Open Science and a Culture of Health: You Two Should Talk


Mar 7, 2018

Vaccinations at a community clinic

Photo by Steve Debenport/Getty Images

This commentary originally appeared on Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences on February 28, 2018.

The Open Science movement aims to advance scientific progress by making research more open and accessible. The Culture of Health movement aims to advance collective well-being by making health a shared value and priority among all policy sectors, not just health care. Proponents of both movements believe in the ability of scientific evidence to help solve society's most persistent problems.

As each movement has the potential to contribute to the other's progress, proponents of each movement have much to gain by actively engaging each other.

What Is “Open Science”?

The Open Science movement focuses on making research more open and accessible to everyone. Proponents of Open Science promote the use of transparent research practices such as pre-registering studies, sharing research materials and data, and open access publication. These practices can bolster the credibility and utility of scientific evidence, ultimately strengthening the use of research to understand and solve society's pressing problems.

What Is a “Culture of Health”?

The Culture of Health movement focuses on collective action to place health and well-being at the center of contemporary life. Proponents of a Culture of Health promote an Action Framework consisting of four distinct Action Areas:

  • making health a shared value
  • fostering cross-sector collaboration to improve well-being
  • creating healthier, more equitable communities
  • strengthening integration of health services and systems.

Overall, the Action Framework is meant as a guide for individuals, communities, and organizations in this collaborative movement to improve population health, well-being, and equity.

How Open Science Could Help Build a Culture of Health

The Culture of Health depends in large part on access to research by those outside the scientific community, such as policymakers, non-governmental organizations, and engaged citizens. Proponents of Open Science could offer Culture of Health proponents insights and best practices on how to make research freely available to and understood by the public. For example, Open Science proponents are working to remove the need to pay for individual scientific articles or subscriptions to scientific journals, so that research findings can be read online by anyone free of charge. Beyond being freely available, research findings also need to be clearly and honestly communicated to the public by researchers, press officers, and the media. Through its emphasis on public accessibility to and understanding of research findings, Open Science could equip those working within the Culture of Health movement to accelerate the flow of information from the scientific community to the public. Another example is the movement's use of citizen science, which engages members of the public as active contributors throughout the entire research process. Proponents of a Culture of Health could look to citizen science for ways to create more opportunities for communities to use research for local decisionmaking.

How the Culture of Health Movement Could Help Open Science

A major goal of the Open Science movement is breaking down the relative exclusivity of science by engaging stakeholders outside the scientific community. Proponents of a Culture of Health could offer Open Science proponents insights and best practices on how to collaboratively involve public stakeholders as equitable partners. For example, the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation worked with the nonprofit RAND Corporation to collect input from more than 1,000 diverse stakeholders when developing the Culture of Health Action Framework. Through its emphasis on community involvement in research, Culture of Health could equip those working within the Open Science movement to strengthen connections with a diverse group of stakeholders. These insights might help ensure that the Open Science movement has the representative structure and leadership needed to overcome historically limited representation of low- and middle-income countries, women, and minorities in science. If knowledge is power, Open Science is about providing the public greater access to power. The Culture of Health movement can help the movement for more open and accessible information to achieve this goal of providing more equitable representation of, leadership by, and discourse among relevant stakeholders.

Benefits of a Two-Way Conversation

Open Science and the Culture of Health both value access to, and the quality of, scientific evidence. Both call for integrated approaches to accelerate progress in the translation of scientific evidence into a public good. Both require broader discussion and equitable collaboration across diverse communities. Both ultimately work toward collective well-being. Contemporary global society faces challenges to collective well-being that cut across traditional academic disciplines and policy areas, and decisionmakers need solutions to match. By working together, the Culture of Health and Open Science movements could increase their potential to accelerate the use of scientific evidence to address impediments to population health and collective well-being.

Sean Grant is a behavioral and social scientist and Kathryn Bouskill is an associate social scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.