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Open Research Data Handbook Sprint

- January 17, 2013 in Events, Featured, Open Data, Open Economics, Open Research, Sprint

On February 15-16, the Open Research Data Handbook Sprint will happen at the Open Data Institute, 65 Clifton Street, London EC2A 4JE.

The Open Research Data Handbook aims to provide an introduction to the processes, tools and other areas that researchers need to consider to make their research data openly available.

Join us for a book sprint to develop the current draft, and explore ways to remix it for different disciplines and contexts.

Who it is for:

  • Researchers interested in carrying out their work in more open ways
  • Experts on sharing research and research data
  • Writers and copy editors
  • Web developers and designers to help present the handbook online
  • Anyone else interested in taking part in an intense and collaborative weekend of action

Register at Eventbrite

What will happen:

The main sprint will take place on Friday and Saturday. After initial discussions we’ll divide into open space groups to focus on research, writing and editing for different chapters of the handbook, developing a range of content including How To guidance, stories of impact, collections of links and decision tools.

A group will also look at digital tools for presenting the handbook online, including ways to easily tag content for different audiences and remix the guide for different contexts.

Agenda:

Week before & after:

  • Calling for online contributions and reviews

Friday:

  • 12.00 – 14:00: Seminar or bring your own lunch on open research data
  • 14:00 – 17:30: planning and initial work in the handbook in small teams

Saturday:

  • 10.00 – 10:30: Arrive and coffee
  • 10.30 – 11.30: Introducing open research – lightning talks
  • 11.30 – 13:30: Forming teams and starting sprint. Groups on:
    • Writing chapters
    • Decision tools
    • Building website & framework for book
    • Remixing guide for particular contexts
  • 13.30 – 14:30: Lunch
  • 14.30 – 16:30: Working in teams
  • 17.30 – 18:30: Report back
  • 18:30 – …… : Pub

Partners:

OKF Open Science Working Group – creators of the current Open Research Data Handbook
OKF Open Economic Working Group – exploring economics aspects of open research
Open Data Research Network – exploring a remix of the handbook to support open social science
research in a new global research network, focussed on research in the Global South.
Open Data Institute – hosting the event

Economics & Coordinating the Crowd

- December 20, 2012 in Crowd-sourcing, Featured, Open Innovation

This blog post is written by Ayeh Bandeh-Ahmadi, PhD candidate at the Department of Economics, University of Maryland.

Group designed by Amar Chadgar from the Noun Project

This past spring, I spent a few months at the crowdfunding company Kickstarter, studying a number of aspects of the firm from what makes some projects succeed while others fail, preferences among backers, predictors of fraud, and market differences across geography and categories. I uncovered some fascinating tidbits through my research, but what stands out the most is just how much more challenging it is to run an effective crowdfunding service than you might think. For everything that has been written about crowdfunding’s great promise (Tim O’Reilly tweeted back in February “Seems to me that Kickstarter is the most important tech company since facebook. Maybe more important in the long run.”), its ability to deliver on fantastic and heretofore unachievable outcomes ultimately hinges on getting communities of people onto the same page about each other’s goals and expectations. In that regard, crowdfunding is all about overcoming a longstanding information problem, just like any other crowdguided system, and it offers some great lessons about both existing and missing tools for yielding better outcomes from crowdsourced science to the development of open knowledge repositories.

What is both compelling and defining amongst crowdguided systems — from prediction markets, the question and answer site Quora, to crowdsourced science and funding platforms like Kickstarter, MedStartr and IndieGogo — is their ability to coordinate improvements in social welfare that were practically impossible before. The idea is that if we could combine efforts with the right collection of other individuals who have compatible goals and access to complimentary resources to ours, then we could achieve outcomes that previously or on our own might be impossible. In the case of crowdfunding, these resources might be largely financial, whereas in the case of crowdsourcing, they might involve time and other resources like computing power and expertise. In both cases, the promise of crowdguided approaches are their ability to arrive at pareto-improvements to outcomes (economists’ way of describing scenarios where some are better off but no one is worse off). Achieving those outcome improvements that were impossible under traditional institutions also requires coordination mechanisms that improve bandwidth for processing information, incentives, preferences, and resources across the community.

Crowdguided systems often improve coordination by providing:

  • opportunities for identifying meaningful problems with particularly high value to the community. Identifying communal values helps develop clearer definitions of relevant communities and important metrics for evaluating progress towards goals.
  • opportunities for individuals to learn from others’ knowledge and experience. Under the right conditions, this can lead to more information and wisdom than any few individuals could collectively arrive at.
  • opportunities for whole communities to coordinate allocation of effort, financing and other resources to maximize collective outcomes. Coordinating each person’s contribution can result in achieving the same or better outcomes with less duplication of effort.

There are some great lessons to take from crowdfunding when it comes to building community, thinking about coordination mechanisms, and designing better tools for sharing information.


A major part of Kickstarter’s success comes from its founders’ ability to bring together the creative community they have long been members of around projects the community particularly values. Despite the fact that technology projects like the Pebble watch and Ouya videogame controller receive a great deal of press and typically the largest funding, they still account for a smaller fraction of funding and backings than music or film, in large part a reflection of the site’s strength in its core creative community. It helps that projects that draw from a likeminded community have a built-in sense of trust, reputation and respect. Kickstarter further accomplishes a sense of community amongst backers of each project through facilitating meaningful rewards. By offering to share credit, methodology, the final product itself, and/or opportunities to weigh in on the design and execution of a project, the most thoughtful project creators help to align backers’ incentives with their own. In the case of crowdfunding, this often means incentivizing backers to spread the word via compelling calls to their own social networks. In the case of crowdsourcing science, getting the word out to other qualified networks of researchers is often equally important. Depending on the project, it may also be worth considering whether skewed participation could bias results. Likewise, the incentive structures facilitated through different credit-sharing mechanisms and opportunities for individuals to contribute to crowdsourced efforts in bigger, different ways are quite relevant to consider and worth economic investigation.

I often hear from backers that the commitment mechanism is what compels them to back crowdfunding projects they otherwise wouldn’t. The possibility of making each individual’s contribution to the collective effort contingent on the group’s collective behavior is key to facilitating productive commitments from the crowd that were previously not achievable. Economists would be first to point out the clear moral hazard problem that exists in the absence of such a mechanism: if everyone suspects that everyone (or no one) else will already fund a project to their desired level, then no one will give to it. There is an analogous problem when it comes to crowdsourcing science in that each potential contributor needs to feel that their actions make a difference in personal or collective outcomes that they care about. Accordingly, it is important to understand what drives individuals to contribute — and this will certainly vary across different communities and types of project — in order to articulate and improve transparent incentive systems tailored to each.

Finally, while crowdfunding projects focused on delivering technology often garner the most press, they also present some of the greatest challenges for these platforms. Technology projects face the greatest risks in part simply because developing technologies, like delivering scientific findings, can be especially risky. To aggravate matters further, individuals drawn to participating in these projects may have quite different personal incentives than those designing them. When it comes to especially risky science and technology projects, in crowdfunding as in crowdsourcing, the value of good citizen-input is especially high but the noise and potential for bias are likewise high as well. Finding ways to improve the community’s bandwidth for sharing and processing its collective wisdom, observations and preferences is, in my opinion, quite key to achieving greater innovation in crowdguided platforms. Luckily, economists have done quite a bit of work on design of prediction markets and other mechanisms for extracting information in noisy environments and on reputation mechanisms that could and perhaps ought to be extended to thinking about these problems.

Next time, I’ll summarize some of the key findings from this research and areas where it could be better targeted to the design of crowdguided systems.

First Open Economics International Workshop

- December 17, 2012 in Events, Featured, Open Access, Open Data, Open Economics, Open Research, Workshop

**You can follow all the goings-on today and tomorrow through the [live stream](http://bambuser.com/v/3232222).**

On 17-18 December, economics and law professors, data publishers, practitioners and representatives from international institutions will gather at Emmanuel College, Cambridge for the First Open Economics International Workshop. From showcasing the examples of successes in collaborative economic research and open data to reviewing the legal cultural and other barriers to information sharing this event aims to build an understanding of the value of open data and open tools for the Economics profession and the obstacles to opening up information in Economics. The workshop will also explore the role of greater openness in broadening understanding of and engagement with Economics among the wider community including policy-makers and society.

This event is part of the Open Economics project, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and is a key step in identifying best practice as well as legal, regulatory and technical barriers and opportunities for open economic data. A statement on the Open Economics Principles will be produced as a result of the workshop.

Introduction:
Setting the Scene – General perspectives
Rufus Pollock, Open Knowledge Foundation; Daniel L. Goroff, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Tim Hubbard, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Victoria Stodden, Columbia Institute / RunMyCode.org
Videostream: Here
Session: “Open Data in Economics – Reasons, Examples, Potential”:
Examples of open data in economics so far and its potential benefits
Session host: Christian Zimmermann, (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, RePEc), Panelists: Paul David (Stanford University, SIEPR), Eustáquio J. Reis (Institute of Applied Economic Research – Ipea), Johannes Kiess (World Bank), Sven Vlaeminck (ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics).
Videostream: Part 1 and Part 2
Session: “Legal, Cultural and other Barriers to Information Sharing in Economics” : Introduction and overview of challenges faced in information sharing in Economics
Session host: Lionel Bently, (University of Cambridge / CIPIL), Panelists: Mireille van Eechoud, (Institute for Information Law), David Newbery, (University of Cambridge), John Rust, (Georgetown University).
Session: “Current Data Deposit and Releases – Mandating Open Data?”: Round table discussion with stakeholders: Representatives of funders, academic publishing and academics.
Session host: Daniel L. Goroff, (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation), Panelists: Albert Bravo-Biosca, (NESTA), Toby Green, (OECD Publishing), Nancy Lutz, (National Science Foundation).
Session: Trends of Greater Participation and Growing Horizons in Economics: Opening up research and the academy to wider engagement and understanding with the general public, policy-makers and others.
Session host: Chris Taggart, (OpenCorporates), Panelists: Michael P. McDonald, (George Mason University), Hans-Peter Brunner, (Asian Development Bank), Perry Walker, (New Economics Foundation)

The workshop is a designed to be a small invite-only event with a round-table format allowing participants to to share and develop ideas together. For a complete description and a detailed programme visit the event website.

Can’t attend? Join the LIVESTREAM here


The event is being organized by the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law (CIPIL) at the University of Cambridge and Open Economics Working Group of the Open Knowledge Foundation and is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. More information about the Working Group can be found online.

Interested in getting updates about this project and getting involved? Join the Open Economics mailing list:

Reputation Factor in Economic Publishing

- November 1, 2012 in Featured, Open Access

SSDL

“The big problem in economics is that it really matters in which journals you publish, so the reputation factor is a big hindrance in getting open access journals up and going”. Can the accepted norms of scholarly publishing be successfully challenged?

This quotation is a line from the correspondence about writing this blogpost for the OKFN. The invitation came to write for the Open Economics Working Group, hence the focus on economics, but in reality the same situation pertains across pretty much any scholarly discipline you can mention. From the funding bodies down through faculty departments and academic librarians to individual researchers, an enormous worldwide system of research measurement has grown up that conflates the quality of research output with the publications in which it appears. Journals that receive a Thomson ISI ranking and high impact factors are perceived as the holy grail and, as is being witnessed currently in the UK during the Research Excellence Framework (REF) process, these carry tremendous weight when it comes to research fund awards.


Earlier this year, I attended a meeting with a Head of School at a Russell Group university, in response to an email that I had sent with information about Social Sciences Directory, the ‘gold’ open access publication that I was then in the first weeks of setting up. Buoyed by their acceptance to meet, I was optimistic that there would be interest and support for the idea of breaking the shackles of existing ranked journals and their subscription paywall barriers. I believed then – and still believe now – that if one or two senior university administrators had the courage to say, “We don’t care about the rankings. We will support alternative publishing solutions as a matter of principle”, then it would create a snowball effect and expedite the break up of the current monopolistic, archaic system. However, I was rapidly disabused. The faculty in the meeting listened politely and then stated categorically that they would never consider publishing in a start up venture such as Social Sciences Directory because of the requirements of the REF. The gist of it was, “We know subscription journals are restrictive and expensive, but that is what is required and we are not going to rock the boat”.

I left feeling deflated, though not entirely surprised. I realised some time ago that the notion of profit & loss, or cost control, or budgetary management, was simply anathema to many academic administrators and that trying to present an alternative model as a good thing because it is a better deal for taxpayers is an argument that is likely to founder on the rocks of the requirements of the funding and ranking systems, if not apathy and intransigence. A few years ago, whilst working as a sales manager in subscription publishing, I attended a conference of business school deans and directors. (This in itself was unusual, as most conferences that I attended were for librarians – ALA, UKSG, IFLA and the like – as the ‘customer’ in a subscription sense is usually the university library). During a breakout session, a game of one-upmanship began between three deans, as they waxed lyrically about the overseas campuses they were opening, the international exchanges of staff and students they had fixed up, the new campus buildings that were under construction, and so on.

Eventually, I asked the fairly reasonable question whether these costly ventures were being undertaken with a strategic view that they would eventually recoup their costs and were designed to help make their schools self-funding. Or indeed, whether education and research are of such importance for the greater good of all that they should be viewed as investments. The discomfort was palpable. One of the deans even strongly denied that this is a question of money. That the deans of business schools should take this view was an eye-opening insight in to the general academic attitude towards state funding. It is an attitude that is wrong because ultimately, of course, it is entirely about the money. The great irony was that this conversation took place in September 2008, with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the full force of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) soon to impact gravely on the global higher education and research sector. A system that for years had been awash with money had allowed all manner of poor practices to take effect, in which many different actors were complicit. Publishers had seized on the opportunity to expand output massively and charge vast fees for access; faculty had demanded that their libraries

subscribe to key journals, regardless of cost; libraries and consortia had agreed to publishers’ demands because they had the money to do so; and the funding bodies had built journal metrics into the measurement for future financing. No wonder, then, that neither academia nor publishers could or would take the great leap forward that is required to bring about change, even after the GFC had made it patently clear that the ongoing subscription model is ultimately unsustainable. Change needs to be imposed, as the British government bravely did in July with the decision to adopt the recommendations of the Finch Report.

However, this brings us back to the central issue and the quotation in the title. For now, the funding mechanisms are the same and the requirement to publish in journals with a reputation is still paramount. Until now, arguments against open access publishing have tended to focus on quality issues. The argument goes that the premier (subscription) journals take the best submissions and then there is a cascade downwards through second tier journals (which may or may not be subscription-based) until you get to a pile of leftover papers that can only be published by the author paying a fee to some sort of piratical publisher. This does not stand much scrutiny. Plenty of subscription-based journals are average and have been churned out by publishers looking to beef up their portfolios and justify charging ever-larger sums. Good research gets unnecessarily dumped by leading journals because they adhere to review policies dating from the print age when limited pagination forced them to be highly selective. Other academics, as we have seen at Social Sciences Directory, have chosen to publish and review beyond the established means because they believe in finding and helping alternatives. My point is that good research exists outside the ‘top’ journals. It is just a question of finding it.

So, after all this, do I believe that the “big hindrance” of reputation can be overcome? Yes, but only through planning and mandate. Here is what I believe should happen:

  1. The sheer number of journals is overwhelming and, in actuality, at odds with modern user behaviour which generally accesses content online and uses a keyword search to find information. Who needs journals? What you want is a large collection of articles that are well indexed and easily searchable, and freely available. This will enable the threads of inter-disciplinary research to spread much more effectively. It will increase usage and reduce cost-per-download (increasingly the metrics that librarians use to measure the return on investment of journals and databases), whilst helping to increase citation and impact.
  2. Ensure quality control of peer review by setting guidelines and adhering to them.
  3. De-couple the link between publishing and tenure & department funding.
  4. In many cases, universities will have subscribed to a particular journal for years and will therefore have access to a substantial back catalogue. This has often been supplemented by the purchase of digitised archives, as publishers cottoned on to other sources of revenue which happened to chime with librarians’ preferences to complete online collections and take advantage of non-repeatable purchases. Many publishers also sell their content to aggregators, who agree to an embargo period so that the publisher can also sell the most up-to-date research directly. Although the axe has fallen on many print subscriptions, some departments and individuals still prefer having a copy on their shelves (even though they could print off a PDF from the web version and have the same thing, minus the cover). So, aside from libraries often paying more than once for the same content, they will have complete collections up to a given point in time. University administrators need to take the bold decision to change, to pick an end date as a ‘cut off’ after which they will publicly state that they are switching to new policies in support of OA. This will allow funds to be freed up and used to pay for institutional memberships, article processing fees, institutional repositories – whatever the choice may be. Editors, authors and reviewers will be encouraged to offer their services elsewhere, which will in turn rapidly build the reputation of new publications.

Scholarly publishing is being subjected to a classic confrontation between tradition and modernity. For me, it is inevitable that modernity will win out and that the norms will be successfully challenged.

Call for Participation: First Open Economics International Workshop

- September 17, 2012 in Announcements, Call for participation, Open Access, Open Data, Open Economics, Open Research

OKFN_CIPIL
supported by
Sloan

The Open Economics Working Group is inviting PhD students and academics with relevant experience and research focus to participate in the first Open Economics Workshop, which would take place on December 17-18, 2012 in Cambridge, UK.

The aim of the workshop is to build an understanding of the value of open data and open tools for the Economics profession and the obstacles to opening up information, as well as the role of greater openness in broadening understanding of and engagement with Economics among the wider community including policy-makers and society.

The workshop is a designed to be a small invite-only event with a round-table format allowing participants to to share and develop ideas together. For more information please see the website.

The event is being organized by the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law at the University of Cambridge and Open Economics Working Group of the Open Knowledge Foundation and funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. More information about the Working Group can be found online.

To apply for participation, please fill out the application form and send us a CV at [email protected]