Université de Montréal aims for greater worldwide debate on open data

Marie-Josée Hébert, Daniel Lajeunesse and Tanja Niemann.

Marie-Josée Hébert, Daniel Lajeunesse and Tanja Niemann.

Credit: Amélie Philibert

In 5 seconds

As the organizer of Research Data Alliance’s 10th Plenary Meeting, Université de Montréal recognizes the increased significance and scope of open access to research data.

An initiative of Université de Montréal and Research Data Canada, the 10th Plenary Meeting of the Research Data Alliance, an international organization with 6,000 members in 130 countries, is being held in Montreal from September 19 to 21. Close to 500 people, mostly from North America and Europe, are expected to attend. For UdeM, the goal is to foster greater worldwide debate around open data and data-sharing.

To discuss the issues, we talked to three UdeM participants: Marie-Josée Hébert, Vice-Rector of Research, Discovery, Creation and Innovation; Daniel Lajeunesse, Associate Vice-Rector and Director of the Bureau Recherche - Développement – Valorisation; and Tanja Niemann, Executive Director of Érudit, the non-profit publishing platform.

Why is the Research Data Alliance’s plenary meeting significant for UdeM?

Marie-Josée Hébert: It's not only significant for UdeM, but it also for Quebec and Canada as a whole. Because it will allow us to make progress on data-sharing as well as on the value and quality of data.  The meeting will also address questions around our responsibility to research data available and also ensure they're properly managed, two essential factors in legitimizing research results and making it possible to reproduce those results. Because the value of research rests not only on getting the results published but also on extending the reach of that research and its ability to change the world. Research results and data must therefore be both of good quality and widely known. The university has a role to play in this, as part of civil society.

Tanja Niemann: Universities must take their place in the global ecosystem of published and distributed scholarly work, which is now dominated by a handful of major commercial publishers. These publishers control how knowledge is coimmunicated and often ask scholars to submit not only their articles but their data as well. The danger is that these data don't get widely circulated. We need to take steps to preserve access to articles and data gathered through publicly-financed research projects, data that can be useful to government decision-makers and to citizens as a whole.

Daniel Lajeunesse: In the 20th-century model of scientific publishing, to get recognized, scholars had to get their articles published in the best-known journals in their field. Today, the important thing is that that their articles be read, and for that, they must be accessible. Data also need to be shared so that they can be validated and re-analyzed from different angles and using different methods. Universities must establish frameworks so that their researchers's data are preserved, their quality is vouched for, and the studies are made available. That responsibility cannot be left to commercial publishers alone.

Twenty years ago, UdeM took a stand on the issue of access to and distribution of research by supporting the creation of Érudit. At the time, the platform only carried material published by Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal. How has it grown?

Tanja Niemann: With the rise of digital technology. Érudit’s scope quickly grew to include journals published by other publishers than UdeM, including many national ones from all across Canada. We mostly carry articles in the social sciences and humanities that are written in French, but we are also open to English-language publications, both from Canada and elsewhere. Analytics by Google and other search engines show that 70 per cent of our articles are accessed from outside the country, and 95 per cent are open-access. Our way of doing things considerably expands scholars’ reach; their work gets more widely circulated. 

Marie-Josée Hébert: Some French-speaking scholars may wonder whether they'd be better off publishing in English in order to increase the visibility of their work and be cited more often, Érudit, as a distributor, plays a major role in raising the international profile of research carried out in French by scholars in Quebec.

Have UdeM’s libraries gotten involved as well?

Marie-Josée Hébert: Yes. Over 15 years ago, they established Papyrus, an institutional repository to which our scholars can submit their articles to make them accessible to everyone. It's not new, but we need to make Papyrus – and its significance to scholars – better known. 

What do the next few years look like for UdeM in terms of open access to research results and data?

Marie-Josée Hébert: UdeM is now carrying out a university-wide re-think on research data management, open access and frameworks that can be set up  within the institution and also between institutions. Last January, we created a special office for responsible research practices and laid out our vision of support for the research community. We want to be very active, especially in training people, rather than just coming up with regulations. We believe that we must create tools to help our scholars, students and highly-qualified staff better understand the environment in which they work and study. As it stands now, issues around data access as a significant driver of social change are not widely understood.

We also plan to prepare a strategy aimed at better equipping our community on subjects such as data integrity and quality, privacy protection, reproduction of results, visibility, distribution and, ultimately, service to society. In order to reach these goals, we will be working closely with several key stakeholders. including our libraries, scholars and Érudit.

The issues are complex but also vital to keep in mind, so that science becomes more and more a vector of social change.

 

(Interview by Martine Letarte)