It is time to invest in communities

Joint post by Cooper Smout, Paola Masuzzo, and Jon Tennant.

Each year, we devote 10s of billions of dollars to research and development around the world, but very little to support communities that underpin this endeavour. We know that people are much more powerful when working together to solve problems, yet the predominant funding strategy within academia encourages hyper-competition and ‘research silos’ that limit progress and contribute to the adoption of unhealthy research practices.

Recent technological reforms (like Web 2.0) have given science the chance to move towards a more inclusive and participatory culture. At the same time, the critical role that science needs to play in society has become clearer: creating knowledge, improving education, and improving human life; in particular, around the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Within the core of this continuous transformation, there are communities of students, researchers, librarians, citizens, and more, come together to take collective action.

Some shining examples of existing communities in this space include ASAPbio, AmeliCA, ReproducibiliTea, among others, and two which we are leading: The Open Science MOOC and Free Our Knowledge. The core mission of these communities is that science should serve society, and that we need it to help address the major problems that we all face. We need these communities to be well-resourced with sustained funding if they are to be effective in this mission.

We call for research funders to look beyond services and tools for research and development, and invest in the most valuable resources we have – communities and people within these – and help them use their time more effectively to solve the problems facing our society today. For a sustainable research future, this is essential. Simply allocating 1% of a national research budget to invest in grassroots organisations could help to foster a more cooperative and healthier future research culture.

COI: CS is the founder of Free our Knowledge. PM is on the Steering Committee for the Open Science MOOC. JPT is the founder of the Open Science MOOC.