Interview transcript - Kaitlin Thaney (Open Update)

This is a transcript of the interview with Kaitlin Thaney (Season 2, Episode 9). Listen to the podcast on Anchor. The transcript is slightly edited for readability and available under a CC0 Public Domain Dedication.


Chris Hartgerink: Hello and welcome to the final episode of the second season of the Open Update. For Liberate Science, I'm your host, Chris Hartgerink.

In this season we interviewed 10 guests over the course of nine weeks, about the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science. We talked about what it meant to them, their work and the future of research, so that we could better understand what it meant to us, our work and our future in research. What new ways of being lie in store for us.

I still encourage you to find agreements and disagreements in the series of interviews and leave voice messages with your thoughts.

Today, we talk to Kaitlin Thaney, Executive Director of Invest in Open Infrastructure. Her work and journey in open is one that inspires me on a weekly basis.

Starting out as a reporter for the Boston correspondent. She quickly connected research technology and the commons as her journey took her along many big players in each of those worlds. She worked at the MIT Microsoft Alliance, at the Mozilla Foundation, at Creative Commons, Digital Science, and Wikimedia.

Now she's the Executive Director of Invest in Open Infrastructure alongside being a trustee at some major initiatives driving change in science and technology, like OpenCollective and Code for Science and Society.

It's such a pleasure to speak to Kaitlin about the UNESCO recommendation on open science and how we can think, do, and build the process of open. So Kaitlin, welcome to the Open Update.

Kaitlin Thaney: Thank you so much, Chris. It's great to be here.

Chris Hartgerink: We like to start off every interview with the same question, to get a perspective on this UNESCO recommendation on open science and that's: what is a low-hanging fruit from your experience or your perspective in the UNESCO document? And also, what do you think is one of the things that is going to be more difficult to realize?

Kaitlin Thaney: It's a great question.

I think what's really heartening about this recommendation being ratified at such a high level, is that in the process it helped get everybody there in terms of outlining a really comprehensive plan around open science, research and assessment elements, the human infrastructure in terms of capacity building, and training –  but also the infrastructure component and the technology, which I know is what Invest in Open Infrastructure, IOI for short, is especially interested in.

It's heartening to see one place for recommendations. I know it's not been an easy process to get there.

In terms of low-hanging fruit, I think of some of the elements that the recommendation starts to outline around promoting additional awareness, increasing the dialogue about these benefits, and also the dimensions of the open science frame that they have put forward where it isn't just necessarily talking about access to content or access to data, but really thinking holistically about the broader system. That to me seems like something that not only is already in process, but something that we can build upon.

The other element that I think has had some initial inroads though, I would say is less of a low hanging fruit and more of a place to continue to iterate and build upon is around fostering that policy environment. I know that we have a number of examples that we can look at in a global arena where we're starting to see the conversations at the chief scientist level, at large government agencies. In terms of open science funds in national governments being set aside to invest in these sorts of programs, or even to start thinking about ways in which they start taking the sort of open policies that we've started to see build out, not only at organizations and institutions around the world funding organizations, but now seeing it at a higher level.

I think that is an area as well. Not low-hanging fruit in the "this will be complete anytime soon." There's already some really heartening developments there that I think this recommendation hopefully will start to strengthen and provide additional light about how that can move forward in a coordinated and aligned fashion.

Chris Hartgerink: It's good to hear that the UNESCO recommendation from your experience and perspective is at least a continuation of what is already happening. I think Monica also mentioned this: Good to have this policy, but we need to keep at it. It's not gonna all of a sudden in a miracle fashion result in changes. Even though we can use it to create that change.

I want to talk a bit about the status quo, even though there is no one moment, of course. What are some of the things that frustrate you about what's going on right now in open and open science?

Kaitlin Thaney: As you mentioned in the introduction, I've been working on these issues, beginning at Creative Commons, which was 16 years ago, and advocating for increased openness of not only research outputs, but the broader systems. At that point referring to it as the cyber infrastructure that surrounded all of it, that others had an opportunity to not only democratize that process, which I know is very near and dear to the work that you do outside of being a podcast host. In addition to that, also thinking about the ways in which that provides opportunities to others.

To me, the implementation components are a make or break moment for these policies. I think we've seen that time and time again, whether that's the Holdren memo calling for open access to all federally funded research outputs or other directives that might exist at institutional levels, other government levels, et cetera.

That to me, is one of the frustrating components, when we think about the accountability of that. Also the interpretations of what the recommendation calls out as a core value in terms of collective benefit. I hope that in the future we can move more towards that so that it takes out some of the fear or starts to recalibrate how we think about success and how we think about impact and for whom.

I'm very much in the camp that if we're not providing that opportunity for those more broadly and really breaking apart those silos that we're not doing our work as effectively as possible. That collective means that in the proper sense of really thinking about providing equitable access and opportunities for those to participate in that process on a very broad sense.

The other parts that I know your initial question was, what do I find personally difficult to realize. There's a number of key elements there that come to mind in terms of the work that we do regarding investing in open infrastructures. Again, having that assessment be really comprehensive. Not just who's providing an open service, but also what does it look like to really think beyond the current structures?

We are accustomed to choosing our technology partners; does it have the best user interface? Does it have a big team behind it? What sort of financing does it have? To really think of that as more about crafting solutions that are community owned and operated for the benefit of having that infrastructure be something that is collectively and collaboratively looked after, maintained, and owned. To really think about what that means in terms of who they also do business with, what that means in terms of data, privacy and security, for those that are interacting with that. And who is benefiting financially off of the use of that service.

It is the constant work that needs an attention that is needed to be paid to this and probably thinking of the incentives itself for those to cooperate and coordinate in this work. In addition to when we think of the incentives around research assessment and incentives for researchers to participate in this ecosystem otherwise.

Chris Hartgerink: This was definitely a short masterclass for our listeners. Thank you. That was so on point. And I think that is also really nice to hear you talk about who gets to participate, who is making these decisions and, I hear in that frustration also immediately, some of the practices that you implement. I've been following your work for a long time already.

How do power dynamics come into play in this?

Kaitlin Thaney: We think of power in a number of different ways and it's arisen in our work in a number of different ways. The work that Invest in Open Infrastructure set out to do was to really help increase the funding, the adoption, and also the resourcing for open infrastructure services, because we firmly believe that those are necessary for research to thrive in a number of different ways.I'm happy to get into some of the reasoning and rationale there, though I would imagine that your listeners are probably very well versed  in that space.

When we talk about the different kind of key groups that we are working with for Invest in Open Infrastructure, for example, we think of funders, and we interpret that as those that can provide resourcing and also financial support. So resourcing can be for many of these projects in-kind staffing and support within institutions. We see this often carried within the libraries and the information technology departments as shared services or those that are running capacity, building trainings or serving on governance, et cetera. But we're also talking about the actual financial support, whether it's a philanthropic grant, government grant, consortia support, all of these sorts of things, service from a service provider that might be providing additional development, et cetera.

So when we think of the power dynamics, when it comes to funders, thinking of who gets to make the decisions and how that might exacerbate some of the challenges that we know exist, understanding that our own perspectives, our own dynamics come into play with that. And also the power that lives not only with an IOI and working to build out the research to make evidence-based funding recommendations to help direct resourcing where it might be needed most and where it can benefit most.

But also thinking of the power that the various stakeholders hold. And so we think of that in very interesting dynamics of where we can help meet that as neutral as possible though, knowing that we do have a perspective in this space, but really backing that up with evidence so that  we're to the best of our abilities through not only our governance, but also the work that we do, and providing checks and balances. Because we are humans at the end of the day. Providing those mechanisms so that when we are assessing projects based on certain factors that we're thinking as holistically as possible, but also backing it up with information that others can go and interrogate on their own.

We're trying our best to continuously reassess that, bring in new voices, help identify where there are gaps in our analysis and where we need to actively do the hard work of starting to build out mechanisms so that we can gain more understanding while also trying to coordinate across a broad set of stakeholders and recognizing where the limitations of our own work exists and where we can best amplify someone else's doing that work or learn from.

Chris Hartgerink: As you shared, this really reminds me of the interview with Sam Moore. He kept talking about scaling small because, as you say, there is always this need for innovation and the funding. I find this idea really nice because it forces you to not think in bigness but indeed in terms of more longevity and purpose, and I also want to dig into a bit of what is the practical consequence.

How do you even start to do that work?

Kaitlin Thaney: I started in this role in March of 2020, right as the world pretty significantly changed. The expertise of the initial steering committee, which started as a coalition, it was about 20 to 21 people, was the sort of broader team. They were established very early on with a dynamic to really think through means of operating as a working board.

We're fiscally sponsored, so we refer to it as a steering committee, but thinking of it in that sort of way. We met every two weeks for 18 months. That I think also was a real opportunity because it's set a different sort of working environment in place, it wasn't a quarterly board meeting sort of dynamic. It was very communicative, very supportive. Very much everyone rolls up their sleeves and really thinks through these issues.

Chris Hartgerink: And that's a form of capacity building in that sense that goes beyond just with the same people, building more capacity it's with more people, building a bigger capacity.

One of the things with the UNESCO recommendation, which might be a bit on the nose, but there's the sustainable development goals.

We spoke with Monica about how organizing alongside of this with open science, that we can increase the momentum for change on these sustainable development goals. But also for open science, I wanted to ask, do you feel that maybe we should be looking more into those areas?

What's happening there to see whether there are to build that capacity, in that sense?

Kaitlin Thaney: I am a big fan of thinking through different ways of presenting the case for this work to be embedded.

One of the areas that we've got a preliminary investigation will be coming out soon about is actually exploring water and sanitation and how that has been traditionally funded in terms of providing that service.

But that's not just something that the elite get access to. Clean water is vital in many different ways. Thinking through, are there places where looking at say OECD recommendations and working with water and sanitation space, we can draw some parallels in terms of what that means for the work that we do and thinking of, if we present this information in a way that may be aligning with the sustainable development goals around climate.

I know Monica is heavily involved in that work and how openness is necessary condition to be able to meet those goals, but also to think of when it comes to sustainable development goals and building out those allies, are there places where openness can enable more than just toppling big commercial monopolies in the open publishing space or in the publishing space writ large, but more so be an enabler for the change that's needed more broadly to help diversify the players and the voices that are in this arena.

So I think that there's a lot of strength in that in terms of making this less an institutional and publishing game and more so about the broader impact to humanity, the societal benefits of having this information, made more publicly available and more readily accessible and usable by the broader community.

Chris Hartgerink: So when you talk about longterm, it's not all of a sudden 10 years, but we're talking even longer than that.

Kaitlin Thaney: My broader aspiration is to think through what are the core infrastructure services. that don't necessarily need to solve every challenge because there is quite a lot of diversity around what the needs are in various areas, but what would in, an interlocking set of services look like if those were available at every place of higher learning,

Chris Hartgerink: That's a very interesting point. And our listeners that are listening to this podcast, if the report of the comparison with the water infrastructure is out, we'll definitely link it in in, in the show notes also.

I want to ask you, open is sometimes a bit of a bit much, and not to say that the work that you're doing is too much, but how do you deal with the information overload in that sense?

Kaitlin Thaney: I hear that in terms of the information overload and even thinking about some of the open commenting periods, the piece that you'd referred to.

We do preliminary investigations, which is literature reviews and build out some initial understanding that we can then build upon. We have an open comment period that'll be closing next week.

I think that for some of this work, it's really important for us to again, be able to check our biases, not just by flagging things to our steering group or a subset of individuals in our contact list, but really to make it an open invitation. But also what we learned from that is that we really do need to set some expectations for how we would like people to behave in that. When you have an open comment period, it's more challenging.

It's not like an active event or a code of conduct policy can easily be enforced. I will say that we've done comment periods for the Future of Open Scholarship project. We not only ran individual interviews, but also a series of participatory and thought through engagements to bring additional alignment, as well as open comment periods on the research products that we had coming out of that in the synthesis. But we also went through that process for our strategic plan, our three-year vision and invited, I think it was 60 individuals to provide input beyond our steering group.

So it's been something that I think can slow down the process a little bit, but I think it's very necessary to at least provide the opportunity. We also, in addition to that, one of our goals for the strategic plan is really, again, recognizing that we are not here to solve all of the issues in the space. We can't. And also there is an arrogance to that in terms of presuming that we not only have the local knowledge in all areas of the world, which we do not, but also that it does a disservice to the important individuals that are in organizations that are, that have been working on this problem alongside us. And before us. And learning. I think it's really important.

There's always things that we're seeing and trying to get in, trying to bring in individuals from those projects outside of our space to help us understand and to continue to learn and I'm really proud of the work that the team has done in that regard.

But it is hard. This work is inherently political.

We've seen with even just how many different ways the word infrastructure has been used, especially over the last two years, but, even within then that, that there are some, especially when you tie that to funding decisions or you tie that to adoption of tools that many individuals in the space have been working on in some cases for 20 years, that there is some real complexities there in terms of a recommendation we might make to fund a project inherently is saying. "Don't focus on another project in the space."

We know that work is very political. Definitional work we put forward might not, include what one group sees as, what that looks like. And I think that's okay, to just recognize that we do need to have some differences there, but we need to handle that with care and do so as with enough, not only best intent, but understanding of impact as well.

Chris Hartgerink: I would like to start wrapping up. And I want to ask you what is something you want to leave with people as they end this podcast series on the UNESCO recommendation on open science?

Kaitlin Thaney: I would say recognize that while it may not always seem this way individually, you've got more power and agency over your choices, especially when it comes to infrastructure and technology that you choose. Encourage you to think critically about how that aligns with your own personal values and the values of the groups that you're associated with and the communities that you're associated with.

And to not be afraid to ask the hard questions.

I think, there are services that we employ on a day to day basis that partner with organizations that really jeopardize the safety of our broader community. It's okay to say that you're going to move somewhere else because of that. And I think that oftentimes see sort of inertia or the status quo gets in the way of feeling that you have the ability to do that, but you've got the same ability to say, I'm not choosing that outlet. I'm not choosing that technology.

I'd like to look at other opportunities or even just to ask questions of that service, to say, I need to know more about how you use and sell my data. Who else are you working with and what does the governance look like? How do I flag something? If there's a challenge, like what does that recourse look like?

And to really think critically about the technologies that we use in that regard?

We all need to make choices of tools and technology and services and people. We work with that best align with our values, but also still allow for the functionality and ability to serve the needs that we have.

And I know it's not often straightforward. But I would say not to underestimate the power that individually you have and also the power that your budget has.


You just listened to the final interview here on the second season of the Open Update with Kaitlin Thaney.

It's been a ride.

Throughout these nine episodes with 10 guests we're rounding out this season.  This makes me ask again, what do you think? What are the things that resonated? Because we've been having these conversations here and it is a conversation for us all also

In the end, it's not just what happens here on the podcast. It's what we do collectively. I would love to keep hearing from you, what your thoughts are, so that we can build that capacity that's been mentioned so often, gain an understanding and improve how we enact on the knowledge that we create, how we make open science really a force for equity, like the UNESCO recommendations says itself.

So find a link in the show notes to leave us a voice message. I will be happy to hear from you. Happy to hear from our listeners anytime.

We'll be doing the lottery for the book, Ways of Being, authored by our previous guest, James Bridle quite soon. Be sure to include a way for us to get in touch when you leave a voice message. Otherwise we can't give you anything, of course.

To round up the second season of the Open Update, I would like to just say thank you for listening. I know it's not just a very tiny bit of time. It was nine episodes, all around 20 to 30 minutes, so thank you for taking the time in your busy days to listen to the show, to share your thoughts.

I look forward to inviting you back again for a third season. We're not sure what we're going to do just yet. So if you have thoughts on that, feel free to tweet us under the hashtag #OpenUpdate or include it in a voice message. We'd love to hear from you!

I'm your host, Chris Hartgerink and I'm signing off for today. I look forward to hearing from you and seeing where open science goes in the future.

Thank you very much.

Written by
Chris Hartgerink
Researcher and director at Liberate Science.

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