What is Open?

Open Source Alliance for Open Scholarship

What is "Open" and why might it matter to you?

Open Source for Open Scholarship began when a community of people gathered to discuss how open projects might better support each other. Adam Hyde, co-founder of the Collaborative Open Knowledge Foundation (Coko), convened a group of people working on open tools for science and research and facilitated a one day meeting. This turned into regular calls, the development of a supportive network, and lead to the 2018 meeting that produced this handbook. Face to face meetings and regular calls allow a community to develop a common vocabulary. Community vocabularies may be unclear to folks who were not in the room or on the call when terms were discussed. This post will define the terms we use to frame our work. Our hope is that this will both give context to the posts in this series and make it easy for newcomers to jump in to open source and scholarship community discussions.


Transparent and freely available for use, reuse, remixing, and sharing. In our context, open often modifies another term such as open source or open access, implying a difference from a conventional, closed or non-transparent approach.

When open science, open access, or open scholarship are discussed, we encourage communities to question it. Open for whom? Open in order to...? Why is openness the right choice here? Ethical considerations, including offering protection for vulnerable populations, may make open practices unsuitable in some communities or situations. As our community grows beyond its founding members, we encounter new situations and communities where openness is not appropriate or could be harmful. Tara Robertson's talk at 2017 OpenCon is recommended for those who want to dig deeper into these issues.

Open Scholarship

Scholarly practices which prioritize the free sharing of outputs like research articles, data, code, methods, and operational practices. Open is a way to accomplish the broad scholarly community's goals.

We see open practices as a way to accelerate rate of discovery, drive quality of research, and remove barriers to participation in learning and discovery. In the past, open science and open data were often considered separately. Today distinctions between open science practices and open scholarly practices in the humanities seen less important. We view open scholarship as an umbrella term that includes open research, open science, open access, open data practices, sharing of methods, and any practices that make scholarship more transparent.

Importantly, open scholarship includes efforts to open the professions of scholarship (scientist, professor, academic, researcher) to broad communities through inclusion and equity, community science, and other approaches.

Note: The term open scholarship implies that scholarship itself does not prioritize access and sharing. While this is not strictly true, adding 'open' as a qualifier remains useful as long as paywalling of research and data, and other closed scholarly practices remain dominant.

Open Source

Software development and community management practices that are transparent, accessible, and prioritize free access to the software. We defer to the Open Source Initiative's definition, which is extensive and worth investigating.

Why Open Source for Open Scholarship?

Advocating for transparency in tools, practices, and scholarly processes is critical to the an inclusive future of scholarship and the production of knowledge. Open source methods, practices, and philosophies are one way to bake openness into scholarly workflows. Software and technology choices are critical to goals of improving confidence in scholarship, accelerating the pace of discovery, and removing barriers to knowledge. These choices are never neutral. A straightforward example is the use of an open source data analysis tool package to enable greater transparency of analysis methods. But it's about more than software. Fundraising and incorporation decisions impact how a data tool can receive funding, directly impacting that tool's independence (and restricting or enabling changes in ownership). Transparent governance processes - or the lack of them - in any community illuminate the path to impact and leadership in that community.

As access to scholarly outputs is increasingly locked down and monetized, open alternatives are critical to the independence of the ecosystem. We have a responsibility to consider our choices as stakeholders (researchers, scholars, scientists, technologists, community members, and others) as we shape the future of scholarship.

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