Posted by: Dorianne Cotter-Lockard | 24 October 2007

Open Research – Modeled after Open Source

The following is an excerpt from a paper I wrote last week. We were asked to comment on the topic of citations, references and plagiarism. Then we were asked to add an idea to stimulate controversial dialog. I’d love to hear other’s comments on this idea.

An interesting article by Donald Hardaway in the Communications of the ACM (Hardaway, 2005) proposes a new online research approach that follows the “open source” software development approach. The open source model provides free software via the Internet. Software developers around the world are granted a “general public license” (GPL) to test, use and modify the software. The originator of the open source software still “owns” the right to determine which changes will be made to the original software. The Linux operating system is an example of open source software. The resulting community that has been created has contributed to strengthening and improving the software and adapting it for broader use than could be done if the development had been kept in a proprietary environment.

Hardaway proposes open peer review of research, including work in process. The work could be posted to a community online forum, encouraging research collaboration. Practitioners and academics would be invited to participate, providing an avenue for cross-discipline dialogue. This would bridge the gap that often keeps these groups separate and would stimulate better topics and questions for research. Hardaway outlines an approach to date-time stamp the research with the author’s name, even for work-in-process, so the author receives appropriate acknowledgement. He suggests using a rating system, similar to Amazon’s system, to allow others to rate and comment on the research. The raters would need to be registered and identified as to their qualifications so others can assess the validity of the ratings.

The websites for open research would need to be hosted and moderated by an impartial party, such as a university or academic association. The research community could adapt the GPL concept to give credit to the originator of the research and to allow others to conduct derivative research based on the original. One of the advantages of this concept, besides the obvious ones of wider peer review and enhanced collaboration, is that much of the research that isn’t published currently due to a limited number of academic journal space, would gain visibility to the academic community.

I really like this concept and wonder if the academic community would need to go through a huge culture shift in adopting the open research approach. So many institutions reward their faculty based on the number of published papers and in which journals. How would that paradigm need to change in order to incorporate “open research?” I invite my esteemed Fielding colleagues to provide answers to this question.


Hardaway, D. E. (2005). Sharing research in the 21st century: borrowing a page from open source software Communications of the ACM, 48(8), 4.



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