From Open Buttons to OpenCon – Building a student community

This is a guest post from Joe McArthur, one of the founders of the OA Button project and newly appointed Assistant Director of the Right to Research Coalition.

Seven months ago, after little sleep I boarded a plane to Berlin to attend a conference and launch a project I’d been working tirelessly on for five months. That project was the Open Access Button, a browser plug-in which visualises when paywalls stop people reading research. Since the launch, which was covered in the Guardian, Scientific American and got the attention of EU science ministers the project has continued to progress. As the co-founder normally I’d now go on to talk all about it.  Today is different though, I’m going to briefly tell the story of the conferences which launched, grew and gave birth to the Button and why we, as a community should support a new one, OpenCon 2014, which will do the same for many other ideas.

The Berlin 11 Satellite Conference for Students and Early Stage Researchers conference, which brought together more than 70 participants from 35 countries (and was webcast to many more around the world) to engage on Open Access was the stage for the Button’s launch. We launched the Button on stage with a timed-social media push (Thunderclap) which reached over 800,000 people. Without this platform we’d have never been able to obtain the level of publicity or move the project forward at the pace we have since.

The story of instrumental conferences goes back further though. Months before our launch we met with organisational leaders from across the globe at the Right to Research Coalition general assembly. This was the first time we truly were able to talk about the Button with our peers. We sought feedback, buyin and help moving the project forwards – all of which we got in spades. An afternoon training session then used the Button as a case study and the ideas from student leaders all then fed into what we did.

The final conference worth highlighting, is the one where it all began. While attending a conference of the International Federation of Medical Students I and my co-founder (David Carroll) got talking to Nick Shockey, Director of the Right to Research Coalition. Prior to that conversation, David and I knew no alternative to the system of publishing that frustrated us both. After it, well, the Open Access Button was born.

These three events provided us with a launching venue, a place to develop our ideas, raised our awareness and inspired us to act. In-between each is hundreds of hours of work, but these were each transformative points in our journey. We’re not alone in this experience though, at each event we were just one of many projects doing the same. I’m now, along with a student team from across the global working to make a conference which will do this for many others.

OpenCon 2014: is a unique Student and Early Career Researcher Conference on Open Access, Open Education and Open Data. On November 15-17 in Washington, DC, the event will bring together attendees from across the world to learn, develop critical skills, and return home ready to catalyze action toward a more open system for sharing the world’s information — from scholarly research, to educational materials, to digital data.

OpenCon 2014’s three day program will begin with two days of conference-style keynotes, panels, and interactive workshops, from leaders in the Open Access, Open Education and Open Data movements and participants who have led successful projects. The final day will be a half-day of advocacy training followed by the opportunity for in-person meetings with relevant policymakers, ranging from members of the U.S. Congress to representatives from national embassies and NGOs. Participants will arrive with plans of action or projects they’d like to take forwards and leave with a deeper understanding of the conference’s three issue areas, stronger skills in organizing projects, and connections with policymakers and prominent leaders.

Plans this ambitious though come with a price tag. To help support the travel of students from across the globe, feed them and provide them with the vital lifeblood of conferences (coffee) and put on the best conference possible we need the support of the Open Access, Open Education and Open Data movements. There are a huge variety of sponsorship opportunities, each with it’s own unique benefits which can be found here, but equally we appreciate to help of anyone in draw attention to the event or of course attending.

Joe McArthur
Assistant Director at the Right to Research Coalition
Co-founder of the Open Access Button

The content of guest posts is always the view of the authors and not the position of the PLOS Opens Blog or PLOS.

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One Response to From Open Buttons to OpenCon – Building a student community

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