By Mary Hearty

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has finally developed the first ever global framework on open science to help its member states bridge the knowledge and technology gaps by making sciencemore transparent and more accessible.

The UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science which was adopted by 193 countries at the UNESCO General Conference will enable scientists and engineers to use open licenses to share their publication and data, software and even hardware more widely in order to enhance international scientific cooperation.

Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General stated: “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into focus how open science practices such as open access to scientific publications, the sharing of scientific data and collaboration beyond the scientific community can speed up research and strengthen the links between science policy and society. The UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science will drive the wider adoption of open practices, encourage greater endorsement of open science and ensure that research findings are beneficial to all.”

In the fragmented scientific and policy environment, a global understanding of the meaning, opportunities and challenges of open science is needed for its fair and equitable operationalization at the individual, institutional, national, regional and international levels.

The UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science provides an international framework for open science policy and practice that recognizes disciplinary and regional differences in open science perspectives.

Furthermore, it takes into account academic freedom, gender-transformative approaches and the specific challenges of scientists and other open science actors in different countries and in particular in developing countries, and contributes to reducing the digital, technological and knowledge divides existing between and within countries.

In the draft Recommendation on Open Science, UNESCO defined open science as an inclusive construct that combines various movements and practices aiming to make multilingual scientific knowledge openly  available,  accessible  and  reusable  for  everyone,  to  increase  scientific  collaborations  and  sharing of information for the benefits of science and society.

It also aims to open the processes of scientific knowledge creation, evaluation and communication to societal actors beyond the traditional scientific community.

The recommendation framework comprises all scientific disciplines and aspects of scholarly practices, including basic and applied sciences, natural and social sciences and the humanities.

Additionally, it builds on the following key pillars: open scientific knowledge, open science infrastructures, science communication, open engagement of societal actors and open dialogue with other knowledge systems

Some 70% of scientific publications are locked behind paywalls. Over the past two years, however, this proportion has dropped to about 30% for publications on COVID-19 specifically. This shows that science can be more open.

Again, until today, there was no universal definition of open science and standards existed only at regional, national or institutional levels. In adopting the Recommendation, 193 countries have agreed to abide by common standards for open science. By rallying behind a set of shared values and guiding principles, they have adopted a common roadmap.

With its mandate for the sciences, UNESCO is driving at the global level the shift to open science and ensure that it truly contributes to bridging the knowledge and technology gaps between and within countries.

Open science can be a powerful tool to reduce inequalities between and within countries and further the human right to enjoy and benefit for scientific progress, as stipulated in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

According to the United Nations, Article 27 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits; and everyone also has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

With this Recommendation, Member States have embraced the culture and practice of open science and agreed to report back every four years on their progress.

The Recommendation calls on Member States to set up regional and international funding mechanisms for open science and to ensure that all publicly funded research respects the principles and core values of open science.

The Recommendation calls on Member States to invest in infrastructure for open science and to develop a framework outlining the requisite skills and competencies for those wishing to participate in open science. These stakeholders include researchers from different disciplines and at different stages of their career.

Member States are encouraged to prioritize seven areas in their implementation of the Recommendation  including promotion of a common understanding of open science and its associated benefits and challenges, as well as the diverse paths to open science; development of an enabling policy environment for open science; and investment in infrastructure and services which contribute to open science.

In addition, they need to invest in training, education, digital literacy and capacity-building, to enable researchers and other stakeholders to participate in open science; foster a culture of open science and aligning incentives for open science; promote innovative approaches to open science at different stages of the scientific process; and promote international and multi-stakeholder co-operation in the context of open science with a view to reducing digital, technological and knowledge gaps.