Open Science: a review of definitions with a regional perspective

The topic of Open Science is increasingly gaining importance in all academic environments as well as at policymaking level. UNESCO has recently adopted a resolution that will bring towards the development and possible adoption by 2021 of a UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science. In light of this recent debate on the need and benefits of closing the distance between science and society, it is urgent to shed light on the meaning and scope of Open Science across different regions of the world. 

This document provides a preliminary organized selection of definitions of Open Science. In approaching the concept, the first question to be addressed is what is meant with it, what is its scope, what are the existent approaches. There are a number of different answers to this question, thus, while this document’s aim is not to come up with an exact definition, but collect the main ones according to specific criteria.

The concept of Open Science may take different shades according to geographic different perspectives across nations and regions or it can differ according to the stakeholders and actors involved and according to different perspectives given by science users.

In the photo: A student participating in Open Science activities – Photo credit: Unesco

Open Science is in fact an umbrella term encompassing a number of concepts and definitions related to the way knowledge is created and disseminated and the reasons why knowledge and science should be more open. 

Before moving to the analysis of these concepts, it is important to recall the article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the United Nations which states that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits”. This article can be considered as an overarching standpoint on which the concept of Open Science sets its foundations, placing emphasis on the participation in science as well as on the accessibility to the knowledge which science produces.

Inspired by the work of Fecher and Friesike (2014), the following paragraph is a first attempt to categorize Open Science views and approaches according to their scope and aims. To define the concept, the authors identify five schools of thought: 

  1. The infrastructure school, which is concerned with the technological architecture;
  2. The public school, which is concerned with the accessibility of knowledge creation; 
  3. The measurement school, which is concerned with alternative impact measurement;
  4. The democratic school, which is concerned with access to knowledge;
  5. The pragmatic school, which is concerned with collaborative research.

Considering that the Open Science concept has made great progress in the last few years, it is now possible to recognize in the literature an evolution of the abovementioned schools of thought.

Open Science categorization

Looking at the literature it is possible to recognize recurring patterns that inspire a division into the following streams:

  1. Open knowledge to provide solutions at the benefit of the society;
  2. Share the products of research to guarantee quality;
  3. Open access to publications to facilitate collaborative, transparent, reproducible, and efficient research and development practices;
  4. A mechanism to bring research closer to society and promote their participation
  5. Open Science (and access) to facilitate the dissemination of research results – communication.

The first category, opening knowledge to provide solutions at the benefit of the society, fully embraces UNESCO’s approach. Open Science has been part of UNESCO’s action for some years now, with focus on UNESCO Access to Scientific Information and the Open Educational Resources (OER) movements. In particular, the OER have been adopted by UNESCO as tools to meet the challenges of providing learning materials for free to learners from diverse levels and modes of education worldwide.

These learning materials are freely available for adaptation and re-purposing can expand access to learning of better quality at a lower cost (UNESCO, Open Educational Resources (OER), n.d.). 

While through the Global Open Access Portal (GOAP), UNESCO has contributed to open access to scientific information worldwide. In this framework, Open Science is defined as the movement to make scientific research and data accessible to all. It includes practices such as publishing open scientific research, campaigning for open access and generally making it easier to publish and communicate scientific knowledge. Additionally, it includes other ways to make science more transparent and accessible during the research process. This includes open notebook science, citizen science, and aspects of open source software and crowdfunded research projects (UNESCO, n.d.).

More recently, with the adoption of the UNESCO Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers in 2017 (UNESCO, UNESCO Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers, 2017) , UNESCO introduces the concept of open communication of the results, hypotheses and opinions as a tool to guarantee accuracy and objectivity of scientific results, in a context of academic freedom. In this way, UNESCO also embraces the second stream where Open Science is meant to share the products of research to guarantee quality.

The European Commission has also contributed to shape the definition of Open Science and has developed Open Science Policy Platform Recommendations. In this context, Open Science is defined as research and development (R&D) that is collaborative, transparent and reproducible and whose outputs are publicly available (European Commission, 2018). Thus, this definition falls into the third stream which considers open access to publications as a way to facilitate collaborative, transparent and reproducible research and development practices.

The European Commission’s focus is also on the access to publications, putting researchers and their needs at the center of the scholarly communication of the future, and considering knowledge and understanding created by researchers as public goods.

In alliance with research institutions and their libraries, and researchers (in particular with the help of learned societies), funders can reform the general landscape of scholarly publishing and communication, and bring a better balance between the public and private sectors in the ecosystem of scholarly publishing (European Commission, 2019).

The work of the European Commission is very much centered on the concept of Open Access, meaning the unrestricted online access to peer-reviewed scholarly research. In the “Study on Open Science. Impact, Implications and Policy Options” (European Commission, 2015), the European Commission defines Open Access as the immediate, online, free availability of research outputs without the severe restrictions on use commonly imposed by publisher copyright agreements.

Thus, data and information are freely available to all researchers and the public without any limitation of usage. It also provides a definition of “Green open access”, which refers to the “self-archiving” of the published articles or the final peer-reviewed manuscript by the researcher after or alongside its publication in a scholarly journal.

According to the European Commission, Open Access is also a business model based on charging the publications costs to the authors instead of the readers. Gold open access, or “open access publishing”, or “author pays publishing” means that a publication is immediately provided online by the scientific publisher in an open access mode. Associated costs are shifted from readers to the university or the research institute to which the researcher is affiliated, or to the funding agency sponsoring the research or the institution. In this sense, the European Commission’s perspective is also aims at guaranteeing efficiency of the publishing system. 

At the same time, with Coalition S and Plan S the European approach has shifted towards the second stream, which promotes the sharing of products of research to guarantee and improve quality. Within Plan S, the advancement of science is seen as the result of a mechanism in which research results are made openly available to the community so that they can be submitted to the test and scrutiny of other researchers.

Furthermore, and this is important, new research builds on established results from previous research. The chain, whereby new scientific discoveries are built on previously established results, can only work optimally if all research results are made openly available to the scientific community.

ALLEA, adds another layer to the complexity of Open Science definitions. For ALLEA (All European Academies), Open Science envisages optimal sharing of research results and tools: publications, data, software, and educational resources”. It highlights three necessary aspects:

(1) Open Scientific Content arising from publicly-funded research 

(2) Open e-Infrastructures for public and private research 

(3) Open Science Culture.

As new aspects to the previous definitions, the “open science culture” dimension highlights the necessity to change academic assessment and reward systems to reward participation in the culture of sharing, in enabling online collaboration and reproducible e-science. It is also taken into account (and hoped) that youth will find inspiration for new discoveries and entrepreneurship, joining the ranks of scientists, engineers and innovators in greater numbers (ALLEA, 2012). Thus, ALLEA combines the need of open access to publications to facilitate collaborative, transparent and reproducible research and development practices (efficiency model), with the objective of bringing research and science closer to society (and youth) promoting its participation.

Latin America has a strong OA tradition. There is a number of collaborative and non-commercial initiatives with government support and a prominent role of universities in the maintenance of free journals for readers and authors. La Referentia advocates for open access to research results especially because most of research is publicly funded. Open Access is in this case a tool to address the need of research institutions to disseminate information as widely as possible and of S&T organizations to have fully or partially publicly financed results available in Open Access.

In the case of Latin America, Open Science (and access) not only is seen as a tool to facilitate the dissemination of research results and to favour science communication (stream five), but it is also a matter of efficiency and good use of public funding.

In Latin America, two thirds of the investments and funding for Open Access initiatives and Research & Development (R&D) comes, directly or indirectly, from public funds and from international cooperation. Key Open Access players are national science agencies and universities (mainly libraries, journal editors, press units, ICT units, research/academic areas). Thus, in the absence of commercial academic publishers, which is the model prevailing in developed regions, free print distribution of scientific and academic publications has been the norm.

In Africa, the Open Science movement is advancing especially thank to the Africa Open Science Platform (AOSP). According to AOSP, it is imperative that science becomes a more public enterprise that engages actively with business, policymakers, governments, communities and citizens as knowledge partners in jointly framing questions and jointly seeking solutions rather than one conducted behind closed laboratory and library doors. Greater dialogue and engagement with civic society in open, transdisciplinary science is vital if the voice of science is to contribute effectively to public solutions.

Open Science is considered as a powerful paradigm that also interconnects with and is integral to concepts of open innovation, in both society and business, which is most productive when there is effective open access to data and information (Africa Open Science Platform, 2018). It falls mainly under the first category identified for this paper, which sees the sharing of knowledge and science as a means to provide solutions to benefit society.

In this perspective, Open Science is considered as a game changer and an opportunity to boost development in Africa. According to the South Africa-European Union Strategic Partnership facility (SA-EU Strategic Partnership Dialogue Facility, 2018), it is good for:

(i) science itself: it improves efficiency and the verifiability of science, it brings transparency, and it allows inter-disciplinarity;

(ii) the economy: with wider access to, and increased re-use of scientific information by all, and in particular, by industry and innovative companies; and

(iii) society: it brings broader, faster, transparent and equal access for citizens, and contributes to increased societal impact of science and research.

The development of this Open Science Framework for South Africa should be seen as a commitment by the South African government to drive scientific progress and to making publicly funded scientific research results open to all researchers, companies and citizens. In this case, it is more than open access and open data, it is about science being responsible and engaged with and for society.

Many other institutions, think tanks, intergovernmental organizations and independent researchers are also approaching the concept and developing definitions of Open Science.

CERN affirms that Open Science encompasses all aspects of how scientific research is governed, performed, shared, published, and evaluated. According to Dallmeier-Tiessen and Simko from CERN (Dallmeier-Tiessen & Simko, 2019), it demands more than simply making data available: it needs to concern itself to providing information on how to repeat or verify an analysis performed. This approach is in line with the idea that facilitating collaborative, transparent and reproducible research and development practices makes the research system more efficient for all. 

Also for the Open Science Project (Gezelter, 2009), it means

(1) transparency in experimental methodology, observation, and collection of data;

(2) public availability and reusability of scientific data;

(3) public accessibility and transparency of scientific communication; and

(4) using web-based tools to facilitate scientific collaboration.

According to Labastida & Samoilovich (2019) Open Science initiatives offer new perspectives and ways to bring science closer to society: More transparent and efficient ways of organizing research data, with better dissemination of results can facilitate the participation of citizens that have the opportunity to contribute to find solutions to global and daily challenges. Science has the capacity to provide answers to urgent challenges by producing knowledge. The authors of this paper embrace the concept as a mechanism to bring research closer to society and promote their participation, as well as to enhance the discovery of solutions at the benefit of the society.

For further reading and bibliography:

Africa Open Science Platform. (2018). AOSP strategy. The Future of Science and Science for the Future.

ALLEA. (2012). Open Science for the 21st century. Retrieved from

Dallmeier-Tiessen, S., & Simko, T. (2019). Open Science: a vision of collaborative reproducible and reusable research. CERN Courier.

European Commission. (2015). Study on Open Science. Impact, Implications and Policy Options. European Commission, Research and Innovation. Retrieved from

European Commission. (2018). Open Science Policy Platform Recommendations. Retrieved from

European Commission. (2019). Future of scholarly publishing and scholarly communication. Retrieved from

Fecher, B. & Friesike, S. (2014). Open Science: One Term, Five Schools of Thought. in S. Bartling and S. Friesike (eds.), Opening Science. pp. 17-47.

Gezelter, D. (2009). What exactly is Open Science. Retrieved from The Open Science Project:

Labastida & Samoilovich (2019). Ábrete, Sésamo: la ciencia abierta y la contribución de las universidades al desarrollo social y económico.

La Referentia. (2019). Scholarly Communication and Open Access Actions for a Public Policy in Latin America.

SA-EU Strategic Partnership Dialogue Facility. (2018). SA-EU OPEN SCIENCE DIALOGUE REPORT.

UNESCO. (2017). UNESCO Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers. Retrieved from

UNESCO. (n.d.). Global Open Access Portal. Retrieved from

UNESCO. (n.d.). Open Educational Resources (OER). Retrieved from

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of  Photo Credit:
About the Author /

Angela Sarcina is an independent consultant with expertise in the field of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for sustainable development. She has worked for UNESCO on STI Policy, Open Science, and Science Diplomacy issues, as well as with universities and research institutions in Italy and China on the analysis of innovation systems and technology transfer dynamics. She holds a double PhD in Economics from the South China University of Technology and the University of Ferrara. She has a MSc in Applied Economics and Economic Policies and a BSc in Economics of Public Administrations and International Institutions from the University of Ferrara.


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Scroll Up