A World of Digital Openness: Panton in September

With October now well underway, I’m actually halfway through my Panton Fellowship year: how on earth did the time pass by so quickly? Time does indeed fly by when you’re having lots of (open science) fun. Much of September centred around data release and licensing and digital management, thanks to two big conference events. It was always clear that September was going to be a busy month! Juggling two conferences a week apart with DPhil research/chapter writing/papering up felt like an adrenaline sport at the time (offering the same combination of excitement, fear and tiredness) but was a really valuable and enjoyable experience. So, here’s what went on in September…

First up was the Digital Research 2012 conference, hosted by the Oxford e-Research Centre and held in the striking surroundings of St. Catherine’s College at the University of Oxford. Peter Murray-Rust, Jenny Molloy and I organised and led the OKFN session on the Tuesday morning, starting with Peter’s plenary lecture (read his blog on the subject here, followed by Jenny showcasing several different OKFN projects, including CKAN, DataHub and PubCrawler, through an on-screen software demo. I rounded out the session by chairing a 45 minute panel debate entitled, “Surfing the Wave of Open Data: Why, When and How?“, which aimed to generate discussion on how we release and publish our data and to consider how our approaches to this need to evolve in the years to come. We were joined by a fantastic line-up of panel speakers: Mark Hahnel of Figshare, Juan Bicarregui of STFC, Mark Elliot of CCSR and Brian Hole of Ubiquity Press. As far as I’m aware, the entire conference programme was filmed: the footage is being processed at the moment and should be up on the ‘Digital Research 2012‘ YouTube channel as soon as it’s ready. Will update you as soon as I hear anything! Hopefully the OKFN session will be online for viewing very soon, so you can all catch up on the presentations, demos and debate you may have missed.

The intervening period between the two conferences was mostly given over to completing the Panton Principles video I mentioned in my previous two posts. I started scripting and filming this at the end of August: it’s only the second video I’ve ever made, so I’m still getting used to the medium really, but it’s great fun. The first ‘film short’ I made was actually my application video for the Panton Fellowship (back in February of this year). Location spotters amongst you may be interested to know that we filmed this one in the library of Keble College, Oxford – it seemed appropriate that I should be surrounded by lots of scientific information while promoting principles which support the release of scientific data! Thankfully I overcame most of my filming nerves earlier this year, so it was easier to stand in front of the camera second time around. It wasn’t without its problems though: natural lighting conditions on the first morning of filming were far too bright and I ended up looking practically corpse-like on screen; not a healthy look for a promotional video! Thankfully the second morning of filming (assisted by the return of my now-familIar red dress) proved more successful. Huge thanks to Alastair Kay for endless patience behind the camera and for all his work editing the material into finished form, and to Ross Mounce for looking over the script and suggesting some additions…hopefully they’re as pleased with the end result as I.

The video is available on YouTube, released under a CC-BY-3.0 licence, so please feel free to use it to spread the open science gospel further afield 🙂 I’m also arranging for a downloadable version to be released in the very near future, so watch this space. Information in text form might be useful in some cases, but lots of legal-looking writing or formal guidelines can look rather intimidating and deter people sometimes. Alternative media such as film provide a great way of imparting the same information in an accessible, friendly and non-intimidating way. Let’s embrace this more in the future!

The subject of OKFest needs no introduction really…with the #okfest hashtag not just trending but skyrocketing on Twitter from the first day of the conference, it was always set to be a dynamic, exciting and much talked about event. I won’t repeat the multitude of bloggers who’ve already described so many aspects of the week: suffice to say it was utterly fantastic and I was sad that I could only join for two days (and you can read my previous blog post with all the relevant video links here). I arrived in Helsinki on the Tuesday and was on a plane flying back to Heathrow by the Thursday night, but it realy was a fantastic two days. Wednesday was the busiest day for me, with plenty of involvement in the Open Education stream, chairing the panel discussion on ‘Immediate Access to Raw Data from Experiments‘ before Ross Mounce and I showcased our Fellowship work. And so it was time for the much-awaited unveiling of my new Panton Principles video I mentioned earlier…and then into my presentation as part of the Panton Fellows’ session (available on Bambuser here, and you should also check out the other videos from the stream, including the panel discussions and Ross Mounce’s Panton presentation, as well). Much of my talk addressed the issues of reproducibility in scientific research, before introducing the audience to my OSTI ahead of its launch in December 2012. Following on from OKFest, I have a few articles in the pipeline on the reproducibility issue, so keep your eyes peeled for those.

Equally invaluable at OKFest were the many opportunities to make new contacts: amongst others, I was fortunate to be introduced to Puneet Kishor of Creative Commons and Philipp Schmidt of the Peer-to-Peer University. It was great to meet them and discuss my plans: my discussions with Puneet will hopefully help in expanding the OSTI approach into the US once I’ve run the pilot, which is a hugely exciting prospect. In fact, all my conversations with fellow scientists, data wranglers, educationalists and open science aficionados over the past month has made me really excited about the prospects for my OSTI when we launch later this term. My conversations with Puneet were in fact one of the things that cemented my resolve to establish a proper website for the scheme, which will be one of the major focuses in the coming months. It’ll provide you all with updates, progress, information and more as the project evolves and is being planned right now. Needless to say, I’ll keep you posted…

Well time is short this month, so  I’ll have to disappear for now – but it looks as though plenty of things are happening in October. I’ll be liaising further with several people at NERC to confirm the details of the town meetings for their prospective Doctoral Training Partnerships in Nov/Dec: getting our OSTI up and running across the UK would be really exciting! I’m also getting to work on planning course content and a further video on “Demystifying Data Licensing” as well as doing early-stage planning and development on the OSTI website. Lots to keep me busy – I’ll let you know how it all goes!