RENKU: the Swiss Data Science Center’s platform for open science

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Although many of the world’s top universities have made open science a strategic priority, there are still surprisingly few data science platforms currently available in this field.

The open science platforms that are out there – and there are some – don’t account for the documentation methods, processes and standards inherent to the various phases of research. However, these factors are crucial for ensuring that research findings are reproducible and reusable, and challenged when necessary.

Despite the proliferation of platforms dedicated to promoting reproducible research in the business world as well as in academia, there is still no single application that provides a comprehensive toolkit for open science – one that can make sure research data are traceable and, therefore, that research results can be replicated by peers.

The Swiss Data Science Center (SDSC) has set about to change all that with its RENKU platform, named after the Japanese word for collaborative poetry. Drawing on their experience with businesses and universities, engineers at the SDSC have developed this innovative data-science platform to address the technological challenges related to open science and reproducible research – principles advocated by a growing number of scientists. Their platform enables full traceability and transparency so that scientists who didn’t take part in a research project can check and confirm its conclusions.

RENKU is designed to promote best practices and FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) data standards. A beta version of the platform was launched in September 2018 as a cloud service for the entire scientific community.

The SDSC and EPFL’s School of Life Sciences (SV) have set up a data analysis and management service. Hosted by SV, the service will be used for pilot tests of biological analysis systems in fields such as genetics and cognitive-system neuroscience.

Through this collaborative approach, RENKU will work in conjunction with the SV’s information ecosystem to give users a fully transparent experience through the entire research process, from collecting samples through publishing findings.

The goal is to implement a streamlined process for researchers to share reproducible results. Through RENKU, EPFL will be equipped to instill best practices for open science that reach beyond our campus and benefit the entire scientific community.

Open science at EPFL

The SDSC’s efforts to promote open science are just one of a multitude of initiatives at our school to disseminate the results of our research as widely as possible for maximum benefit. Open science is gradually transforming the way research is conducted and published worldwide – and at EPFL, we want to play an active role in this new paradigm. Our scientists are increasingly adopting the principles of open science by publishing their discoveries on open access platforms, for example. They are also using and developing other standardized platforms that make it easier to share research data, algorithms, methods and even instruments.

The adoption of open science by research institutes worldwide is a direct consequence of the digitalization of research in general coupled with the widespread use of the internet. These two factors mean research findings can be shared more easily with other scientists and be of greater benefit to society as a whole.

Our Senior Management has introduced a series of measures to foster the cultural change that open science requires, as well as the necessary technological advancements. These measures include the creation of a CHF 3 million fund to help EPFL researchers address the opportunities and challenges of open science; the first set of projects under this fund will be launched in 2019. We also set up an open science webpage with useful information about the services our library offers and the events we hold in this field.

Our open-science strategy is spearheaded by a committee created at end-2017. Chaired by Professor Katrin Beyer and composed of EPFL faculty and administrative staff, the committee advises Senior Management on open science-related priorities and initiatives. Its first set of recommendations – issued in the summer of 2018 – pointed to three key focus areas: installing the necessary IT infrastructure for storing, managing and sharing data; communicating to the EPFL community on the importance of the open science transformation under way; and training faculty and students on best practices in open science and the associated technology, so as to make the most of this promising new method of knowledge transfer.

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