In the same week the Obama Administration released its Open Government Directive it also launched a public discussion on expanding public access provisions to the results of federally funded research. This process will follow the format of the all-too-brief public discussion that informed the Open Government Initiative.
Between December 10 and January 7 (though that timeframe has apparently been expanded a bit), there is an online discussion over whether to expand the National Institutes of Health policy of requiring its grantees to deposit research articles and other research results into a public database, usually after a set period of time. Senator Lieberman had introduced a bill earlier this year – S. 1373 – to expand the policy to other federal agencies, but it remains in committee. Here are the three phases of the discussion, which are open for comment at the OSTP blog under postings for each phase (only the first two phases have posts at this time). You are also welcome to comment under the main post for this discussion.
“Implementation (Dec. 10 to 20): Which Federal agencies are good candidates to adopt Public Access policies? What variables (field of science, proportion of research funded by public or private entities, etc.) should affect how public access is implemented at various agencies, including the maximum length of time between publication and public release?
Features and Technology (Dec. 21 to Dec 31): In what format should the data be submitted in order to make it easy to search and retrieve information, and to make it easy for others to link to it? Are there existing digital standards for archiving and interoperability to maximize public benefit? How are these anticipated to change.
Management (Jan. 1 to Jan. 7): What are the best mechanisms to ensure compliance? What would be the best metrics of success? What are the best examples of usability in the private sector (both domestic and international)? Should those who access papers be given the opportunity to comment or provide feedback?”
As I’ve argued before, I’m not crazy about the fast turnarounds on these comment periods. This is less than 30 days, and given how policies have been rolled out by this administration long after stipulated deadlines have passed, my cognitive dissonance over the quick comments is large. And while the emphasis on online collection of comment is great, I’m not sure that discussion-style formats should be the only way, or the primary way, to gather thorough analysis and consideration. Granted, this assumes that previous comments have been high quality thinking better than what’s gained online. But I don’t think the policies under consideration are meant (or should be meant) only for those that interact with the web or a smart phone.
What good will more open access to research be if those areas that can benefit from it lack the technologies to comment on the policy or access the newly opened archives? I don’t want to lump this in with a digital divide debate, as I think the online/offline landscape is a lot more complicated now than it was when the metaphor was in vogue. But it’s supposed to be government for all the people, and in this case, publicly funded research for the whole public. I can’t help think we’re missing out by focusing on electronic means of discussing the matter.