Would open science profit from a non-profit?

In my first foray organizing a formal meeting (the PSB workshop), I’ve learned that pretty much everything comes down to money. Having a successful meeting requires getting people to attend, and getting people to attend often involves money. Getting money to allow people to attend can even require money (for example, publishing costs for conference proceedings).

One idea Cameron’s mentioned a few times during our fundraising discussions is the Open Science Collective, and though he hasn’t fully described what this is to me, I get the impression that it would be some abstract entity comprising individuals, organizations, resources, and activities – some larger body that would provide support for open science-related endeavors. At the very least, I think it would provide a means to fund raise separate from any particular event such that we (in the collective sense) could act independently. By this I mean that the OSC could support individuals to go to meetings, sponsor meetings like the PSB workshop, or even organize its own meetings.

The idea hasn’t really been taken further yet, with whimsical t-shirt ideas pretty much our only tangible revenue strategy so far. But to give the OSC a step towards reality, perhaps it’s time to start talking about building a non-profit. From a quick glance through of one website’s guide to starting a non-profit, it appears that we need to create a mission statement, obtain a board of directors, and eventually file for either incorporation (plus maybe other things, like tax-exempt or tax-deductible status). This is about where I start getting fuzzy on the details, so if anyone has experience with non-profits or foundations (I don’t even know what the difference is) please feel free to enlighten me!

At the most basic level, it would be nice to have some external entity with a bank account into which we could funnel funds that we (again, the collective we) could apply towards open science activities. If that t-shirt shop ever sells anything, the proceeds should go into that account. What the best way to accomplish that is, I’m not quite sure. If it is to start a non-profit, then perhaps the first step is to see who else is interested and start drafting a mission statement together?

According to idealist.org, a mission statement should cover the purpose, the business, the values, and the beneficiaries of the organization; i.e. the what, how, why, and who/where. This can be accomplished in one line but can also be expanded into paragraphs. But let’s start small – here’s a stab at a one liner mission statement:

“The Open Science Collective is an international and interdisciplinary [non-profit] organization that promotes open exchange and collaboration in science, and provides resources and support for the advancement of open science.”

So some concluding questions: Does it make sense to have something like the Open Science Collective? If so, what should it be and how do we get there? What would be the mission statement of the OSC? If not the OSC, what do we need?

5 Responses to Would open science profit from a non-profit?

  1. Lorrie LeJeune says:

    If not a nonprofit, which can take a while to get off the ground, how about an open science consortium?

    According to wikipedia, a consortium is “an association of two or more individuals, companies, organizations or governments (or any combination of these entities) with the objective of participating in a common activity or pooling their resources for achieving a common goal.”

    This sounds exactly like what you’re describing. It’s also something we’ve talked about at OpenWetWare.

  2. Pedro Beltrão says:

    What about talking with PLoS and Science Commons about this ? This might already fit with their mission statements (at least the open access side of open science). If we could build something under the larger umbrella of one of these organizations it would be more resource efficient and easier for others to recognize it. The downside would be that most people might think Open Science is only about open access.

  3. stajich says:

    Open Bioinformatics Foundation may be interested in getting involved in some sort of consortium.

  4. cameron says:

    Shirley has actually clarified a lot of what I was thinking here which was a pretty vaguely formed idea that we needed _something_. Will try to blog later but basically just to point here and to comments on friendfeed. (Friendfeed conversation at http://tinyurl.com/4bpod7 )

    The consortium idea makes sense in many ways and ought to include Science Commons, Open Knowledge Foundation, PLoS, BMC, and a range of other organisations.

    I think there is a place for a foundation or charity in that it provides an organisational and financial framework that can hold and distribute money (which none of the above are set up to do) as well as providing a holding organisation for specific projects (perhaps like the Open Source Drug Discovery projects being developed at the moment). I think this is different to what currently exists – the key problems are; what jurisdiction(s) is the best place to set it up and is it finanically viable at the moment?

  5. Daniel Mietchen says:

    Just very quickly: there are quite a few other people interested in these matters, and one example is an initiative just forming at OpenScientists.org .

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