Seeing and believing: transparency and openness at work

The latest feature looks at openness and transparency surrounding data, and the challenges ahead for ICES.
Published: 5 September 2018

​​​​​​​​​​​​Jens Rasmussen, Marine Scotland and Chair of ICES Data and Information Group (DIG)​

Core values

The terms transparency and openness are often used interchangeably to express a desire to create a more collaborative culture. However, anyone who has ever walked into a glass door will know that there is a difference!

At the very core of the scientific method that underpins the works of ICES and the broader scientific community, is the principle of replication ​ the ability to reproduce or replicate tests and experiments to independently verify or reject findings of other scientists. To enable replication and to further understanding, scientists in ICES have worked together and shared knowledge and data for over a century. The intention to publish and disseminate results and research are explicitly part of ICES 1964 Convention and 2002 Declaration.

Today, ICES is a broader community than perhaps ever before, and we communicate and share information at a much faster rate and volume. However, the continued need to replicate results and the intention to publish and disseminate the science demonstrates that both transparency and openness lies at the heart of ICES. 

Bringing in transparency and openness

Transparency allows you to see what is going on, and in the context of our work describes how well we enable others to see or understand what we are doing. In doing so, we create trust and credibility in the process to a wide range of audiences, from stakeholders, fellow scientists, journalists, or the general public. Transparency is often associated with processes – enabling the replicability of science and advice. 

An example of transparency in ICES work is the development of the Transparent Assessment Framework (TAF). This provides a repeatable process and structure that can accommodate both fully open data as well as other types of data that have commercial sensitivity or personal data associated with them.

Openness on the other hand provides access, and enables the ability to not only view, but use and modify a resource. Openness is often associated with data and information, enabling others to access and utilize the resources. There are many examples of open data in ICES, not least the organization's Data Policy which forms the pivotal point defining what providers and users can expect from the data, and ensures a mandate to disseminate data to the marine community. 

A recent example is the re-development of the ICES vocabulary services, enabling the ability to create relationships between codes and data (referred to as Linked Open Data). ICES has also been proactive in facilitating open coding in expert groups, and there is an increasing amount of code on open repositories, such as GitHub, that users can now access to work with methods and data.

Transparency helps builds trust in the organization, and openness enables faster and more efficient collaboration. In other words, it allows seeing and believing in the advice of ICES, since you can observe the transparent processes, and access and test the data.

Growing with the times

We have experienced a shift in technologies that has now fundamentally changed the way in which much of the world operates. Global data volumes are doubling every two years, and cloud computing means that thousands of computers talk seamlessly together to deliver us everything from tailored searches, shopping experiences, and news to pictures of cats. Open data is one of the key drivers of this change; computing and data access is no longer just in the domain of specialists or scientists. 

The rate of data acquisition across the marine environment has also changed rapidly with increasing use of acoustics, satellites, moorings, underwater imaging, and autonomous vehicles. In a world where we have been used to automation replacing manual labour for some time, the advent of automation of knowledge, through the use of machine learning and development of artificial intelligence can seem daunting. But if we are to cope with the influx of data happening around us, it is necessary to automate such tasks as many sectors now ingest data at a faster rate than it can be analysed by traditional means. 

These challenges are perhaps not as evident within marine science yet, but they also offer a range of opportunities for performing high capacity computing and analysis that previously required large local investments. ICES is developing these capabilities both by linking together services from different in-house applications and following the development in projects, such as the European Open Science Cloud.

Is there a downside to transparency and openness? Sure – by being transparent and open, there is a risk of misinterpretation and misuse – deliberate or not. But, in a time where the ability to create and propagate opinions or falsehoods on a par with real findings, the need for competent, transparent processes backed up by open and quality controlled data that can reduce doubt and allow confidence in reporting, outweighs the risks. 

​The efforts of producing transparent processes and open data come at a cost. While these costs should be traded off against increased efficiencies and improved reputation, the investments do need to be recognised and realised before the benefits can be reaped. 

The rate of technology adoption, cloud computing, and high volume data acquisition will vary across member countries and disciplines. However, for ICES to continue to provide clear and capable advice, the need for transparency and openness continues to be important, both for the development of our science, and for the ability to meet the future with a sense of readiness. 

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Seeing and believing: transparency and openness at work

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