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María de Maeztu DTIC-UPF Strategic Research Program: strategically funding excellence under open science principles

 

The María de Maeztu Strategic Research Program on data-driven knowledge extraction is a 4-year, 2 MEUR program executed by the Department of Information and Communication Technologies at Pompeu Fabra University (DTIC-UPF) as part of its accreditation as an Excellence Unit by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (MDM-2015-0502). Its objective is to support the consolidation of DTIC-UPF as a leading European university department at the crossroads of biomedical and cognitive sciences, computation and networks.

A key goal of the program is to support a transition to sustainable research aligned with open science principles. It is important to highlight that the goal of the program is to increase the excellence of the research conducted at DTIC-UPF in general, and this goal is explicitly linked to the success in supporting open science approaches. This commitment is explicit as the criteria to allocate funds have significantly assessed open science compliance. As most projects have required co-funding, it has further mobilised other funds in the desired direction.

In broad terms, the program includes the initial definition and implementation of a global open science strategy as an element of excellence, covering scholarly publishing, data, software, infrastructure, training, incentives, metrics and public engagement, in order to consolidate DTIC-UPF as a community of open scholars. Three specific targets have been i) the increase in number and impact of accessible and reproducible datasets, software tools and research platforms; ii) the development of novel collaborations with leading organisations of the open science and innovation movement; iii) the design and implementation of strategies so that the development and maintenance of technologies and services by themselves have socio-economic value.

The main action (1 MEUR) was the support to 18 research projects following an open call. The call defined selection criteria with a strong weight of those supporting open science principles, especially the increase in number and impact of accessible and reproducible datasets, software tools and research platforms. Therefore, the decision to allocate funds to projects was directly linked to the adoption of open access, open data and open source solutions. After the projects were selected, additional actions were designed to solve many practical issues, such as the technical infrastructure, or the access to expert external legal advice in designing data management plans.

Secondly, a program to promote the exploitation of research results was designed. Unlike the “standard” approaches based on the promotion of links with industrial stakeholders, entrepreneurship or exploitation of results based on IPR protection, it aimed at filling the gap in programs that fund the exploitation and sustainability over time of open approaches. The pilot innovation program (200KEUR, launched in 2017) selected four projects that would develop and maintain technologies and services that by themselves have socio-economic value, each defining their specific strategies and roadmaps for sustainability, such as crowdfunding (such as the definition and implementation of an initial successful crowdfunding model for Freesound, the leading audio sharing platform in the world with over 8 million users, to support its maintenance and the execution of further research in the context of audio technologies) or the use of open licences with limitations to commercial exploitation.

Finally, the program promotes links with open initiatives, as a complement to the similar ones existing in the academic context targeting companies, such as transfer of knowledge and the contribution of students to open initiatives as part of their research and engineering education. For instance, during the education of engineers there are a broad number of actions that facilitate their direct relation with the ICT industry, and even to their creation of start-ups, but they lack wide options to collaborate with organisations in the open movement, or its promotion as a viable professional career path. One of the initiated lines of action has been the launch of funded internships for students to collaborate in research projects with actors from the open movement such as citizen participatory platforms launched by several city councils, the Wikimedia Foundation or Zenodo. This initial pilot is funded with 50KEUR.