Conference Report from OpenCon 2016

This report was contributed by Andy Wesolek from Clemson University.

What is OpenCon?

OpenCon is an international conference and community for, and of, early career researchers and students committed to Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data. Nearly 10,000 researchers and students applied for the 200 seats available at the November 2016 live conference. Scholarships covering transportation and attendance were provided by SPARC through member institutions. In addition, member institutions may sponsor up to two scholarships to reserve seats at OpenCon for their own researchers or students. Both I and our amazing Undergraduate Instruction and OER Librarian, Kirsten Dean, were the fortunate recipients of scholarships supported by Clemson University Libraries. As a result, we were able to attend the live OpenCon event, which was held on November 12th and 13th in Washington, DC.

The OpenCon Experience

Only a small majority (~52%) of the attendees at OpenCon called North America home, so it was a wonderful venue to connect with global colleagues, and to better understand the opportunities and challenges of Openness at their institutions and in the countries. Holding the event in Washington the weekend following the Presidential Election also made for interesting conversation with international colleagues, and indeed many of the keynote presenters altered their presentations to focus on the urgent and political dimensions of the Open agenda.

The greatest value in attending the live OpenCon event is not in the formal presentations, though they were excellent, but in the informal networking and discussions with global colleagues. OpenCon is intended to facilitate the growth of an active community in support of Open, and it was structured to reflect this. Many of the formal offerings took place in small group settings with workshop or unconference structures.

Advocacy Work

Following the conference, OpenCon sponsored a day of advocacy. During the first half of the day, we were given a crash course in advocacy work. Topics ranged from communication and messaging, to strategies for continued conversation. SPARC then arranged for us to break into small groups to meet with our local representatives.

Kirsten Dean, Lillian Rigling (NCSU Libraries Fellow), and I met with a representative from South Carolina Senator Tim Scott’s office. Prior to the meeting, we reviewed Senator Scott’s legislative agenda to develop a message primarily focused on Open Educational Resources and economic development through access to education in South Carolina. Senator Scott’s office was receptive to the message and enthusiastic to support openness. We encouraged them to take a concrete approach by supporting FASTR in the senate, and we hope to continue the conversation going forward.

How you can get involved

Joining the OpenCon community is as simple as signing up at: http://www.opencon2016.org/community. You might also consider contacting your local senator or congressperson. I was honestly a bit nervous attending a meeting on Openness with a conservative Senator’s office, but in doing a bit of research, there are powerful arguments in favor of Openness that will resonate with each side of the aisle. For example, Senator Scott’s office appeared receptive to arguments in favor of Openness that focused on efficient spending of taxpayer dollars and expanded access to community college and vocational training.