Open access to scientific information is one of the driving forces of efficient science and innovation. In fact, it might be the most important one, considering the pervasive continuity in the scientific research. Inherently, science and innovation are a collaborative enterprise of the collective mind of humanity. This pattern of building on previous discoveries was recognized a long time ago by many esteemed scientists of the age gone by. The importance of sharing information was underscored by Isaac Newton, who famously proclaimed in one of his letters, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

More than three centuries later, “Open Access” of the scientific production means that knowledge is shared online and thus becomes of public domain. Open Access now also functions as a key strategy of the European Commission, shaping a policy for Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), while contributing to the realization of the European Research Area and the Innovation Union. Nowadays, there are two main ways to publish scientific content in open access: using a Gold Open Access route (publishing in Open Access journals), or a Green Open Access route (or self-archiving: uploading to an e-Repository what has been published in a journal). More information can be found in these Guidelines on Open Access to Scientific Publications and Research Data in Horizon 2020.

While fulfilling all of its potential is a long term effort, Open Access is beginning to protrude (sometimes only grudgingly) the modus operandi of many institutions. When it comes to teaching RRI at Higher Education Institutions (HEI), which is the essence of the HEIRRI project, Open Access stands for one of the guiding principles, the project consortium intends to reflect on in the training materials to be designed. It would be hard to imagine a lesser goal than designing teaching and training RRI materials, which are eventually openly shared with and available to every university. And yet, this is precisely what needs to happen should we streamline our efforts in tackling the issues we face.

Needless to say this reality is fully recognized by the pioneering practitioners of RRI at HEI. Professor Jacqueline Broerse, an RRI trailblazer at the Vrije University Amsterdam, shared some of her viewpoints on Open Access at the HEIRRI Conference in Barcelona. According to her views, Open Access should not only represent an open and transparent treatment of information, it should become a practice of tailoring the information to the needs of the myriad stakeholders in order to enable their engagement in the process of use, application and interaction with science.

Fortunately, we already have a lot to work with. Various databases in existence form a vast body of knowledge and best practice on RRI and, to some extent, also its integration into HEI. Whether it is the recently launched RRI Toolkit or long-lasting GenPORT or any other platform, they are all importing stepping stones furthering our pursuit of open science and innovation. The HEIRRI project is going to consolidate the knowledge and hone in on RRI in HEI.

Having such access is unprecedented in human history and we are now uniquely positioned to embark on, for instance, “user innovation”, which was touched upon by emeritus Professor John Goddard, from the University of Newcastle, in his speech at the HEIRRI Conference as one of the vital elements in achieving sustainability.

Open Access can contribute to this because it increases the visibility of the scientific knowledge published, it guarantees the collection and conservation of research results, and it improves the institutional positioning of the centres involved in such research.

At the end of the day, one thing is axiomatic; having RRI successfully embedded in the mind-set starts with those involved in scientific inquiry and ends with the users of the scientific knowledge and its outcomes. Only if we work together and starting at early stages of education, can we make the strategy of the Open a reality and aspire to a sustainable lifestyle.

How do you think Open Access can contribute to a more democratic scientific culture?

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[1] Open access logo authorship: PLoS (www.plos.org)