OpenCon 2014: Empowering the next generation of researchers to advocate for openness


Access to information is a problem in many parts of the world. A huge portion of the academic literature is locked behind paywalls that many people cannot get past due to restrictive costs. This is what it looks like from the outside:

Credit: John R. McKiernan
Paywalls restrict access to information. Credit: John R. McKiernan

Lack of access to information impedes learning, stifles innovation, and slows scientific progress. It should not be hard for researchers to see why making their work open is so important. But they simply do not do it. Why?  Many researchers have grown up, academically speaking, in environments that do not encourage them to share. They have been told – either implicitly through university evaluation and incentive systems, or explicitly by colleagues and mentors – that being open with their work is incompatible with being successful. We need to quash this idea and usher in a new era of open everything in academia – open access to the literature, open educational resources, open data, open science. And who better to usher in this new era than the next generation of researchers?

This is the idea behind OpenCon 2014, the Student and Early Career Researcher Conference on Open Access, Open Education and Open Data. The conference was officially announced yesterday and will be held November 15-17, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Here are some excerpts from the press release:

…the event will bring together students and early career researchers from across the world to learn about the issues, develop critical skills, and return home ready to catalyze action toward a more open system for sharing the world’s information — from scholarly and scientific research, to educational materials, to digital data.

“From Nigeria to Norway, the next generation is beginning to take ownership of the system of scholarly communication which they will inherit,” said Nick Shockey, founding Director of the Right to Research Coalition. “OpenCon 2014 will support and accelerate this rapidly growing movement of students and early career researchers advocating for openness in research literature, education, and data.”

“To be successful, our community must put the next generation at the core of what we do to promote openness in research outputs,” said Heather Joseph, Executive Director of SPARC (The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition). “We are eager to partner with others in the community to support and catalyze student and early career researcher involvement across the Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data movements through the OpenCon meeting.”

I am honored and excited to be part of the OpenCon 2014 organizing committee, which includes students and early career researchers from all over the world who are  passionate advocates for all things open. The planning discussions to date have been excellent, and I have no doubt the conference will be too. I know there are other committee members who feel the same way!

I hope you’ll join us in supporting this conference and its mission to empower the next generation of researchers to advocate for openness. Support can come in many forms. First and foremost, please help us spread the word – talk to colleagues at your institutions, contact that student who you think would be a great applicant, reach out to your professional organizations, follow OpenCon on Twitter (@open_con) and share information on dates and deadlines. We want to make this a truly international event, with participants from all over the world bringing unique perspectives and knowledge of the challenges specific to accessing information in their countries. Your contact networks can help us do this. Second, if you are in the position to do so, please help a student or early career researcher by sponsoring their travel. There are also many sponsorship opportunities available for larger groups and organizations to get involved.

Culture change is desperately needed in academia, especially with respect to attitudes on sharing research. I believe that OpenCon 2014 will be a major catalyst in helping us to accomplish this change so that one day, sharing will be the norm.


2 thoughts on “OpenCon 2014: Empowering the next generation of researchers to advocate for openness

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  1. Great idea for a conference. I really hope it goes well. What you say about needing a culture change is so true – in my experience it sometimes isn’t an overt dislike of open access, maybe more of an ignorance about how important it is to those outside of rich universities that can afford the subscriptions. That’s especially stark where I am based now, in Mozambique, where there just aren’t funds to buy subscriptions to the paywalled journals. Sure there are multiple organisations, such as INASP, that seek to grant African universities access to some of the paywalled journals but it’s not a sustainable solution.
    Good luck! I’ll be following it on Twitter.

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