Collaboration is an integral part of open source and open science ecosystems.
The Center for Open Science (COS) partners with nonprofit, governmental, and commercial entities on projects that advance our mission to increase the transparency and reproducibility of scientific research. COS is seen by some as a leader in open science, and we have an obligation to provide our services equitably, with integrity, and without partisan or ideological bias. Simultaneously, COS is an advocate for rigor and evidence-based practice and decision making.
We receive partnership requests from organizations that have particular business models, conflicts of interests, or ideologies that might risk influencing scientific credibility but who nonetheless are major stakeholders in the scientific community. Avoiding collaboration would undermine our mission of improving the entire process of scientific research. However, indiscriminate, unprincipled collaboration could undermine our mission by, for example, selecting partners based on revenue potential at the expense of mission alignment.
The goal of this framework is to be transparent about how we make decisions about partnerships, so that OSF users, staff, funders, and the broader scientific community can know how we approach this element of our business.
This framework is distinct from COS’s business plan. This is specifically about the risks and ethical principles we use to inform decisions about:
- whether to accept speaking invitations, interview inquiries, or guest posts on behalf of COS
- whether to accept philanthropic donations
- whether to enter grant, contractual, or consulting agreements
- whether to collaborate on technical development and maintenance
- whether to actively develop or maintain connections between services
whether to accept a group as a customer for one of COS’s products or services
COS (1) engages in community-building and culture change efforts with consulting and collaborative engagement with a variety of stakeholders, (2) receives funding from individuals or organizations to support our work, and (3) provides some products and services for a fee. In these cases, organizations and clients can receive the benefits of our services and, in some cases, the benefits of being associated with our brand for their own interests.
How we decide to engage with others can present an ethical or philosophical challenge. In particular, potential partners may be partly or wholly motivated by reasons that are independent of, or even in conflict with, COS’s mission. Even if potential partners do not have motivations in conflict with COS’s mission, some of their policies and practices may be misaligned—functionally resulting in behaviors that are contrary to COS’s mission and values.
To say we are impartial to the backgrounds, motivations, and behaviors of our partners is an insufficient response. And, to refuse to engage with such stakeholders would hamper our mission. Our community of users, funders, staff, stakeholders, and supporters is driven by a desire to safeguard and promote scientific discovery. A core principle of improving integrity and credibility of evidence is the minimization of biases motivated by ideological or other non-scientific ends. Therefore, we need a framework by which to assess partnerships, and public communication about how we vet partners.
Risks of partnerships that we want to manage:
- Being perceived by our community (users, funders, staff) as compromising our values in exchange for money or other mission-irrelevant benefits
- Compromising our policy and advocacy authority because we offer paid services for similar issues (e.g. diagnosing an issue that we then charge to resolve)
- Facing public concern about our practices without a ready-made response or resolution that instills confidence
- Being perceived as the “fixer” for bad science—not in practice or methodology, but as a public demonstration, trading on our name and credibility
- Building a framework that is overly restrictive and inhibits our ability to do the work
- Building a framework that is overly qualified (suggests, encourages, seeks, etc); some rules should be hard and fast, and some should be more like guidelines.
- Being perceived or actually engaged in partisan or ideological efforts—regardless of alignment with evidence
Benefits of partnerships that we want to promote:
- Being an equal opportunity advancer of our mission
- Being inclusive and accessible to diverse communities
- Being a principled partner that aids in pursuit of truth, even for topics fraught with partisanship
- Contributing to a culture shift in which challenging topics are subjected to empirical scrutiny that informs everyone’s judgment
- Contributing to a culture shift in which adversaries, ideological or otherwise, can collaborate on how to investigate questions rigorously even amid substantial differences in expected outcomes
- Willingness to work with organizations where they are aligned with COS’s mission to enhance those practices and, potentially, over time extend to other aspects of the partner’s business
The framework articulates and governs how we approach partnering with other groups. We want the board and staff to have confidence that any partnership will be aligned with organizational values, and trust that the leadership team does not put money over mission. We want our community of users and supporters to know where to go if they have questions about how we handle partnerships. We want our prospective partners to understand what we expect. We want to earn and maintain a brand that prioritizes the search for truth as the overriding goal of scholarship. We want to live up to the guiding principle that our sustainability efforts are in service of, sustaining the mission not the organization. We want to demonstrate that COS’s resources are devoted to the creation of public goods, not works-for-hire that provide competitive advantage or secrecy of COS acquired knowledge.
Inevitably, managing these risks and benefits is an evolving practice informed by experience. As such, we expect to iteratively improve this framework. We will use version control practices to be transparent about changes over time. We expect to conduct a yearly review to ensure that our public facing content is the reporting commitments described below. If you discover content missing from any of our reporting commitments, please send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
II. Framework Terms
Grants and Contracts:
- COS publishes its finances including 990 tax returns and its yearly financial audits here. COS does not share employee salaries except for those disclosed as part of non-profit disclosure standards and requirements.
- COS publicly lists the provider and amount of its grants, contracts, and in-kind donations here.
- COS publishes its proposals for grants and contracts, usually upon submission of the proposal unless public sharing is forbidden by the potential funder. Budget details, that include employee salaries, are removed prior to publishing the proposals. Published proposals are linked here, and are published with open licenses (CC0 or CC-BY). Exceptions to publicly sharing proposals and open licensing can occur when COS submits proposals collaboratively with other groups, especially when COS is not the lead applicant. COS encourages public sharing and open licensing in these cases, but does not impose that requirement on others.
- COS publicly lists all individual donations here. COS encourages transparency of donor giving, but does not disallow anonymous donations should donors wish to maintain privacy. COS does not allow anonymity of donors to protect COS’s reputation for receiving funds from “controversial” sources. Ideally, if major gift donors wish to remain anonymous, the identity of the donor should also be unknown to COS staff by making the donation through an intermediary such as the on-line giving service at cos.io/donate.
- COS is an institutional adopter of the TOP Guidelines to promote transparency, sharing, and reproducibility of its research plans, projects, contents, and outcomes. COS’s TOP policy is available at cos.io/top.
- COS research outputs that can be made openly available without violating legal or ethical guidelines are made open access usually with CC0 or CC-BY licenses. A collection of COS projects hosted on OSF is at osf.io/institutions/cos. There could be circumstances that do not meet these standards of open sharing and licensing when COS contributes in a junior capacity to research projects led by others who do not share the same priorities. COS tries to avoid such circumstances by engaging in research collaborations that share our standards for transparency, and having conversations about sharing and licensing prior to engaging in the work.
- When COS conducts research, we may share findings with funders of the research before public dissemination, but COS will not enter into research agreements in which the funder can bar disclosure of findings. We will not seek funder approval on final papers or results, and will not be obligated to make any suggested changes. COS will follow norms for research collaborators on projects to achieve consensus by co-authors on the analysis, reporting, and interpretation of findings before their dissemination.
Products and Services:
Relationships with other organizations and others’ proprietary content:
- COS publicly lists fee schedules for each of its products and services at cos.io. COS pursues solutions to prevent cost from being a barrier for groups to adopt its products and services for promoting open scholarship in their communities while also ensuring sustainability of those services.
- COS publicly lists partners paying COS for products and services at cos.io/partners. An exception is that we do not catalogue all occasions in which COS staff delivers training. COS provides its products and services to promote transparency, rigor, and reproducibility of research to maximize the credibility and accessibility of evidence. Uses of COS products and services must be aligned with those purposes. For example, efforts to introduce paywalls for accessing COS-hosted content would lead to termination of the partnership.
- COS’s open source code is available at github.com/CenterForOpenScience. COS open sources all software it creates and does not contribute staff resources to software that will not be openly licensed.
- COS publicly shares presentation slides given by staff members representing COS at osf.io/zvp8k. Presentations are published with open licenses (CC0 or CC-BY).
- COS publicly shares recorded presentations and webinars it organizes at youtube.com/centerforopenscience. Presentations are published with open licenses (CC0 or CC-BY). When other entities record presentations by COS staff, we encourage them to post it publicly with an open license, and we disallow proprietary licensing of such recordings.
- Through the course of our work, COS staff may encounter proprietary, confidential, or commercially licensed information. This might take the form of personally identifiable data, copyrighted content, or information related to another company's operation. This is inevitable in working with large research institutions, publishers, and funding agencies. COS will agree to confidentiality terms under limited conditions to meet ethical and legal standards, but COS will not agree to non-disclosure, confidential, or proprietary terms when COS’s contributions would produce proprietary code or other content for commercial advantage.
- It is conceivable that COS will agree to privacy terms for content that would normally be made public by COS provided that the agreement does not conflict with COS’s mission. For example, a federal agency may require privacy of specific legal language of contract terms because of a federal regulation. If such an agreement still allows COS to disclose its work and work products, it may be possible to agree to such privacy terms.
- COS does work with others’ proprietary information (such as working with published research articles that are copyrighted to publishers) and respects those proprietary rules. For consultations that involve proprietary information, COS will not commercialize such content and COS will advocate for the principle that rigor and trust are earned through transparency and comprehensive reporting.
- For consulting projects, COS requires its partners to explain what they will do with the resulting work performed by COS. By default, COS does not do consulting or contractual work-for-hire for which the outputs must remain confidential. Exceptions are allowed for cases including protection of personally identifying or other sensitive information, and when providing advice. For example, if advising an organization about improving transparency practices, they would not be required to publicly post those suggestions. Nevertheless, COS does not provide advice privately that it would not also provide publicly, so COS encourages public sharing of its advice and does not restrict sharing it.
- For partnerships, COS does not require that organizations share COS’s mission for all of its activities. However, the activities conducted in partnership with COS must be mission aligned.
- COS assesses partnership opportunities in contentious areas of science and practice by evaluating whether COS has a reasonable chance of advancing rigor, transparency, precommitment, evidence-based decision-making, and reproducibility in that domain or organization.
- COS engages with all stakeholders in research. This includes groups that may have directional motives--such as desiring that research will ultimately support a particular point-of-view. COS’s stance is to engage such groups on the value of rigor, transparency, precommitment, and reproducibility of research with the objective to pursue knowledge and truth, even when it is misaligned with one’s desired outcomes. COS is not an arbiter of truth for contentious areas of science, but it can contribute to the discussion of the quality and credibility of evidence.
- COS does not dismiss funding or collaboration possibilities out-of-hand because of prior or current political or ideological positions taken by the potential partner. COS considers the extent to which the relationship could exist while maintaining alignment with mission, and whether such a relationship could create mission-misaligned influence on COS’s future actions. The transparency commitments articulated in this framework ensure that COS’s decisions will be accountable to public scrutiny.