Interview Iryna Kuchma (Open Update)

This is a transcript of the interview with Iryna Kuchma (Season 2, Episode 3). Listen to the podcast on Anchor. The transcript is slightly edited for readability and available under a CC0 Public Domain Dedication.

Chris Hartgerink: Welcome to the second season of the Open Update for Liberate Science. I'm your host, Chris Hartgerink. And this season, we interviewed 10 guests over nine weeks about the UNESCO recommendation on open science. We talk about what it means to them, their work and the future of research so that we too can better understand what it means to us, our work and our future in research.

What new ways of being lie in store for us in the next few years, or maybe even decades. And there's a lot to agree or disagree with in this series. And I encourage you to leave voice messages with your thoughts, because I would love to hear from you what you think. So share them like you would with a friend, find how in the show notes, and don't be shy. Don't be a stranger.

We also have something to give away which we'll do by lottery of all incoming voice messages during this season. Be sure to include a way to reach you when you leave your message.

But moving on to today's podcast. Today, we talk to Iryna Kuchma about the undesired boundaries of openness due to, for example, restrictions in biblio diversity and geopolitical developments.

So let's get to it. Iryna brings decades of experience working on openness, and she's worked on fostering the practical implementation of open science throughout Europe. And beyond. She's also been part of the call to action to increase the diversity in scholarly communication. And she's currently open access manager at the electronic information for libraries organization.

And before that she was at Creative Commons Ukraine.

So welcome Iryna to the Open Update.

Iryna Kuchma: Thanks a lot Chris. It's  great to be here.

Chris Hartgerink: Today, we're talking a bit about the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science. There's a lot to talk about and specifically these undesired boundaries of knowledge and openness. I want to start off as we do with all our interview guests: what do you think is a low hanging fruit from this? And what do you think is going to be a difficult thing to realize in the next few years?

Iryna Kuchma: Great question. Because I work with universities and academic libraries, I would say introducing institutional open science policies because there is an area of action on developing an enabling policy environment for open science. And I think that's what's already going on in universities and with a little bit of effort or that could be intensified. One of the projects I've been working on now is to develop a checklist what university managers, university administrators need to do to implement UNESCO recommendation on open science. And I hope that checklist will be useful for them. And then also invest in human resources training, education, digital literacy, and capacity building for Open Science, because that's what many universities are doing on already. And again with a little bit of effort these kind of trainings could be strengthened and run on a larger scale. So policies and capacity building, I would say.

Chris Hartgerink: It's very interesting that you mentioned the capacity building. I spoke to Sam Moore in one of our interviews and he also specifically talked about capacity building. So I see a common thread there. And for our listeners, could you maybe share a bit about what kind of items on these checklists they could expect?

Iryna Kuchma: The checklist is based on the text of the recommendation, but it makes it a little bit more actionable. So for example, it says implement an open science policy, make sure that your institutional workflows and strategies are aligned, et cetera. So it basically cuts the text of recommendation a bit and it removes some parts, which might not be targeting universities, but targeting governments for example, or publishers. And it's really like a checklist where they could put a check mark when it's done, but we haven't tested it yet. We will have a meeting with university administrators from Western central African countries later this month [May] where we go in to test it and see.

Chris Hartgerink: And what are your hopes for the this test? Like, are you testing whether it's clear, whether people understand it, whether people would want to enact it?

Iryna Kuchma: Well, it's like a conversation starter to me because it outlines areas of actions that universities need to take. And it helps identify where universities are now, because perhaps they could already check some of the boxes. And then also plan further steps and identify priorities. That's about policies about research assessment, or capacity building.

Chris Hartgerink: Do I understand correctly that the people you're testing this checklist with, it is for the willing? And how do you see this happening maybe with universities that say "ah, we don't really care about this. We don't want to do this." Do you feel like it also speaks to them or is it really more towards, as they would often say in English preaching to the choir and giving them the tools to do it.

Iryna Kuchma: It's also in a way bringing the  willing because the UNESCO recommendation is a beautiful tool adopted by all the governments involved in UNESCO and an international framework on Open Science. There are also national pushes to implement those recommendations.

So it creates a framework, it provides tools. And if there is a community in a country that could provide support to those who might not be willing to do this immediately or might be struggling how exactly to do that, that's great. But of course I understand that there might be some countries or areas where open science hasn't developed yet, and there is no community. But I guess starting small is always good and if we start with those who are interested and willing.

We didn't talk about harder things to implement, which are the national policies. I think if  universities introduce their usual policies in an aligned way that creates some pressure for the governments and also shows the need to the governments that national open science policy should be adopted. And maybe then those national open science policies could provide a framework for unwilling institutions because institutions would need to align with the national frameworks.

Chris Hartgerink: That's interesting and also what I have noticed personally is that, with the recommendation, it feels a bit like the tide is shifting. You're going to have parties who are a bit later, but I agree that these implementations at institutional and the national level are going to be very interesting to follow.

And the work you mentioned, how would people be able to follow that?

Iryna Kuchma: The western central African meeting is planned in collaboration with UNESCO, which was in the LIBSENSE community, a community of practice in open science in Africa. It includes research communication networks and librarians.

We'll of course make the checklist available before the meeting and share it widely. We might also see how we promote it with UNESCO support, because we came up with this idea of a checklist when we had a webinar with the Open Access Publishing Association on how open access publishers could implement the UNESCO recommendation on open science. We thought, if you want to talk about practical steps, then why don't we try some practical tools. We are about to release that checklist for open access publishers. It seemed like a useful tool and hopefully it'll also be useful to universities.

Chris Hartgerink: In the UNESCO recommendation, they also outline that there can be specific reasons why access to knowledge can be restricted. They argue about national security, intellectual property rights and a few others. And I wanted to ask you whether any of these from your perspective are open to being overused and creating undesired boundaries on knowledge, on openness?

Iryna Kuchma: Thanks for that question. Very important one.

I fully understand why open-access can't be provided to content that is private or when we need to respect human subjects under certain circumstances, or when there is personal information in that content, or when we talk about sacred and secret indigenous knowledge or rare threatened or endangered or specious.

But when we talk about intellectual property rights that's a very large reason to close up knowledge. Of course I'm not advocating for infringing intellectual property rights, but I'm pointing out that there should be really right balance between publishing and making these available.

Especially when we talk about publications, not data, because data is slightly different. And then applying for patents sometimes there's a too strong push to protect and patent discoveries. One example is the government of Zimbabwe that in May last year launched an initiative that encourages state universities to deliver outstanding innovations and then they were promised lucrative rewards from the government within their education 50 initiative.

In the end or Zimbabwe universities filed 140 patents. I think that's a huge amount of patents. I don't know whether all of them were of high quality. So I think conversations about respecting and intellectual property rights and still going for as much openness as possible are really useful and helpful to university managements, knowledge transfer offices. I think they're a little bit lost. Of course in Europe they have better guidance, but in Africa there is still this confusion.

Chris Hartgerink: I hear the point that you're making that these can be legitimate reasons and we need to need to be careful to balance those with legitimate interests. There's also the risk of illegitimate interests in that sense, potentially.

Iryna Kuchma: Yeah, and then there's of course cost-benefit analysis, how much time and effort and money you would spend for patenting and how much money you would be able to make out of that.

Maybe it's even economically more favorable to on an open route, and build on collaborations.

Chris Hartgerink: If people were so rational, indeed. I really like also that you make this comparison with the legitimate, like the sacred knowledge, for instance, these more difficult areas that can be open to abuse, like intellectual property.

Being conscious of our time together, I do want to be sure that our listeners get all the expertise from you, in that short time span. I wanted to jump to the topic of, bibliodiversity and the recommendation. Could you explain a bit to our listeners what this is, why it is important, but also what your outlook is for that.

Iryna Kuchma: Well, I'm optimistic and n the recommendation it's under the diversity and inclusiveness principle. Bibliodiversity is a term that was widely used in Latin America and then there was a call in France which encouraged diversity of publication formats, diversity of business models, with of course an emphasis on not-for-profit community driven publishing models.

The UNESCO recommendation also encourages multi-lingualism. I think that's an important area because non-English language speaking researchers are really disadvantaged when they need to publish their research. And when they are rewarded and promoted based on research published in international journals, which are mostly in English language.

It would be great if this Helsinki initiative on multilingualism in scholarly communication, when high-quality research is really valued regardless of the publishing language or publication channel. We sort of see that picked up in Paris open science, European conference earlier this year. And the Paris school on research assessment. That's one of the reasons I'm optimistic about Europe. There are also very interesting developments in Latin America. How research in  Spanish published in local journals could be promoted, rewarded.

We're also trying to have conversations south, south conversations between Africa and Latin America, to change research assessment.

Chris Hartgerink: When you talk about biblical diversity multilingualism, it really focuses on meeting people where they're at. And in a previous podcast, you also said that this openness enables a global conversation.

How have you seen the discussions regarding the effects of the invasion of Ukraine? On the research there on how openness is perceived amongst your colleagues and also vice versa with the excluding of researchers from Russia, out of the conversation more and more?

Iryna Kuchma: In Ukraine, I'm a part of the working group that developed a national action plan on open science. We announced a public consultation right before the war started. Surprisingly consultations went on and we received very useful feedback from researchers. Now this section plan is slightly revised. It's still on the governmental agenda. So open science is still a priority and in Ukraine it is also part of open government movement.  

On the point of excluding Russian researchers:  it's really appalling that the rectors of Russian universities issued that ridiculous letter. And I was comparing that with a similar situation in Sudan where we also work.

When the  Sudan military coupe happened, university rectors were brave enough to issue a letter condemning the coupe. When I see academics playing along  completely false interpretation of events, I can't really consider them colleagues in the scientific sense because I don't see any critical reasoning.

I guess it's all about sanctions and that's the whole idea behind the sanctions – if someone misbehaves those people should understand that they misbehaved. The way to show them that they misbehaved is to introduce those sanctions. Of course, there are different nuanced circumstances, but the reality is such that I don't think there is a room for nuances in cases like that.

And then of course, I think everyone is happy to, I don't know – hopefully happy to resume them when this war is over. But until this war is gone I don't think we could be doing business as usual and saying that "science is outside politics" because everything is political really.

Chris Hartgerink: Are there any final thoughts you want to leave our listeners with regarding the UNESCO recommendation on open science and anything else that we've discussed today?

Iryna Kuchma: What I really like in the UNESCO recommendation is inclusion of other types of knowledge, and non-traditional, non scientists. Those who were traditionally marginalized from scientific discussions and I think that's one of the current challenges that I would like to address. How citizens and community science could be really included scientific practices; how nonscientists could be rewarded for contributing to scientific discoveries. Because I think these boundaries between scientists and non-scientists with Zooniverse and other projects are really growing.

We have to create a space where everyone is rewarded for the contributions they make to scientific discoveries, and everyone really includes local communities. Non-research, researchers, as well as supporting research processes. I think that's an interesting challenge for the coming years.

Chris Hartgerink: Iryna, your perspectives probably will have resonated with listeners. I thank you very much for joining the Open Update and I look forward to following your work and the topics that we've discussed today, but also other areas where you're active. So thank you again.

Iryna Kuchma: It was a great pleasure. Thanks a lot. We'll keep talking in wider circles.

You just listened to another episode in the second season of the Open Update with an original interview with Iryna Kuchma. We would love to hear from you because it's not just a podcast where you listen to us, but it's also a podcast where we try to listen to you.

Leave us a voice message. You don't need to log in, you don't need to create an account. Plus, you'll take part in our lottery for a small token of appreciation for listening, which we'll detail in episode four next week, but for now, have a good rest of your day. Take it easy.

Next week we'll be back with our interview with James Bridle. We will talk about how openness can create information overload and how to counteract it.

Interview Iryna Kuchma (Open Update)
Liberate Science GmbH June 13, 2022
Interview transcript - Samuel Moore (Open Update)