Guiding EU researchers along the ‘last mile’ to Open Digital Science

Striving to address societal challenges in sectors including Health, Energy and the Environment, the European Union is developing the European Open Science Cloud, a complete socio-technical environment, including robust e-infrastructures capable of providing data and computational solutions where publicly funded research data are Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Re-usable (FAIR).

Since 2007 The European Commission (EC) has invested more than €740 million in e-infrastructures through Horizon 2020 (the European Union Research and Innovation programme 2014-2020) and FP7 (the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development). They want to see this exploited in full.

Many research communities are, however, struggling to benefit from this investment. The authors call for greater emphasis on Virtual Research Environments (VREs) as the only way for researchers to capitalise on EC advances in networking and high performance computing. The authors characterise this as a “last mile” problem, a term borrowed from telecommunications networks and once coined to emphasise the importance (and difficulty) of connecting the broader network to each customer’s home or office. Without the last mile of connectivity, a network won’t generate a cent of value.

Some concerns around the transition to Open Digital Science refer to attribution and quality assurance, as well as limited awareness of open science and its implications to research. However, most difficulties relate to many e-infrastructure services being too technical for most users, not providing easy-to-use interfaces and not easily integrated into the majority of day-to-day research practices.

Trustworthy and interoperable Virtual Research Environments (VREs) are layers of software that hide technical details and facilitate communication between scientists and computer infrastructures. They serve as friendly environments for the scientists to work with complicated computer infrastructures, while being able to use their own set of concepts, ways of doing things and working protocols.

Helping them to solve the difficulties noted above, VREs could guide the skeptical research communities along the ‘last mile’ towards Open Digital Science, according to an international team of scientists who have published their Policy Brief in the open access journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO).

The authors state “These domain-specific solutions can support communities in gradually bridging technical and socio-cultural gaps between traditional and open digital science practice, better diffusing the benefits of European e-infrastructures”. They also recognise that “different e-infrastructure audiences require different approaches.”

“Intuitive user interface experience, seamless data ingestion, and collaboration capabilities are among the features that could empower users to better engage with provided services,” stress the authors.

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Original source:

Koureas D, Arvanitidis C, Belbin L, Berendsohn W, Damgaard C, Groom Q, Güntsch A, Hagedorn G, Hardisty A, Hobern D, Marcer A, Mietchen D, Morse D, Obst M, Penev L, Pettersson L, Sierra S, Smith V, Vos R (2016) Community engagement: The ‘last mile’ challenge for European research e-infrastructures. Research Ideas and Outcomes 2: e9933. doi: 10.3897/rio.2.e9933>

Open Science environment Unicorn allows researchers and decision makers to work together

Given that the most important societal needs require multidiscipli­nary collaboration between researchers and decision makers, a suitable environment has to be provided in the first place. A proposal, prepared by a Finnish consortium and published in the open access journal Research Ideas and Outcomes, suggests a new, open virtual work and modeling platform to support evidence-based decision making in a number of areas, while also abiding by the principles of openness, criticism and reuse.

The Finnish consortium, led by Prof. Pekka Neittaanmäki, University of Jyväskylä, and bringing together Timo Huttula and Janne Ropponen, Finnish Environment Institute, Juha Karvanen and Tero Tuovinen, University of Jyväskylä, Tom Frisk, Pirkanmaa Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, Jouni Tuomisto, National Institute for Health and Welfare, and Antti Simola, VATT Institute for Economic Research, acknowledge that, “it is not enough that experts push data to politicians.”

“There must be practices for mutual communication: experts must answer policy questions in a defendable and useful way; decision makers must more clearly explain their views using evidence; and there must be ICT tools to support this exchange,” the authors explain. “The focus is on end-users.”

Unicorn is to combine shared practices, tools, data, working environments and concerted actions in order to aggregate open information from multiple databases, and create tools for efficient policy studies.

The consor­­tium have already developed and tested prototypes of such practices and tools in several projects, and insist that they are now ready to apply their experience and knowledge on a larger scale. They are also certain that open data and models are deservedly the “mega trend” nowadays.

“Unicorn directs this trend to paths that are the most beneficial for societal decision making by providing quick, reliable and efficient decision support,” they say.

“Significant saving of resources will be mani­fested with improved data collection, analyses and modeling. Also, the quality and amount of assessments that can be done to support work.”

“The major challenges related to evidence-based decision making actually are about changing the practices of researchers and dec­­ision makers,” according to the authors. Therefore, they see their project as a demonstration of the needed shifts.

Although the approach is applicable in all areas, the researchers are to initially implement them in environment, human health, and regional economy, “as they are com­plex and chal­lenging enough to offer a good test bed for general development.”

Having already been submitted to the Strategic Funds of Academy of Finland in 2015, the Unicorn environment proposal has been rejected due to overambitiousness and low commercial potential. However, the authors are confident that the Unicorn environment along with its growing community of developers can, in fact, meet a great success. They are currently looking for further funding suggestions and forming new consortiums.

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Original source:

Neittaanmäki P, Huttula T, Karvanen J, Frisk T, Tuomisto J, Simola A, Tuovinen T, Ropponen J (2016) Unicorn-Open science for assessing environmental state, human health and regional economy. Research Ideas and Outcomes 2: e9232. doi: 10.3897/rio.2.e9232

PART 2: The ARPHA Writing Tool: Adding Value to RIO

Last week, we presented some basic features of the ARPHA Writing Tool (AWT), focusing on the collaborative authoring process. This post will add the novelties that ARPHA has adopted when it comes to submission and post-submission processes.

arpha-validation

   

Two-step VALIDATION:

Checks are a must whenever high-quality, professional writing is concerned. Shortly before submitting their manuscripts via ARPHA, the authors are free to initiate the first step of the validation process at any time. As a result, an automated technical check runs through the manuscript to verify its consistency and compliance with the JATS (Journal Article Tag Suite) standard as well as key elements of the journal’s policy.

After the automated checks, there is a second-layer of human checks made by RIO editorial assistants in order to bring the manuscript to a pre-publication level. They check compliance with further elements of the journal’s policy as well as linguistic consistency and work with the authors before finalising it altogether.

 

After SUBMISSION:

Even after submission, collaboration continues. With the peer-review stage being as transparent and open as the whole vision of RIO is, this step is no less straightforward and organised. All peer reviews are automatically consolidated into a single online file that makes the editorial process simple and pleasant. This is made possible by the XML-based workflow in the AWT.

arpha-review-

PEER-REVIEW evolution:

Last week, we mentioned that an author can invite reviewers during the authoring stage itself. Let us elaborate here by saying that the ARPHA Writing Tool provides a functionality for pre-submission peer review(s) performed during the authoring process. These peer reviews are submitted together with the manuscript, so that the editorial evaluation and publication can be significantly sped up.

Post-publication UPDATES:

Even after an article is brought to life, ARPHA continues to play a role in it. Because of the XML workflow, authors are able to publish updated versions of their articles at any time. Once they request such an update, their work is returned to the ARPHA Writing Tool, where authors and peers are to collaborate once again. Eventually, the two versions are linked via CrossMark, so that nothing is lost.   

As you might have already noticed, just like RIO, the new ARPHA Writing Tool is constructed entirely around the needs of its authors. Why not find out yourself by giving ARPHA & RIO a try when they open for submission early next month?