UNESCO Weighs In On Open Science

The newly released draft Recommendation on Open Science by UNESCO is an important milestone towards establishing a global policy for openness in scientific research and dissemination of results.

UNESCO have submitted a draft Recommendation on Open Science to its 193 Member States. The recommendation complements the 2017 Recommendation on Science and Scientific Research and builds upon the UNESCO Strategy on Open Access to Scientific Information and Research and the new UNESCO Recommendation on Open Educational Resources.

UNESCO Recommendations are legal instruments in which “the General Conference formulates principles and norms for the international regulation of any particular question and invites Member States to take whatever legislative or other steps may be required in conformity with the constitutional practice of each State and the nature of the question under consideration to apply the principles and norms aforesaid within their respective territories”. Emanating from the Organization's supreme governing body and hence possessing great authority, recommendations are intended to influence the development of national laws and practices.

The roadmap for the recommendation began at the 40th General Conference of UNESCO in November 2019. The following month, a partnership for Open Science was established that brought together international science academies, universities, young researchers, libraries and publishers.

The Organization also mandated an Advisory Committee of 30 experts from all over the world to prepare the preliminary draft following global consultations with experts, members of the public, nongovernmental organizations and agencies of the United Nations. This extensive global consultation culminated with the September 2020 draft recommendation, which EIFL calls "a milestone in facilitating international cooperation and universal access to scientific knowledge."It further states that the recommendation proposes "a set of actions conducive to a fair and equitable open science transition at individual, institutiona, national, regional and international levels" and notes that the definition of open science includes open access, open data, open source, open educational resources, and other instances of openness. EIFL's Iryna Kuchma was one of 30 experts appointed by the Director-General of UNESCO to serive on the advisory committee. 

Fred Fenter, executive editor at academic publisher Frontiers, commented "This is a timely and refreshing call for open, inclusive and collaborative science from UNESCO, WHO and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Today, as a second wave of coronavirus takes hold, we welcome this calm and firm call back to principles and vision of open science, the benefits of which have become abundantly clear – as have the shortcomings of locking scientific knowledge behind expensive paywalls. The short-term suspension of barriers to some areas of research during the pandemic has been helpful, but also teaches us how we could have benefited from open-science practices within the research-innovation cycle. Indeed, we should not need to wait for a societal system breakdown before seeking out, as an international community, a sustainable solution to enabling lasting progress through universal and free access to scientific research".

The draft recommendation reflects the diversity of perspectives and takes into account the many challenges that the global scientific community faces, along with regional issues, particularly in Africa. Open Science, according to the recommendation, has revolutionary potential and could decrease not only digital divides but also gender, technology and knowledge gaps. Transitioning to Open Science is viewed as necessary and requires a shift in scientific culture from competition to collaboration without losing sight of the ethics of the scientific processes.

The draft also proposes a definition of Open Science, its objectives, a framework of shared values and principles, as well as an analysis of work that needs to be done before societies an benefit from the vast potential of Open Science, including indigenous knowledge systems. UNESCO’s Member States are scheduled to adopt the final draft during their next General Conference in November 2021.

Comments on the recommendation should be directed to openscience@unesco.org.