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Ashley Farley of the Gates Foundation: “Knowledge should be a public good.”

Hi Ashley, and thanks for joining us here! Could you start off by letting us know a little bit about your background?

Certainly! I began college aiming for a Zoology degree while working at the University’s library. My love for information grew in proportion to my struggle for mastering Physics and Organic Chemistry. My senior year I transferred disciplines and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) focused on Library and Information Science. For the next decade, I worked in both public and academic libraries and began pursuing my Masters in Library and Information Sciences from the University of Washington (to be completed this summer. Yay!) Now I have found myself submersed in the realm of scientific knowledge and research dissemination. I find this to be a perfect way to combine all my passions – science, knowledge, and service to others.

Credit: Ashley Farley

When did you first hear about open access and open science? What were your initial thoughts?

The first time I heard about these topics was while interning at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the Knowledge and Research Services department. My initial thought was “How have I not heard of this before?!”. Having worked in libraries for many years I was familiar with the serials crisis and the importance of research, but I had not been introduced to the Open Access movement. Then I thought, “Of course Open Access should be the norm!”. Knowledge should be a public good.

“Of course Open Access should be the norm!”. Knowledge should be a public good.

What’s it like working for the Gates Foundation? How much of your time do you spend working on ‘open’ related things?

I really love working for the Gates Foundation – it’s providing me with the opportunity, each day, to work towards a greater good. A message that is posted throughout the foundation is “All Lives Have Equal Value” and I take this to heart. This is the first institution where I have been employed to embrace innovation and move initiatives forward fairly quickly. One of our tenets is that we will take risks that others can’t or won’t and I’m proud of this. Currently, I spend about 90% of my time on Open Access. This encompasses internal and external communications, advocacy of our policy, and working with our grantees to make their research open access. We’ve recently joined the newly launched Open Research Funders Group (ORFG) to work with other research funders worldwide to adopt mandates like ours. Together we can create a funding environment where Open Access or even Open Science is the norm. I am beginning to see the impact that my work has on the scientific community and it’s very exciting. We have other partnerships in the works that will be announced soon to continue to support the Open Access movement.

The Gates Foundation has what we might consider a quite progressive Open Access policy. How did this policy come about, and what was your role in its development?

Since 2003 with the creation of the Global Access Strategy the foundation is continuing to improve on transparency and openness. Why should we and our grantees pay to access the work that we fund? The policy was formulated by a small working group, which included people with diverse rules within the foundation. As the policy would affect all grants throughout the entire foundation, it was important to include the individual perspectives and experiences of the different program teams. After an in-depth landscape analysis of Open Access, a policy was presented to the Executive Leadership Team, and it was accepted and officially announced November 2014. The policy included a two-year transition period, which was critical for its success. It gave us the time to communicate the policy, both internally and externally, as well as working with publishers to reach policy compliance. Other funders, such as Wellcome Trust, were indispensable in helping form the policy and we are so grateful to follow their lead.

I came on-board during the implementation stage of the policy. I played a role in the development of Chronos. This is a tool/service developed to help make compliancy easier for our grantees when they are ready to publish their research. As many have experienced (and I recently learned) the publication process is complicated and time consuming. Our goal in creating Chronos is to ease the frustration, speed up the publication process, and more effectively track our research impacts. This will be the first time that the foundation can easily see articles published by our researchers.

Do you think it’s easier for ‘private’ funders such as the Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust to adopt stronger stances towards open than say government funders? Why do you think this is?

Yes, overall I think it’s much easier for private funders to enforce a mandate than government funders. I think there are a lot of factors at play here, including financial and political aspects. We are lucky to be able to pay for the Open Access fees for all grantees. Other funders might not have this capability and the financial burden would fall to authors. I also hear concerns surrounding the concept of “academic freedom” and the publication needs surrounding academic advancement. While we don’t have the answer to these concerns, our first goal is finding innovative solutions to the health problems facing the world. We care very much about our grantees and their career goals and are working consistently to ensure all needs are met. I hope through the ORFG we can work with other funders to have conversations about these concerns and work on implementing solutions.

Credit: Ashley Farley

The ‘zero embargo’ policy is quite counter to the much longer embargoes demanded by some publishers for self-archived work. Why did the Foundation choose to adopt this, and what do you think the impact of it will be?

The overall goal of our policy is to ensure the research we fund is available to the global community as soon as possible and we live in a time when technological advances support this goal. The outbreak of Ebola taught us a critical lesson about the flow of scientific information during a health crisis. Research saves lives and timing is important. Waiting for research to be published, which can take a year or more, stalls needed answers to a health crisis. Our Open Access policy reflects our belief that barrier-free access to foundation-funded research advances innovation and helps create a world where everyone has the opportunity to lead a healthy and productive life. First, I hope that the impact means research becomes openly available more quickly to solve outstanding issues to improve and save lives. Secondly, I hope others in the community recognize the importance of time in knowledge dissemination and we frontload openness in the research process instead of it being an afterthought.

The outbreak of Ebola taught us a critical lesson about the flow of scientific information during a health crisis. Research saves lives and timing is important.

Why did the Foundation require an Open Data policy alongside research papers it funds?

Having underlying data available is critical in furthering research and supporting reproducibility of experiments. It will aid in avoiding duplication and research fund waste. This is a step towards setting a foundation of Open Data and Open Science. I recently helped a researcher who was looking for a specific data set from a project that we funded, however the data wasn’t public. The researcher then exclaimed that his team would have to collect this data themselves before starting their research project. These experiences cost researchers time, money, and other resources unnecessarily.

Having underlying data available is critical in furthering research and supporting reproducibility of experiments.

How have researchers and publishers responded to the new policy? Are there plans to change it in the future in line with feedback from the broader community?

Overall, we have received fantastic support from researchers (both grantees and not), publishers, and Open Access advocates. Especially, researchers in the global south who struggle with access to research or affording to make their research open to others have positively responding to the announcement of our policy. To me, making science more equitable globally is extremely important. We have been very fortunate to have met many advocates in Open Access in the past several years and I am very excited to see how we continue to grow Open Access initiatives. At this time, we do not have any major plans to adapt our policy. We are working on developing Open Data and Open Science goals. As our policy only covers peer-reviewed journal publications, I can see us including more information article types in the future. The policy’s transition period ended at the start of 2017 and our focus right now is collecting data on our open research to better inform our decisions moving forward.

To me, making science more equitable globally is extremely important.

What are the greatest barriers to open science for researchers, and how can we overcome these?

These are the barriers I see that the entire Open Science community can work on overcoming:

  1. Academic advancement – I think it’s critical that there is a shift in focus from where researchers publish to how they influence their discipline. Openness should be lauded.
  2. Funding and research focus – I hope to see a shift from research needing to be ground-breaking to also supporting reproducibility studies.
  3. Curation – As openness is embraced and with the current deluge of information, curation and discoverability is very important. As a librarian, I want to see tools that curate the entire body of knowledge to help everyone find the information they need to stay up-to-date and aid in discoverability.

One of my favorite articles on the issues facing the scientific community today was published by Vox. I appreciate the conclusion that science is not doomed.

How can platforms like ScienceOpen help younger researchers develop their skills in open research?

I think that platforms like ScienceOpen are critical to helping younger researchers – not only in providing them with the tools they need to hone their skills – but by providing them with a welcoming community. Providing a space for dialog is the best way to continue to grow as a researcher. As Open Science grows I am seeing a hunger to form more collaborations and to foster conversations globally to reach research goals. Organizations, like ScienceOpen, are calling on new generations of researchers to question the status quo of science and implores them to set a new standard.

What other tools or platforms would you recommend to researchers?

There are many amazing tools that have been establishing themselves in the open science space. A few of my favorite are:

F1000 – Which offers researchers an alternative to traditional publishing “offering immediate publishing and transparent peer-review”.

Protocols IO – I love to see tools that help bring transparency to how research is actually done, thus strengthening the research and helping the community improve as a whole.

Open Science Framework – This is a fantastic example of how openness can be frontloaded in the research process, providing transparency from the very start.

Where do you see the future of scholarly communication? What steps are needed to get there?

I see the future of scholarly communication being an open and community based process from start to finish. Open clinical trials, open protocols, open peer-review, open data – I can’t wait to see it all! There will be no walls or privilege dictating how science if conducted or who can partake.

Change can be scary, but it will be less scary if the community embraces these changes together.

Whose responsibility do you think it is to lead this change?

This is a great question. I think that any stakeholder within science (librarian, researcher, student, publisher, funder, tax-payer) who believes in Open Science should lead within their own community. Open Science is complex and will take leadership from more than one sector of the complexity to create the change needed. As a funder we can lead, but we won’t be successful without the support of researchers, librarians, and other funders. A researcher can take lead, but will need the support of their funder, institution, and community. Stronger together!

If you could give one piece of advice to students looking to pursue a research career, what would it be?

My piece of advice would be to reach out to the scientific community and share your career goals. Find a mentor who supports these goals. Share your research from start to finish and build collaborations with fellow researchers.

Wonderful, thank you so much, Ashley! We look forward to hearing about future developments from the Gates Foundation.

3 thoughts on “Ashley Farley of the Gates Foundation: “Knowledge should be a public good.””

  1. Ashley,
    Addgene would love to get involved in the ORFG. Addgene is a unique nonprofit involved in the open sharing of materials (not just data). We are a unique success story and would like to hear how we can help. We are currently shipping 550 samples a day to scientists in 85 countries including many developing countries.
    Please get in touch!
    Joanne Kamens, Addgene Executive Director.

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