Drafting proposals in the open – sketching out project ideas

By Fabiana Kubke 04/05/2011

[also posted in http://www.science3point0.com/evomri/2011/05/03/drafting-proposals-in-the-open-sketching-out-project-ideas/] This post is licenced under a CC0


“Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose.” Vannevar Bush, 1945

As announced last week, we – Fabiana Kubke and Daniel Mietchen – are currently participating in the Getting your CC project funded course at Peer-to-Peer University, and have decided to draft our proposal collaboratively and in the open. Part of our motivation is our (and others’) perceived need for making scientific information more useful by positioning it where it can be easily found, used, linked to, repurposed, and updated.

The introductory meeting of the course took place on April 26 (UTC) via Skype. We have since incorporated some of the feedback we got so far, and in this post – which Claudia Koltzenburg helped us draft – we will outline the next steps in the hope to entice others to get involved as well.

The course is scheduled around a series of workshops, each focusing on a different aspect of the proposal-writing process:

  • May 3, Workshop 1: How do we move from having an idea to realizing those ideas in terms of having aims, and goals?
  • May 6, Workshop 2: Which funding bodies are there that can give financial support, and how do we find appropriate sponsors for our project?
  • May 10, Workshop 3: How can we structure our proposed work in terms of tasks and how do we make a realistic timeline?
  • May 17, Workshop 4: Knowing how long time we estimate, and the resources we need, how do we put together a reasonable budget?
  • May 24, Workshop 5: What happens after the funding period is over? How do we make the project sustainable?
  • May 31, Workshop 6: What would we look at when reviewing another proposal.

The grant proposals are to be drafted in parallel to these workshops until June, when the proposals produced will be peer-reviewed, and professional feedback will be provided to increase the chances of getting funded. In preparation for today’s workshop, we will use this post to explore the aims and goals of our project(s).

The candidate projects in a nutshell

The ideas submitted as part of the application for the course all center around what could be thought of as an Encyclopaedia of original research, which shall therefore be the default focus of the grant proposal (as idea 1). Two smaller projects (ideas 2 and 3) build on idea 1 but are more specific and could thus be integrated into a proposal about idea 1, or developed independently, whereas idea 4 is wider in scope than idea 1. We expect the final scope of our grant proposal to be defined more precisely before attending Workshop 3.

“In the academy [..] we need to recognise an ethical obligation […] which is at the core of our mission which is universal access to knowledge.” Larry Lessig, in the video embedded below, which is CC-BY-licensed.

The Architecture of Access to Scientific Knowledge from Lessig on Vimeo.

Idea 1: The primary aim of the Encyclopaedia of original research (henceforth EOR) is to arrange the existing scientific literature in a way that allows it to become dynamic in nature. The primary goal is to develop a platform that is able to capture and archive the open scientific literature such that the original work is being preserved (like at arXive or PubMed Central) but becomes dynamically and collaboratively editable (like at OpenWetWare). By way of such a platform, scientists and others could share their knowledge more effectively than through papers: Work on related matters could be more easily identified and conceptualized, and so could gaps in knowledge. Besides the possibility for direct editing, facilities for annotation, commenting and other ways of interaction with the community of researchers in the field would ensure the widest possible peer review.

The Encyclopaedia of original research combines two of the principles for open science that have been put forward by Science Commons: it takes the “Open Access” literature and recognizes that it too – like data – is a lost opportunity “without structure and annotation”. The characteristics of the platform that would contain the encyclopaedia are complex: it needs to track individual contributions to enable proper attribution, the content needs to be granular enough to be able to be cite individual elements within an entire piece, individual pieces of works or elements within it need to be able to be dynamically linked, indexed and contextualized, and the metadata needs to be structured to enhance discoverability, an attribute that is essential for reuse. The user interface also needs to be suitable for the different technological levels of knowledge or levels of comfort appropriate for individual scientists, so that technology is not a barrier for adoption and/or contribution.

We expect that the encyclopaedia will benefit science by helping to avoid duplication of research efforts (and related funding), providing a faster means of updating information otherwise delayed by prevalent publication cycles or not deemed “worthy” of formal publication (practical example case) and promoting the open discussion of research findings in light of new evidence.

The approach, though initially focused on contemporary literature, could likewise be applied to legacy literature – a start in this direction has already been made, as discussed here.

Idea 2: The aim here is to take advantage of such a repository to facilitate the delivery of scientific and health-related information to remote areas where this information may not be readily available but where access to it is essential for the well-being of those communities. What we imagine is that the above EOR could incorporate (or lead to) lay summaries (similar to AcaWiki of the scientific literature or such as those that already exist in blogs) as part of its knowledge base and both the original research as the lay summaries can be translated to local languages. Specific content that is relevant to specific world regions (e.g., malaria in Africa, Chagas in South America) can be bundled in formats that are compatible with existing local technology. One way to at least partially achieve this goal is to bundle region-relevant information so that it can take advantage of ongoing deployments associated with the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project and where it can reach the communities that would benefit most from that research.

Idea 3: The aim here is to take advantage of the infrastructure of the EOR (and part of the information contained within it) to complement (or support) digital collections not typically considered part of the scientific “literature”, e.g. from museums or databases. Take, for example this artifact from the Matapihi digital collection. The interaction of the user with the digital object could be enhanced by linking it to different representations of the same specimen (say, an MRI scan), or to relevant scientific information pertaining to similar specimens. It could further be brought back to life by linking it to other cultural artifacts: for instance, ‘Have specific works of poetry or music been inspired by these types of specimens?’, or ‘Are there local traditions or myths that are associated with the artifact?’, or ‘Is there a personal notebook of the individual who brought this specimen to where it is? As an example, this other digital object from the New Zealand National Library presents not just the artifact but the cultural context of what the object represents and how it relates to the local cultural heritage.

The fate of these ideas will depend on how the grant writing develops; the project as a whole could be shrunk to either of these projects (or similar ones), or these projects could be spinned off or retired.

Idea 4: The project could in principle also be expanded in scope, e.g. to test the efficiency of open versus traditional science. However, in order to produce a competitive grant on this big issue, we would require considerable support from beyond our current team of three.

The next steps

By May 10, we will need to identify in a first instance the type (or types) of funding bodies that would be suitable (at least in principle) to fund and/or sponsor the project. We would like to invite feedback and suggestions for that part of the process as well. For that purpose, we have set up a page on Wikiversity were we will be aggregating the relevant feedback we receive, and draft the next blog post in this series.

We would also like to invite feedback on which platform would be most suitable for the drafting of the full proposal. Different wiki spaces seem to be appropriate, as are Google Docs, but the idea of drafting it on GitHub is also on the table.