6 reasons why open science might be the future of business

The Human Genome Project is just one example where open science and its principles have delivered concrete results, in that case to assist with the rapid creation of COVID-19 vaccines.

The Human Genome Project is just one example where open science and its principles have delivered concrete results, in that case to assist with the rapid creation of COVID-19 vaccines. Image: REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Chelle Gentemann
Open Science Program Scientist, NASA IPA, International Computer Science Institute (ICSI)
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  • Open science makes research products and processes available to all, fostering partnership and collaboration.
  • While some might view this as a business risk, a number of examples show that practicing open science can deliver results for companies that embrace it.
  • To encourage further open science, NASA has declared 2023 as a Year of Open Science.

When it comes to the most revolutionary scientific breakthroughs of our time — vaccines, quantum processors, artificial intelligence (AI), to name just a few — most people are probably not aware of just how many people were involved and how they built on and extended the work of others.

To accelerate the pace, relevance and quality of research and development of the next technological breakthrough, whatever it may be, we should put its building blocks in the hands of as many people as possible. We can do that by embracing open science.

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Understanding open science

Open science is the principle and practice of making research products and processes available to all, while respecting diverse cultures, maintaining security and privacy, and fostering collaborations, reproducibility and equity. In practice, this means thoughtfully sharing as much as you can, as early as possible — not just the final report after completion, but everything along the way to that report.

Open science practices and methods have revolutionized life around us for decades, but their potential is far from maximized. To catalyze change, NASA has announced 2023 as a Year of Open Science and kicked off the Transform to Open Science (TOPS) initiative.

While the work required to be more open has been substantially reduced and incentives are beginning to reward openness, the elephant in the room is culture and competition. Hoarding data, code and results to maintain a competitive advantage is the cultural norm for most scientific fields and industries. Researchers may have more immediate rewards, both for their career and finances, by closely guarding access to the tools of their trade, but by doing so they are losing on the enormous advantages that openness leads to by hypercharging innovation through new partnerships.

Open science is delivering results

In many organziations, open science is already delivering results.

The Human Genome Project (HGP), for example, used open data and open-source software to map the human genome sequence, resulting in enormous economic and societal benefits. In parallel, new companies emerged using these new genomic technologies for developing pharmaceutical products, diagnostics and biologics, as well as agricultural uses. The advances in genomic sequencing from HGP are most clearly demonstrated by their use in the rapid COVID-19 response, saving millions of lives.

In 2008, NASA and USGS changed the US Landsat data policy, transforming access from a pay-per-image into a free and open data policy. Landsat data are the longest continuous record of space-based Earth imagery. After the policy change, use of the data skyrocketed. Data use jumped from 53 scenes per day to 5,700 scenes per day. Wineries use the data to improve production, companies use the data for flood and wildfire risk assessments used for underwriting properties and businesses, Google’s Earth Engine (GEE) uses the data, and companies such as Unilever are using GEE to create a sustainable supply chain.

When it comes to AI, we would not be where we are without the open-source software community. Top CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg have been open in citing the critical role the open-source community has played in developing AI. Even the largest, most powerful companies recognize the power of openness and collaboration.

Openness creates economic value for companies and new opportunities for innovation and expansion. It allows more people to participate in all parts of research, growing collaborations and partnerships, resulting in faster, better solutions. Globally, it is gaining momentum and has growing support from governments, agencies and organizations that recognize both the societal and economic benefits.

6 reasons businesses should embrace open science

While open science is most often associated with publicly funded scientific research, businesses can also benefit from the concept. Here are six reasons why businesses should consider embracing open science:

1. Get recognition

As part of a Year of Open Science, the US White House has announced an Open Science Recognition Prize, with team self-nominations due 1 December 2023.

2. Faster, better solutions

Open science encourages knowledge-sharing and collaboration. Open data and open-source software allow for more reuse of results and a reduction in duplicative efforts. Scientists who practice open science not only innovate faster but they involve more people, leading to better solutions. Businesses that adopt this culture, even internally, can gain access to this acceleration towards impactful new products and technologies.

3. Access the hive mind

A culture of open collaboration allows businesses to benefit from the expertise and insights of diverse external experts. This provides fresh perspectives and helps identify new research directions.

4. Get the best of the best

Open science can make a business more attractive to top talent. People want to contribute to the greater good. Researchers and professionals who value openness, collaboration and the ability to contribute to important global challenges may be more inclined to work for or stay with organizations with aligned values.

5. Stand out

Embracing open science can enhance a business's reputation as a purpose-driven organization. It can build trust with stakeholders, including customers, investors and regulators, by demonstrating a commitment to sharing knowledge and contributing to the global good.

6. Grow partnerships

Open science can facilitate collaborations between businesses and academic and research institutions and non-profit organizations, promoting partnerships that bring together experts and generate new ideas.

By carefully considering how and when to implement open science principles, businesses can unlock numerous advantages. But openness that advances research is not just about sharing some data or software. It is a product of practices, norms and community behaviour around sharing. Just as new technology requires designing new workflows, it is important to deliberately design culture for open science. Implementation isn’t just making ‘openness’ part of a performance plan. It is also about changing the culture — and one of the best ways to do that is through incentives and education about how and when it is okay to be open. It is about supporting change and making it feel safe to explore new directions and a new way of operating.

NASA’s TOPS initiative is launching an introduction to open science curriculum and a NASA open science badge early December 2023.

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