Open Discovery and a Vision for Innovations

Towards the end of May 2011, the Wellcome Trust hosted an event to reflect on the work of the Resource Discovery Task Force so far.

This was an opportunity for JISC Involve to invite the participants at the core of the work to present their thoughts, for there to be a launch of the Discovery site, ready for Phase 2 of the project, with the newly drafted Open Metadata Principles prominent to coincide with their launch at this conference. While the day was self-contained, my week as a whole had also given me a useful introduction.

The day before, I attended another event, hosted by Mobile VCE as a workshop on future business models for mobile environments. It became apparent that the stakeholders in the development of these environments had all seen quite quickly that old rules and old models for sustaining innovation and business were just not applicable anymore, and had to be ripped to shreds so that new answers could be found, so that collaborators, colleagues, competitors and ‘enemies’ alike could see where the opportunities lay – to the long-term advantage of everyone.

It is striking as to how this has not happened among the stakeholders in research, teaching and learning. It often feels that there is a surfeit of self-congratulation for dealing with all the challenges of recent years, and not quite enough examination as to where the opportunities are to be truly innovative in applying new rules in areas like IPR that apply to the communications environment of today and tomorrow.

To some extent, this acted as an introduction to the Discovery day, allowing me to be especially struck by the words of Peter Murray-Rust; I am pretty sure I was not alone. He is one of the very few bridges between the JISC’s world of strategies representing HEI futures and the lab-based researchers who slog away at the day-to-day work of results.

As ever, he pulled no punches – it would be a shock if he ever did – and left the audience in no doubt as to where researchers loyalties lie – to their field or subject area, and to their peers. No great shock there. but then he connected this to the energy that early post-doctorate researchers are able to generate today in a spirit akin to Wikimedia, allowing them to ‘crowdsource’ collected metadata without needing to reference any shiny new Open Metadata Principles as the generation born in the mid-1980s would not be able to conceive of doing it in any other way.

Could this be a touchstone for the stakeholders in research, teaching and learning to believe in innovation rather than dealing with it or feeling it is a necessary evil? It is actually hard to know. However, I left with a feeling the innovations that have taken place are already in the bloodstream of the emerging generation of researchers, many of whom could be highly influential in research funding in the not too distant future. That has to be incredibly significant for future models concerning innovation and adaptation in discovery, access and dissemination. It may be that there will only be roles for those who feel the online environments by instinct.

Perhaps it will be just a few years before the Principles, for which JISC are urgently seeking signatories in 2011, will need an introductory line of ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident’. However, even the most self-evident of truths require statement, if ultimately they are read to remind people in future generations that there was a time when they needed to be stated.

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