Open Science and Technology

That science and technology should become more ‘open’ seems commonplace by now. But what exactly does this mean? Open what, why and for whom? Interestingly, ‘openness’ in science and technology is advocated by very different camps, certainly including neoliberals as well as market skeptics. As a result, some of the articulated motivations for opening up science and technology seem to stand in direct opposition from one another. Whereas some hope that openness helps to strengthen and improve capitalism, others contend that it could be a vehicle to overcome capitalism once and for all. This picture only inverses when we look at the critique of opening up science and technology. Here, too, we find critics of various camps. Whereas pro-market people fear that openness could threaten the business world, anti-market people warn that openness could be a Trojan Horse that undermines important democratic values.

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I have encountered the theme of open science and technology from different angles. As a lecturer at Humboldt University, I have designed a series of courses on the matter (currently I’m teaching a class on DIY music cultures). During my time at the IÖW, I was responsible for a project on commons-based peer production in open labs (COWERK) for which I co-authored a scoping report on open labs in Germany. Simultaneously, I was involved in another IÖW project on online peer-to-peer sharing (PeerSharing) and co-authored a report on existing controversies in this area.

My work on social and policy experimentation also touches upon the issue of open science and technology. While social and policy experimentation in itself is not an entirely new phenomenon, modern societies are increasingly describing themselves as experimental societies. Uncertainty and ignorance are seen as problems of modernity to which a continuous learning approach provides the solution. From an ethical perspective, social and policy experimentation poses entirely new challenges, inter alia because outcomes often cannot be anticipated beforehand but have an immediate impact on society. In a book chapter with Zoë Robaey for an edited volume on Responsible Innovation, we look at the the introduction of new technologies as a form of social experimentation and ask how such experiments can be managed responsibly.

At the Innovation in Governance Research Group we developed a new method for a responsible engagement with the development of policy instruments. Spearheaded by Carsten Mann, we organized two high-level international workshops with leading stakeholders to discuss issues and challenges related to the future development of 1) biodiversity offsets and banking and 2) citizen panels. The goal of these workshops and our foresight method is to open up the black box of policy instrument development and foster critical reflexivity.

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