Our department holds annual “state of the union” addresses, to bring everyone up to date on accomplishments, challenges, and goals. Our department is young (though it has rich, deep, old roots within the univisity in other incarnations) and as such is still forging an identify.
Last year, our leadership stated that we want to aim to become the “best department of informatics.” This inspired me to consider what it meant and how we might do it. I wrote and sent the letter below.
Although our leadership has decided on a different path, I think the idea has merit. Here you go, internet! Have you been dabbling in openness and want to take on a challenge? Ask your department, team, or lab if they are up for a Big Hairy Audacious Goal for Openness :)
Hi Dr B,
I’ve been thinking about the State of the Department presentation you gave last June, specifically the mention of your/our goal of becoming the very best department of biomedical informatics. I’d like to share a brainstorm with you, if I may, in case it is of interest?
Becoming the Best Department feels like a worthy and important goal to me, but nebulous and distant. I know that for myself and teams I’ve worked on in the past, it has always helped to have a specific BHAG. As you likely know, a Big Hairy Audacious Goal — as described in “Built to Last” and “Good to Great” by J. Collins — is something like “a man on the moon in ten years” or “a computer on every desk.” It would give us a shared vision about what kind of Great Department we would be, how we’d know when we got there, and motivation along the way.
I’d like to propose an idea for a BHAG. I suggest that we “become the most open department of biomedical informatics.” By that, I mean we embrace open access, open source, open notebook/process science, open teaching…. the whole shebang. I think that we already have some core competencies in this area, and are well situated to become a leader. I believe that this will become the way of the future, though it is still early days and frankly it wouldn’t take much to become a leader at the moment.
By striving for and eventually achieving this BHAG we will accomplish several things:
- a reputation for leadership in an area which spans all of our diverse projects
- awareness and citations for our research, as our work is made more freely and widely available
- attractiveness to elite talent; I believe that some of the best and brightest programmers and academics are attracted to open ideals
- synergy with our focus on increased publishing output
- a sense of team
Admittedly, we will encounter obstacles with IRBs, university legal and IP departments, protective researchers, AMIA establishment, and the like. There are indeed real concerns about trying to do open biomedical research, but I believe that all the issues can be addressed appropriately while striving to be as open as possible, given the real constraints.
To make the idea concrete, here are a few steps which I think would get us a long way down the leadership path:
- strongly encourage our researchers to self-archive all of their non-open access papers in a global or institutional repository
- strongly encourage our researchers to make their posters and preprints available on Nature Precedings, or similar
- provide department funding for publishing in author-pays open access journals
- strongly encourage our researchers to publish in open access journals
- strongly encourage our researchers to make their software and statistical scripts open source
- strongly encourage our researchers to make all data (as appropriate given privacy concerns) publicly available when they publish their papers
- ensure that all faculty and students have webpages articulating what they are working on, with links to available papers and data
- take a leadership role within JAMIA to encourage an author-pays open-access option
- take a leadership role within AMIA to ensure that proceedings are available open access ASAP
- encourage students and faculty to experiment with Open Notebook Science
- encourage students and faculty to participate in professional e-communities like Nature Network, Scintilla, and Linked-in
- work within the NIH and NLM to help as they increase the openness of their projects and the projects they fund
- put our course documents available on the open web
- put all of our theses available on the open web
Needless to say, if you are interested in more ideas, just let me know :) As you can tell, this is an area I deeply care about. I believe it advances science and engineering as they should be, and will ultimately help advance biomedicine particularly in an age of limited funding. Furthermore, I believe that working towards this goal would be a boon to our department.
In any event, I certainly appreciate your open door, and the consideration you give these thoughts as part of your vision.