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Interview: Seán Harnett


Step into the world of OpenAIRE with Seán Harnett. Learn more about his journey, vision, thoughts and achievements in the Open Science community and beyond. Enjoy!


Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background and expertise? 

My name is Seán Harnett. I live with my family in a small village in an Irish-speaking community in Connemara, to the west of Galway CityI started out my career in information architecture and instructional design before moving into document and content management. In 2016 I took a career break to look after my two young sons. When I re-entered the workforce in late 2019 it was as the administrator of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology's Open Access institutional repositoryIn April 2022, my institution was merged with two other institutes of technology in Ireland's west and north-west region to form Atlantic Technological University (ATU)Currently, I'm working with colleagues from ATU Library and ATU's Research and Innovation Office to foster a culture of open research across our new organisation. 

What motivated you to become a part of the OpenAIRE community?

As part of its strategic plan, ATU is committed to growing its research-performing capacity and is exploring various avenues for making this happen successfully and sustainably. We have a particular emphasis on the transfer of knowledge and innovation into our region for the benefit of a broad range of social and economic stakeholders. One of the avenues we are exploring is Open Science (or, as we prefer to say, in our own internal language, "open research" or "open scholarship") because it seems like both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.

Our President, Dr Orla Flynn, recently signed the TU-NET Joint Statement of Open Research, along with the presidents of Ireland's four other new technological universities. In this statement, the five presidents asserted " Fully applying the principles of openness, collaboration, and accessibility to the research process is key to achieving optimum research outcomes and will more effectively catalyse regional economic and social development." This, of course, is closely aligned with OpenAIRE's vision of transforming society through validated scientific knowledge that allows citizens, educators, funders, civil servants and industry to find ways to make science useful for themselves, their working environments and society.

ATU's membership of OpenAIRE will both broaden and deepen our commitment to open research and allow us to (hopefully!) positively contribute to OpenAIRE's mission of shifting scholarly communication towards openness and transparency and facilitating innovative ways to communicate and monitor research. 

How would you define Open Science, and why do you believe it's important in today's research landscape?

Part of my primary academic training was in sociology, particularly the sociology of communications (hence my early interest in the internet), and either through that, or through some natural inclination, or both, I tend to take a "big picture" view of things. I am a fan of the Longue durée and from this stance, I tend to think that science, ideally, has always been "open," in the sense that it flourishes where and when rigorous scholarly knowledge circulates in society with as few barriers to production, dissemination, and access as possible or necessary.

Scholarship, at different times, and in different places, has dealt with these issues in varying ways. The modern Open Science movement is about dealing with these issues in relation to our own contemporary circumstances. It is about asking the question, "How can we ensure scholarship is conducted as openly and inclusively as possible, throughout the entire research lifecycle, given the constraints, challenges, and opportunities afforded us by this moment in time?"

Personally, I think of "Open Science" as a set of trans-historical principles, which have been with us since at least the Enlightenment, and arguably even before that; and every generation has had to discover, or re-discover, the practices that help them realise these principles. The one caveat I would add is that this conceptualisation of science is specific to a particular historical context, and we must acknowledge that while it has brought benefits, it has also engendered suffering and exclusion. I think one of the opportunities for modern Open Science is entering into dialogue with other, previously marginalised ways of knowing the world. But I recognise this is a very personal, and perhaps even a minority, view.

Could you share some of the current projects or initiatives you're involved in related to Open Science?

There's so much happening at the moment, both internally and externally! Practically, on a day-to-day basis, my focus is on integrating the repositories of the legacy institutions that formed ATU into one repository that serves the whole university.

As I mentioned, I am working with colleagues to look at frameworks for implementing a culture of open research in ATU. Which is challenging—changing or introducing a new organisational culture is never easy—but also hugely exciting and an unprecedented opportunity. I feel that because the collaborative, agile, and inclusive model of open scholarship so closely matches our values as a university that we can, and should, aspire to becoming a case study for integrating them into how we operate. We will see!

Externally, ATU is involved in the national open research environment in Ireland through our membership of the National Open Research Forum (NORF)Staff from across the university were involved in the working groups that led to the publication of Ireland's National Action Plan for Open Research in November 2022, and the university currently has members on the boards of two NORF-funded projects (the Open Access Repository Assessment and Alignment project and SCOIR, a project directed towards developing a national policy framework around secondary rights, copyright, and rights retention for researchers).

We are also active members of TU-Net, Ireland's Technological University Network, which I've touched on already. TU-Net is committed to embedding an aligned open research culture across the TU sector in Ireland, with the aim of producing strategies, policies, and tools to promote openness in the use of data, methods, protocols, and other aspects of the research processTU-Net recently created, using OpenAIRE Explore, a consolidated portal for the Open Access outputs of three of our five institutional repositories. We are also primed to be a national use case for OpenAIRE's OSTrails project, which is coming onstream soon.

Is there a particular aspect of Open Science that resonates with you personally? Could you tell us about it?

I work at the coal face of scholarly communications, so I have an inevitable bias toward the Open Access agenda. However, from talking with colleagues in my network, I have lately become excited about pre-prints and open peer review. I'm not an expert in this area, and I probably don't fully grasp the nuances and the scope of its implications, but it seems to me that if we can support this area with robust infrastructure, strong policies, and clear procedures, then we would go a long way towards invigorating the broader open research agenda.

How do you see Open Science evolving in the next decade, and what role do you hope to play in that evolution?

As members of NORF, ATU is committed to the three themes of the NORF National Action Plan. These are:

  1. Establishing a national culture of open research
  2. Achieving 100% Open Access to research publications
  3. Enabling FAIR data and other outputs—all by the end of the decade!

We hope to contribute to these objectives by enabling them in our own organisation, and by engaging with European, national and sectoral partners and other stakeholders to make them a reality more broadly. 

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting to explore the world of Open Science?

Talk to people! When I joined GMIT Library I had only a vague awareness of Open Science and I've had to do a lot of "on-the-job learning"—reading widely and attending lots of online webinars and in-person seminars, events, and conferences. All of which I have enjoyed, and all of which have been invaluable, but most of what I have learned about Open Science—especially around the more nuanced implications of the topic—has come from speaking with mentors, peers, and colleagues. And what I have found is that, overwhelmingly (almost exclusively, I would say), everyone in the field is extremely helpful and very eager to share what they know. 

Outside of your work in Open Science, what are some of your personal interests or hobbies?

I am currently completing a research dissertation in design thinking, looking at how the principles of innovation management might be applied in a non-profit context. What little spare time I have these days, I tend to spend with my family, usually outdoors. We are blessed to live right beside the Atlantic Ocean, and there are beautiful beaches and coastal walks close to us.

Besides that, I'm an avid reader, a follower of Munster Rugby, and an opera fan—which isn't an easy thing to be in Ireland! There is an incredibly talented and committed opera community in the country, but it's small and there aren't many new productions in any given year, so I keep up with what's happening through OperaVision and medici.tv. It's great to have these resources, as the opera scene is very energetic at the moment, from what I can see. There are lots of experiments happening around staging and re-imagining the standard works in the canon, which are not always successful experiments but are almost always intriguing ones. And new operas are also being regularly written and performed. I recently saw Hans Abrahamsen's The Snow Queen on medici.tv and would recommend it highly. I thought it was excellent. I also have a regular meditation practice, which I have sustained for more than thirty years now. I like to think it keeps me (moderately) sane.

Could you share a memorable experience or achievement from your journey in Open Science so far?

I have been fortunate to collaborate with some very impressive individuals within ATU and across the Irish research-performing landscape to advocate for the importance of open research institutionally, sectorally, and nationally. A lot of that advocacy has found its way into various national reports, policies, and action plans, which is very pleasing. It also seems appropriate, in this venue, to say that ATU's membership of OpenAIRE is something I was incredibly happy, on a personal level, to see happen.

But the most memorable thing to come out of my journey through open research is the formation of OSCAIL, the Open Scholarship Committee of All-Ireland Librarians ("oscail" in the Irish language means "open"). We are a peer-to-peer network of open scholarship librarians and research support staff, who have come together to share knowledge, resources, and best practice, and to support each other as we collectively navigate the evolving Open Science landscape. It's been a joy to connect with like-minded colleagues in this way. The group is an exemplar of collegiality, and it's a privilege to be involved. 

Thank you very much for the opportunity to delve into your background, knowledge and expertise during this interview. We are proud to have you on board. 

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