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What drives us: Working together to lead science communication forward

In our new interview series, we asked leaders at PLOS to share what motivates them to push the boundaries of science communication and support research and researchers. In today’s post PLOS Chief Publishing Officer, Niamh O’Connor discusses her role in building strong teams and strong vision for PLOS

Please tell us a little bit about what you do at PLOS.

At PLOS I’m part of the Executive Team and lead the Publishing & Partnerships Team. As part of the Executive Team my role is to be a strategic thought partner for the CEO and other team leaders. In leading the Publishing & Partnerships Team, my focus is ensuring the PLOS journals reflect the interests of the communities they serve,  facilitate the co-creation of paths to Open Science while ensuring PLOS’ financial sustainability to continue our mission. This includes developing new business models to enable more equitable and regionally appropriate ways to support Open Access and Open Science, developing new publications that enable Open Science communities of practice, and developing our relationships and networks with communities in different countries and regions.

Doing this work takes a great team and my role is to both support the leaders in my group and to raise questions and suggestions so that we work towards the best outcomes. It’s important to me that we understand the challenges that face our communities and listen so that we can work with them to develop solutions.

During your time at PLOS, what initiatives have you been involved with to help lead others in the way research is communicated?

Quite a few! I can think of a few highlights. I’ve worked alongside Sara and colleagues across PLOS to develop our new business models, which provide alternatives to APCs,removing barriers to inclusion in sharing research while addressing cost inflation for research-intensive institutions which is vital to allow a greater diversity of voices and research findings to be represented. Another highlight for me was the development and launch of new publishing venues to enable co-creation of Open Science communities of practice in fields that are vital to addressing the challenges society faces globally,  including climate, public health and sustainability. And I work with Roheena and the regional publishing directors to developour networks in different regions so that we can better understand the cultural, political and economic contexts in which our communities are working. 

My contribution is only one small part of each of these exciting initiatives and it’s great to have the opportunity to be involved in so many projects that are not only reshaping PLOS, but have the potential to deepen our understanding of researchers’ needs globally and drive necessary change in science communicationt

Why do you think this is important for science?

PLOS has from the outset been focused on catalyzing broad-scale systemic change. In order to achieve this we need to directly address the perception of objectivity and empirical research, through focusing on driving Open Science and addressing the cultural and economic contexts that influence research and research-sharing in science and medicine.  Openness in itself, while valuable, does not tackle inequality in the scholarly communications ecosystem, or increase inclusion.  Without equitable participation in knowledge-sharing,  hearing the voices that have been missing, and a willingness to experiment and explore, we will fall short of the goal of Open Science to increase the benefits of research for society globally.

What does it mean to you personally to be involved in work like this?

I believe that a great team, or group, can achieve more than any one individual which is very much in line with the values of Open Science. In an Open Science ecosystem, each individual contribution builds on and contributes to the whole body of knowledge which is bigger than any one person. And making a real difference in addressing the legacy of devaluing knowledge from particular groups or regions is extremely important.  I also love science and I’m fascinated by the influences of culture and context on scientific research and I feel very lucky to be able to work at something that interests me and where I have lots of opportunities to learn.

By the end of your career, what do you hope people will think about your contribution?

I haven’t given too much thought to what people will think, but I hope that my contributions will have made a difference. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing people – both scientists and publishing professionals – from whom I have learned a lot and with whom I’ve had a lot of fun too! I  have former team members who have gone on to develop their careers in ways that they have found rewarding and where they’ve also been able to influence and drive change and I have valued the opportunity to work with them. And I hope I will have contributed in some way to address injustice and imbalance in the system – and maybe even been part of making it possible for us to take advantage of the opportunities offered by a system based on Open Science.

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