[Map – Science Paper Published in 2016; Source: https://worldmapper.org/maps/science-paperspublished-2016/]

“At its heart, Open Science seeks to bring about a re-evaluation of the role of science in our rapidly changing world. It critiques the status quo of knowledge production by asserting the importance of democratizing knowledge, by reassessing the power relations in our knowledge infrastructure, and by arguing that scientific knowledge needs to be managed in collaboration with those who help generate it and will benefit from it.”

Tony Horava1


Contextualizing Openness: Situating Open Science brings together “the collective learning and observations,” exploring the varied contexts in which “openness” was undertaken.2 The book is a comprehensive report of a two-year project (2015-2017) involving twelve projects from Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Latin America, and South, East, and Central Asia, under an umbrella project called the Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network (OCSDNet).3,4 Although the all-encompassing research platform of Elsevier (as we discussed in the previous blog post) works well with mainstream science pursuing a positivist methodology, assuming a neutral, objective, and universal worldview, scholars in indigenous, post-colonial, decolonization, and feminist studies critically challenge the Western, Eurocentric and gender-biased science.4 It is important to note that Open Science is envisioned mainly from Europe and North America “as a system of technology-driven tools and processes” which are assumed to result in “accelerate[d] scientific discoveries, improve[d] transparency and reproducibility of research, increase[d] research uptake, and improve[d] accountability to the scientific community as well as to the public.”5 As a start, what kind of mindset is needed for investigating alternative models of Open Science?

Exploring Alternative

Chan lists “important epistemic questions” to reflect on science and knowledge. The list can be directed to all Open Science practitioners, funders and policymakers who interact at various levels of knowledge production. As Chan notes, however, these questions are often bypassed because of “the hegemony of positivism and a market-driven scholarly communication system”6:

“Whose science is being open? By whom? Who is going to benefit from these new framing and practices? What are the risks? Will this lead to equality and equity of knowledge access and production by researchers in unequal settings? Will Open Science disrupt the existing global power structure of knowledge legitimation? Will it lead to further marginalization of knowledge from the Global South? How will Open Science contribute toward the Sustainable Development Goals?”7

The underlying perspectives of the OCSDNet echo the critical views Tyng-Ruey et al. and Moore present regarding the open access movement. They argue that “openness” is contextual and involves reiterative efforts with trials and errors at a community level. Moore associates the movement with a small-scale project with a flexible structure that allows those involved to explore what works best for the specific community based on its circumstances and the varied actors involved.8 Albornoz et al. point out that the implied uniform approach in the mainstream Open Science discourse fails to acknowledge “the power structures and knowledge inequalities that exist” in diverse contexts.9 They thus argue that when the majority of Open Science policies come from Western institutions from the Global North, Open Science would recreate the current colonial knowledge and power hierarchies without evolving into more critical discourse. They warn that the dominant discourse alone would sustain the status quo, excluding marginalized groups from participating in knowledge creation processes.10. Chan further states that:

“[T]here is no single or universal concept of Open Science that is sufficient to encompass the diversity of knowledge traditions and practices from around the world. Hence the term Open Science and the notion of “openness” is highly situated, constantly subjected to negotiation according to local context and historical contingencies.”11

Open Science as a Situational Enterprise

The OCSDNet projects share an overarching research question: under what conditions do Open Science and collaborative practices effectively address local issues and work towards community well-being? 12. The OCSDNet projects provide samples of possible issues and various dimensions involved in conducting Open Science. Although the OCSDNet projects are from various regions in the Global South, the thinking and reflections described in each project can be relevant anywhere, including any Open Science projects in the Global North, where different power dynamics would be in play. I will include a few examples from the book in this post.

Brazil’s Virtual Herbarium Project

The project investigates the Virtual Herbarium, Brazil’s large virtual infrastructure containing biological data collections — who is using it, for what purposes, who is benefitting, and what are the institutional benefits of data sharing?13 These questions become very relevant when considering diverse users, including those with different interests. The project contributors share some challenges they encountered. For example, they note that the evaluation systems in universities and research centres rely on individual metrics, however, a project like this requires teamwork and involves relationships among individuals.14 They also note that while publishing research results in high Impact Factor international journals is important, “this reduces the importance of local journals in local languages with a focus on local problems.”15 They point out that services associated with publishing and curating data are often not valued, even though they are the basis for developing quality data.16 They are also convinced of the importance of developing local data infrastructures, rather than international ones, to facilitate local capacity building and networking.17

Negotiating Open Science

The projects included in Section 3 of Contextualizing Openness reject the dominant notion of Science as something to be transferred. They investigate the relationship between science and the use of knowledge, focusing on the nature of “openness” and the respective public issues. The case studies included in the Section are from South Africa and Latin America and present complex accounts of negotiating “openness” and the use of knowledge in their respective contexts, including disciplinary differences and the involvement of diverse actors.

Ferpozzi et al., for example, study four diverse cases from Latin America, focusing on the sociological aspects of scientific knowledge, citing Jasanoff:

“[i]t both embeds and is embedded in social practices, identities, norms, conventions, discourses, instruments and institutions… .”18

They also ask the same question for all four cases: “under what conditions, scientific knowledge, produced in varied regimes of openness in different contexts and with the participation of diverse actors, can be utilized to address, and perhaps even resolve, social problems.” 19

At the outset, they squarely situate their location in Latin American societies, which have had the historical and sociopolitical problems of effectively using locally generated scientific knowledge.20 They succinctly capture the region’s relationship to scientific knowledge, citing Losego and Arvanitis that “[n]on-hegemonic countries are dominated in the international division of scientific work.”21 They further point out that the scientific elites in their region prioritize publishing articles in high-impact international journals and are essentially “co-opted to work on projects with international cooperation,” as they are under cognitive control by their hegemonic colleagues.22

One of the cases Ferpozzi et al. cover is biomedical and genomic research on Chagas disease.23 The disease is endemic in Latin America, with strong local needs to find effective treatments. The research on the disease is international in scope and has a long history going back to the 70s, involving such organizations as the World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borers and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. While the dynamics of knowledge production are “highly dependent on the institutional, symbolic, and material support” provided by these organizations, “the global biomedical actors” hardly address local needs, even though that’s where their research takes place.24 Further, Ferpozzi et al. consider the appropriate degree of “openness” regarding the international Open Science resources, such as the genome databases developed in association with the causing organism of the disease, since they are subject to “processes of cognitive exploitation.”25 They conjecture that pharmaceutical companies could take advantage of the research largely financed by public funds and NGOs for their financial gains. Reviewing four cases they study, Ferpozzi et al. contemplate strategies for more effective use of scientific knowledge by local stakeholders who are seeking to address local needs in their region. They discuss public science forums as potential solutions, together with associated challenges.26

Another case study in Section 3 of the book by Traynor et al. explores “the relationship of power that enables and limits possibilities for open and collaborative research” when working with a team of Indigenous peoples, academics, and lawyers on a two-year project.27 Traynor is the primary investigator and manager of the project. She is an ecologist, non-profit practitioner, and expert in working with Indigenous peoples and communities in South Africa and in securing Indigenous peoples’ land rights. The other contributors are two academics, one affiliated with a university in South Africa and the other with an American university. Traynor et al. offer field notes reflecting on tensions involved in the topic of openness in research when working with the Indigenous communities, Indigenous Knowledge systems and their rights to the land. The reason they state for the use of field notes is “a deliberate attempt to push back upon the hegemony of academic scholarly expectations that can hinder truly meaningful collaborative research practices.”28 Working with two Indigenous Peoples in a collaborative team, Traynor and two academics deliberately use “community-researcher contracts” to communicate clear expectations and responsibilities, specifying how the research is conducted and how to share the results.29 They want to be vigilant considering the colonial and Apartheid history in South Africa, which sustained the history of exploitation, stealing and misappropriating Indigenous Peoples’ resources, heritage and knowledge.

The aim of the project is to position Indigenous peoples as the knowledge producer in response to climate change. The project uses participatory action research design and methods,30 interviewing members of the Indigenous communities and highlighting “their understanding of the impact of climate change and the role of Indigenous Knowledge in climate change adaptation.”31 Traynor et al. describe various challenges they encountered in interpreting and navigating ethical requirements by the affiliated universities and domestic and international legal frameworks. For example, the university’s institutional research ethics guidelines with human subjects assume only individuals as knowledge holders despite the knowledge held collectively in the indigenous communities. Another example is the tension between the open data requirements of their funders and the need to adequately protect indigenous communities and their rights to their knowledge.

Traynor et al. write that even with a strong commitment to “socially just ways of doing research, “32 it is a challenging task to interpret legal texts regarding indigenous knowledge rights according to international, national and other jurisdictional laws. Developing community-research contracts for the team is often an enormously difficult task. Furthermore, even after everything is set and done, they write that asking, “What does this mean in practice?” at every step of the research process is crucial to ensure the Indigenous knowledge holders’ rights.33


We cannot ignore the coloniality of power associated with the mainstream Open Science discourse. The power of global hegemony in knowledge production is real. The OCDSNet projects in Contextualizing Openness demonstrate the colonial effects on the ground at their micro level in connection to the macro-level colonial influences in the varied contexts. One notable example would be that scientific elites and universities in the Global South sustain and reproduce its coloniality by not necessarily contributing to solving the problems faced by local communities. Chan’s list of epistemological questions regarding science and knowledge needs to be taken seriously among Open Science practitioners as it would provide the first step toward negotiating the use of scientific knowledge to benefit local communities.


1. Horava, Tony. “Preface.” In Contextualizing Openness: Situating Open Science, edited by Leslie Chan, Angela Okune, Rebecca Hillyer, Denisse Albornoz, and Alejandro Posada. Ottawa, ON: University of Ottawa Press; IDRC, 2019. https://www.idrc.ca/en/book/co”textualizing-openness-situating-open-sc”ence.

2. Chan, Leslie. “Situating Openness: Whose Open Science?” In Contextualizing Openness:  Situating Open Science, 5–22. Ottawa, ON: University of Ottawa Press, 2019. https://www.idrc.ca/en/book/contextualizing-openness-situating-open-science.

3. Chan, Leslie, 6.

3. Chan, Leslie, Angela Okune, Rebecca Hillyer, Denisse Albornoz, and Alejandro Posada, eds. Contextualizing Openness: Situating Open Science. Illustrated edition. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2019. https://www.idrc.ca/en/book/contextualizing-openness-situating-open-science

4. Albornoz, Denisse, Becky Hillyer, Alejandro Posada, Angela Akune, and Leslie Chan. “Principles for an Inclusive Open Science:  The OCSDNet Manifesto.” In Contextualizing Openness:  Situating Open Science, 23–49. Ottawa, ON: University of Ottawa Press, 2019.

5. Albornoz et al., 24.

6. Albornoz et al, 27.

7. Chan, 6.

8. Chua ” Tyng-Rue”, Rebecca C. Fan, Ming-Syuan Ho, and Kalpana Tyagi. “Openness.” Internet Policy Review 11, no. 1 (March 30, 2022 ” https://policyreview.info/glossary/openness

Moore, Samuel A. “A Genealogy of Op”n Access: Negotiations between Openness and Access to Research.” Revue Française Des Sciences de l’information et de La Communication, no. 11 (August 1, 2017). https://doi.org/10.4000/rfsic.3220

9. Albornoz et al., 43-44.

10. Albornoz et al. 44.

11. Chan, 16.

12. Chan, 6.

13. Canhos, Dora Ann Lange, “Brazil’s Souza, Vanderlei Perez Canhos, and Leonor Costa Maia. “Brazil’s Virtual Herbarium, an Infrastructure for Open Science.” In Contextualizing Openness: Situating Open ScienceContextualizing Openness, 133–45. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2019.

14. Canhos et al., 143.

15. Canhos et al., 144.

16. Canhos et al., 143.

17. Canhos et al., 144.

18. Ferpozzi, Hugo, Juan Layna, Emiliano Martin Valdez, Leandro Rodriguez Medina, and Pablo Kreimer. “Co-Production of Knowledge, Degrees of Openness, and Utility of Science in Non-Hegemonic Countries.” In Contextualizing Openness: Situating Open ScienceContextualizing Openess, 201-219. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2019.

Ferpozzi et al., 205.

19. Ferpozzi et al., 201.

20. Ferpozzi et al., 202-204.

21. Ferpozzi et al., 204.

22. Ferpozzi et al., 204.

23. Ferpozzi et al., 206-208.

24. Ferpozzi et al., 208.

25. Ferpozzi et al., 207.

26. Ferpozzi et al., 218″219.

27. Traynor, Cath, Laura Foster, and Tobias SchonPeoples’“Tensions Related to Openness in Researching Indigen”us Peoples’ Knowledge Systems and Intellectual Property Rights.” In Contextualizing Openness: Situating Open ScienceContextualizing Openness, 223–36. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2019.

28. Traynor, et al., 225.

29. Traynor, et al., 228-233.

30. Traynor et al., 226-27. Traynor explains that”participatory action research design and methods aim to reduce “the power relations within and between researchers/researched and hierarchies of knowledge production by involving marginalized groups ” hin the des”gn, imple”entation, and outcomes of the research.”” It take” a “bottom-up” approach in partnership instead of the “top-down” approach, the conventional and historical approach that involves minority and colonized communities.

31. Traynor et al., 224.

32. Traynor et al., 224 & 228-233.

33. Traynor et al., 231

34. Stack, Michelle. Global University Rankings and the Politics of Knowledge. Toronto [Ontario] , University of Toronto Press, 2021.

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