Government-funded report on government-funded research not accessible to the people who funded it

Photo: U.S. Department of Energy
Photo: U.S. Department of Energy

In 2013, responding to a 2012 We the People petition signed by more than 65,000 people, the Obama Administration worked to expand public access to the results of federally funded research.

In 2016, it touted the progress, stating:

“These efforts to open up the results of Federally-funded research promise to increase the return of Federal investments in scientific research, bolster the reliability of that research, accelerate scientific discovery, stimulate innovation, promote entrepreneurship, and enhance economic growth and job creation.”

In 2019, however, we’re still a long ways away from realizing innovation potential by creating a culture that defaults to immediate, open access of federally-funded research.

Case in point, a recent federally-funded grant that researched the impact of government-funded research on innovation, such as private-sector intellectual property and inventions, is inaccessible to most of the people who funded it.

The report, “Government-funded Research Increasingly Fuels Innovation,” is available for access behind a paywall under the publication’s (Science) Science Journals Default License that states the “Final Published Version will be made publicly accessible to nonsubscribers following a one-year embargo period.”

From the release:

“This research is an effort to detect, in a more nuanced way, the myriad fingerprints that U.S. federal research leaves, directly and indirectly, on innovation by others. We hope that it provides insights for the government, corporations, and citizens about where this funding goes and the downstream impact it has on innovation. And let’s not forget, that does not include the social and economic impact of federally supported research – but that’s for another day.”

The research results, funded by the National Science Foundation (#1536022), also don’t align with NSF’s own recent call for openness, transparency and collaboration.

The irony here is that it’s a government-funded report on the innovation impact of government-funded research, and it’s not open or made available for immediate consumption and collaboration.

While current standards make a one-year embargo acceptable from a policy perspective, if federally-funded research is to have optimal impact, it must be made accessible to everyone at the same time.

This particular research most likely won’t impact global innovation, however, it’s the principle of not opening it immediately that continues to foster arcane thinking of and treatment around information access.

For the taxpayers who funded this research and wish to see it, that’s for another year.

Government open innovation labs

Policy Innovation Exchange – Argentina and the UK (Photo: UK Government)
Policy Innovation Exchange – Argentina and the UK (Photo: UK Government)

I’m a big proponent of the open labs concept in government, because it creates space for a more inclusive approach to innovation beyond just a position or department.

The United Kingdom and Argentina governments are working on what they call the Policy Innovation Exchange that creates the potential for a much-needed, broad-scale government-to-government open collaboration organization that addresses common issues each — and others — have.

Ultimately, what this can enable is better sharing of policies, technologies and culture exchanges, helping innovation to holistically be free beyond localized innovation bubbles.

Government labs around the world are finding ways to improve the decisions that public officials take. We are generating evidence that enables co-creation of public policies, we have an interdisciplinary perspective of problems and we prototype before implementing in order to reduce risk.

But we need to remember that our efforts are part of something bigger. Labs are changing the paradigm of thinking, designing and implementing public policies.

Perhaps it is time to move from labs learning from each other, to labs working together and executing projects jointly?

Read more about this collaboration in English or Spanish.