An Open Letter to the COST Association
An Open Letter to the COST Association
The current COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on scholarly communication and we are realising how hard it is to run a mobility project in the locked down world. We have had to cancel or postpone events planned for the upcoming months without any guarantee that they will actually take place in the foreseeable future. And should the current pessimistic scenarios materialise, we may be barred from face-to-face networking for a whole year, or even longer.
This calls for action and a fundamental rethinking of our collaboration practices in order to protect our networks against erosion caused by the prolonged inability to meet in person. In this letter we suggest a pathway forward, what we are calling “Remediated Networking”, which will enable us to reimagine the networking tools to fulfil the COST goals in the times of travel restrictions and beyond.
We do not view the current situation as a temporary annoyance but rather as a formative event that will reshape our understanding of what academic networking and mobility could really become in the 21st century. Given the impact of the pandemic on the economy, travel industry, as well as the deepening climate emergency, we need to think about the current situation as a chance to critically reflect on our practices and think of better ways of achieving our goals. In the past few weeks we all saw the rush of academics rapidly incorporating online collaboration into their workflows, realising its true potential and thus removing the largest obstacle that has existed to date in the uneven use of those tools. Hence, we do welcome the recent decision made by COST to temporarily enable spending on online networking tools, but at the same time we feel the need to seek deeper changes and embrace Remediated Networking as it emerges and incentivises transnational scholarly collaboration in the emerging fields.
Remediated Networking fully embraces the COST mission to create a networking environment for scholars that would incubate sustained collaborations going beyond the lifetime of the Action. This concept draws from a media-theory approach positing remediation as an evolutionary change of cultural practices, in which each new medium brings novelty to these practices while retaining key features of the media it makes obsolete. Analogously, Remediated Networking means mediating our current networking practices through available technology, in order to preserve what is valuable while embracing the change.
We do not posit to abandon the current modus operandi of COST, but rather wish to supplement it with tools for remote collaboration, which can serve as extension or substitution of face-to-face networking. While this idea responds to the current emergency situation, it may also serve as an inclusion measure for people who, for various reasons, are not able to travel as much as is expected of COST Action participants. Likewise, Remediated Networking may foster inter- and transdisciplinarity by improving the level of participation of actors from other disciplines, who may not be able to fully participate in endeavours too remote from their current field. Hence, we propose some ideas for how networking tools can be remediated in the digital environment to serve as a stimulus for online collaboration and to achieve similar benefits in strengthening networking as physical meetings do. This list is by no means exhaustive and is meant to spark debate:
- Remediating dissemination practices: curated online resources. Now more than ever, we need to think about novel, online forms of dissemination such as scholarly curated online resources, e.g. digital scholarly editions, data repositories, or virtual exhibits. They may sound straightforward but they all require technological support and curatorial effort. Some parts of this work, including its coordination may be purely technical (like that of an editorial manager in the publishing house), hence there should be an option for remuneration.
- Remediating Short Term Scientific Missions: Micro-grants awarded by Actions as a new way of teaming-up and streamlining resources. These measures towards a novel means of dissemination could be centralised on the Action level or available for small teams wishing to work on certain scholarly assets like sources, documents, images, datasets, etc, which can be collected and published for scholarly use by Action participants. There could be a fixed sum to cover necessary technical costs of collecting material or creating the resource, which could be multiplied by the number of different countries participating. All the best practices of open access publication and open data that are already encouraged by COST would hold true with these resources as well.
- Remediating Training: mentoring schemes, e-courses, learning modules. We need to encourage and incentivise a more durable form of online training activities. One way would be to adopt the best practices in e-learning, and invest COST resources into producing learning modules that would remain open and re-usable beyond each Action’s funding cycle. Another way to achieve that would be to introduce a durable mentoring scheme in which another scholar (mentor) would agree to spend a specified number of hours on online consultations or remote participation with a mentee in virtual seminars. Such cooperation could be incentivised by allowing the financial support for publications stemming from such collaborations, perhaps even if co-authored only by the mentor and mentee.
We encourage COST Association to act on this initiative and take three major steps towards implementing these ideas:
1. To define particular forms of Remediated Networking as COST networking tools.
2. To define eligible expenses for these tools, including possible investment in hardware and software for remote collaboration.
3. To decide which of those expenses should be incurred by the Actions and which services could be provided globally by COST (e.g. teleconferencing software).
These steps should be taken in close cooperation with a group of COST Action Chairs, who represent different disciplines and Actions in various stages of completion, to ensure that the changes reflect the actual needs of the community.
We believe this is the right time to start this discussion and model our future activities for the increased use of online collaboration which could and should be perceived as the future of COST.
Warsaw, 20 April 2020
- Dr Maciej Maryl (Action Chair)
- Dr Jessie Labov (Vice-Chair)
- Dr Piotr Wciślik (GHSR)
CA16204 Distant Reading:
- Prof. Christof Schöch (Action Chair)
- Prof. Maciej Eder (Vice-Chair)
- Prof. Emanuel Kulczycki (Action Chair)
- Prof. Jack Spaapen (Vice-Chair)
CA18209 Nexus Linguarum
- Dr Jorge Gracia (Action Chair)
- Dr John McCrae (Vice-Chair)