: What does the ecosystem of funders look like for supporting open science? Which areas have each of these funders moved forward? How can funders combine their resources and power to make even further progress in open science?
  • Science/Technology Agnosticism: Why is it that people in open science can have conversations that transcend any one technology or scientific discipline? What were the conditions at the meeting and other open science spaces that allowed this transcendence to occur? How can such interactions lead to work in geospatial software benefitting a seemingly unrelated set of work in machine learning?
  • Intellectual Property, Privacy, Safety, and Other Legal/Ethical Concerns: How do open science projects navigate the messy (and continually-shifting) landscape of legal and ethical concerns? Whose role is it to keep up-to-date on these concerns and ensure that a project remains compliant with legal guidelines and ethical principles?
  • Open Science and Careers: Open science practitioners face somewhat unique career challenges, especially when open source software development, community-building, or advancing scientific communication are not valued in their institutions or disciplines. How do practitioners counterbalance this challenge? What tools, techniques, and ways of engaging with administrators and other decision-makers have worked? How do these challenges evolve over the course of one’s career?

The discussions around these topics at the CZI meeting were far from boring or disengaging; rather, as we all dove into them throughout the week, we sensed an eagerness for connection to others who face similar challenges and an appetite for new ideas in how to address them. The prevailing sentiment was that as the community develops solutions to these problems, they should be shared openly and considered a community resource. 

Open resources to support open science: The alphabet of science…?

It’s perhaps not surprising that openness was a virtue, given that it was a room full of open science practitioners; however, what was surprising were the parallels drawn to other systems and sets of resources. As one attendee put it, the folks in the room are working on developing an “alphabet of science”—a way of communicating and working that is free and openly available for all with very little explicit barrier to entry. (This of course is not entirely true—those with inadequate access to education do not enjoy the same benefits of the alphabet or other open knowledge systems in the same way as those who do have access).

By working toward this ideal—that resources for doing open science, whether technical (e.g., software) or social (e.g., leadership training) should be openly available—we can create a scientific environment that pushes frontiers while inviting a wider variety of people to participate. And while there have been challenges along the way, progress is happening. New federal agency data sharing policies, for example, are making continued funding contingent upon open science practices. Funders are supporting the open building blocks of science with greater frequency and consistency. Academic institutions are building new structures, such as Open Source Program Offices (OSPOs), to better support open science work and those who do it. We are excited to see how open science continues to evolve and eager to find even more ways that we at OrgMycology can support this progress.

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