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Open science and public engagement: Exploring the potential of the open paradigm to support public engagement with science

Grand, Ann

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Ann Grand


Open science, a practice in which the entirety of a research project is made available, via the Internet, using a variety of tools and techniques, is an emerging approach to the conduct of science. The hypothesis that open science therefore has the potential to support public engagement with science has been investigated through the research outlined in this thesis. The research has also sought to address the related issues of how, or if, the science thus made available therefore needs to be translated and narrated for public consumption and how, or if, open science can or should develop as a deep and bidirectional mode of engagement between members of the public and researchers.
The research employed two methods of qualitative enquiry (interviews and case studies) and one method of quantitative enquiry (a web-based questionnaire survey) to enable appropriate validation through methodological triangulation. The interview participants, recruited through purposive sampling, took part in semi-structured interviews, which were analysed using a grounded theory approach. Three exploratory case studies were selected using a descriptive decision matrix. The case studies were conducted using a mixture of ethnographic observations of events, meetings and other situations involving personal contact, documentary studies of project websites, available materials and so on, and interviews with project members. Finally, a web-based survey was carried out to establish baseline data on the scientific and cultural background, motivations and opinions of visitors to open science project websites.
The results suggest that although the principle of openness is widely accepted, there are a number of issues to be addressed as research is opened up to a wider public. These include the development of shared praxis between researchers and members of the public, for example understanding of data analysis techniques and how to support judgements of validity and trustworthiness of information. Problems of data ownership are also foreseen, both in terms of proprietary and intellectual property rights, the maintenance of reputation, precedence and priority and in how to value non-professional and non-traditional contributions to research.
The results also indicate that open science has the credentials to claim a place in the ranks of public engagement strategies. This research indicates that open science is not yet a tightly-defined practice; as a flexible, innovative methodology, it offers a variety of routes for engagement for both scientists and members of the public. For scientists, it could be a mode for communication in which the communicative activities are part of daily scientific work. For members of the public, it could enable them to follow a project in which they are interested, offering direct access to data, publications and other research outputs. For both communities, it could support the development and sustaining of public participation in research, and enable dialogue and collaboration throughout the scientific process, from defining the research question, to research design, to experiment, to analysis.

Thesis Type Thesis
Acceptance Date Nov 9, 2012
Publicly Available Date Jun 7, 2019
Keywords open science, public engagement with science, public engagement, science communication
Public URL
Award Date Nov 9, 2012


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