Open Science Colloquium 31 July 2020

The Open Science Colloquium was held in July 2020 with the theme: “Implications of Open Science for the South African Higher Education landscape”.  This Colloquium arose from discussions of Universities South Africa’s Research & Innovation Strategy Group (RISG). The RISG holds a research and innovation (R&I) dialogue every two years, the purpose of which, is to explore important issues to the higher education sector in the R&I space. The deliberations of this Colloquium would feed into the next Dialogue event.

The contributors at the Colloquium included Dr Sagren Moodley; Director for Basic Sciences, Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) who gave the keynote presentation titled: South African Open Science Developments. Respondents and participants included: Dr Di Parker, then Deputy Director-General: Universities Education in the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET); Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, at that time the University of the Witwatersrand’s Vice-Chancellor Designate; and Dr Gansen Pillay Deputy CEO at the National Research Foundation responsible for Research and Innovation Support and Advancement (RISA).

Professor Ahmed Bawa CEO of Universities South Africa (USAf), chaired the Colloquium and made the opening and closing statements on the day, and pointed to important factors to keep in mind during the day’s deliberations. On policy consonance, he noted that some policies drove protection of intellectual property while Open Science had a different approach. It was important to ensure that policies governing this subject spoke to one another and were built into a system that allowed Open Science to flourish.

Dr Moodley gave a slide presentation that focused on the DSI’s Open Science Policy development process but also Open Science more broadly in South Africa.

He defined Open Science as collaborative, transparent and reproducible research studies and data,  the outputs of which, were publicly available. Dr Moodley went on to explain how this definition reaffirmed that science is a global public good; is transformative in that it promotes approaches that are open, verifiable and subject to public scrutiny and critique.

Discussions and feedback from the remaining panellists stated the need for better connections between Open Science and societal needs. Open Science is aimed at maximising the benefits of science for society and is important to the engagement of society with science. Some of the components of Open Science that were highlighted included citizen science and open access, educational resources, data, source, hardware, evaluation, and, very importantly, infrastructures.

Previous Open Science workshops, held in 2017 and 2018, were funded with the assistance of the SA-EU Dialogue Facility. They had culminated in the development of a South African Open Science Framework which provided principles and guidelines for the institutionalisation of Open Science in the country. An Open Science Framework was approved by the DSI Exco in January 2019 and it covered issues of advice and coordination, policy and regulatory changes, governance and management of publicly funded research organisations, monitoring and evaluation, finance, and human resource development of policy. The Exco approved that the DSI proceed with two key recommendations made in the framework:

  1. the establishment of an Open Science Advisory Board (OSAB) as an independent, stakeholder-driven mechanism for raising and addressing issues of concern for the South African research community, and
  2. the development of a South African open science policy

Dr Moodley went on to share the key elements of the Open Science Framework (refer to his presentation for details).   He concluded his presentation with a bird’s eye view of the key deliverables of the Open Science policy development process in 2020/21 and 2021/22.

The various colloquium attendees expressed their keenness in supporting the Open Science movement while noting some obstacles and barriers that would need to be tackled. These include policy development, resource sharing, a spearhead body (namely the Open Science Advisory Board), funding initiatives and the maximisation of science benefits and scientific infrastructure for the SA society.

The meeting was concluded with statements from USAf’s CEO Professor Ahmed Bawa, stating that the DHET, DSI and NRF (National Research Foundation) should give some thought to research projects on Open Science to feed into a policy process. USAf could also consider funding research initiatives and approaches to build a research base for policy interventions that are taking place.

The conference draft report, programmes, the Joint Final Statement of the SA-EU Dialogue on Open Science document, and SA-EU Open Science Dialogue Report from October 2018 are hyperlinked below.

Open Science Joint Statement pamphlet