Open Insights: Open research in India - F1000
Open Insights: Open research in India

Open Insights: Open research in India

At F1000, we believe that open research from diverse communities is central to meaningful scientific progress. This year, as part of our 10th anniversary celebratory activities, we’ve asked experts to take stock of the progress they’ve seen in their countries over the last 10 years, to gain a deeper insight into open research practices and perceptions around the world.

In this contribution to the series, Punyasloke Bhadury, Professor of Biological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata, working at the interfaces of biology, earth system processes and society, explores the potential of open research for interdisciplinary research and researchers in India and the Global South.

The Global South: connecting interdisciplinary and open research

In a world confronting issues such as climate change and global pandemics, the study of interdisciplinary themes has immense significance for human progress. Interdisciplinary research facilitates knowledge and technological synergies between scientific disciplines and ensures barriers to innovation are removed. In relation to specific challenges faced in the Global South such as issues of depleting groundwater, food security, changing climate and rise in sea-level, findings from interdisciplinary scientific research addressing the above issues can strengthen South-South as well as South-North partnerships (e.g., World Ocean Assessment of the United Nations, IPBES) in terms of long-term societal benefits. Global issues that affect locally can be only effectively addressed if the outcomes of interdisciplinary research help shape policies and also benefit the society.

To have a long-standing impact, interdisciplinary research outcomes should be accessible to everybody, and open research provides the right platform to make such outcomes available to each and every global citizen. Importantly, open research can enable interdisciplinary research in several critical ways: by ensuring data is openly and freely available to share between researchers working in different disciplines, by encouraging cross-discipline connections and transparency through open peer review, and by linking researcher contributions across disciplines using metadata such as ORCID identifiers.

Open research provides immense opportunities to enhance the potential of interdisciplinary research as well as making science more accessible, inclusive and equitable for everyone, including both researchers and citizens. Open research offers the possibility of making the process of science democratic and can be the platform to connect science with society. This scientific democracy includes not only making the science shaping society available to citizens but ensures that interdisciplinary researchers in the Global South have both access to published research and data and can gain recognition for their research contributions.

While interdisciplinary research is well-established, the concept and implementation of open research practices in India has been relatively new.

Open research: government policy and research infrastructure in India

More than a decade ago, the concept of open research started to get introduced within the scientific community and beyond in India, which was followed by a series of intense discussions focusing mainly on accessibility and inclusivity. There have been discussions within the community to map how scientific findings – including metadata, software and tools as well as open access reports – can become available through open research and how this may further strengthen South-South and South-North partnerships. The continuous engagements within the community and across disciplines have to some extent led to the development of open research in India and we have progressed from where we were ten years ago. This progress has been partly due to the need to engage more effectively between South-South scientists, institutions and policy makers who have understood the greater significance of the open research framework. Moreover, the wider dissemination of findings through open research publishing has been found to influence and help shape policy making decisions, in addition to greater intellectual networking among scientific diaspora including colleagues working on interdisciplinary thematic research cross South-South regions.

The open research policy and infrastructure challenge for India

It has been felt that open research can promote and sustain innovation in India. While the potential for expansion of open research in India is huge, there are measurable constraints that have limited the wider acceptability of open research. These constraints can be overcome through sustained strengthening of the science ecosystem in India by promoting open research more widely and intensely. We need to identify legal and policy frameworks that can ultimately ensure long-term sustainability of open research in India. A large number of organizations (both at government as well as non-government levels) are actively engaging with multiple stakeholders to charter future directions of open research in the country.

For example, a number of National Academies in India are actively working towards the promotion and practice of open science including the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) and Indian Academy of Sciences (IAS), along with Vigyan Prasar Digital Library, CSIR-NISCAIR, Shodhganga, among others. More recently, the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India has highlighted the need to establish an Open Science Framework through the fifth Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policy draft. One of the key highlights of this draft has been the intent to create a National STI Observatory which will be the central repository of data and will be pivotal towards the sustainable promotion of open research and open access.

While there are a number of game changing initiatives that are in progress, the short-term challenges to open research in India centres largely around multifaceted issues such as funding and the need to improve science communication for society, among other challenges. In addition, the existing models of subscription-based access continue to be a hindrance to open research across a large number of academic institutions in India and more widely across the Global South. We cannot ignore that contentious issues such as publication inequality and biases continue to affect the acceptability of open research in India and across much of Global South.

Yet open research also offers the transparency and openness to address these inequalities through open peer review and accountability, as well as offering early career researchers (particularly in interdisciplinary research) opportunities to publish and connect all research outputs. The positive developments for active promotion open science in India over the last few years in particular, reflects that the momentum initiated through global efforts such as the Budapest Open Access Initiative, UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science and the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) will have long lasting positive impacts in the region and beyond.

Learn more on our Open Insights series here: