To do Open Science means to break new ground

Professor Thomas Gegenhuber talks about his experience with Open Science

Photo of Professor Thomas Gegenhuber

Three key learnings:

  • Open Courses constitute a unique selling point in job applications.
  • People who offer open teaching formats demonstrate innovation.
  • Openness and visibility enable the creation of contacts and networks.

Your research is about Open Innovation – how open are you yourself?

TG: I have three things that I practise. For one thing it matters to me that my research findings are not hidden behind paywalls. I try to make my results available in Open Access. This also applies to practical research reports. For the project “WeVersusVirus” we published the Learning Report under a CC-BY licence. As a second thing I support Open Courses and contribute when visiting lecturers for Open Courses are wanted. For instance I participated in the course “Organizing in Times of Crisis” created by Leonhard Dobusch, together with Hannah Trittin-Ulbrich. Hannah Trittin-Ulbrich went on to do a course about “Data and Organizations” together with the University of Copenhagen where I provided a module on platforms. If there are such initatives where I can contribute, I support the open courses with open teaching materials. I think it’s great when expertise is gathered beyond universities and offered to students. At the same time you can see other ways of organising a course. An Open Innovation idea also comes into play here. One thesis of Open Innovation is: an organisation can never manage to bundle the entire knowledge within the organisation. NASA for instance may have super researchers, but there will always be excellent researchers outside of NASA, too. That’s what I often think of in these courses: every university has good teachers, but when I look beyond the university, I can bring together the best minds on the topic online. And the third thing is that I partly use openly communicated online data in research. In qualitative research, such as interviews, it’s often difficult to anonymise research data. For the online data we have taken companies and cases who employed crowdfunding or who communicated very openly on their blogs. Everyone can retrace what we did in our research. A fourth thing would be proactive science communication in the classical sense, aber here the question arises if that still classifies as Open Science.

Which research findings do you publish in addition to your publications?

TG: For codes I try to provide detailed supplementary data. Making data visible is important to me. What I haven’t done yet is to share MAXQDA files. These are linked to interviews and with interviews I must ensure confidentiality and anonymisation.

What benefits do you gain from sharing research findings?

TG: I can be found and cited. For instance, one of my first papers in the year 2015 about “Crowdsourcing” was posted online under an open licence and cited 121 times. Because of its openness it was often found, read and used. When I look at the statistics I see that the article has been downloaded 3,500 times already. The open licence has brought definite benefits. To be fair, I must add that the topic or the high profile of the co-author also contribute to the reception. It is a clear advantage to have more people read the article and of course I get fewer requests by email as I would for articles behind a paywall.

What benefits have you seen from your open course materials and from participating in Open Courses?

TG: Quite clearly: the course received an award. That’s an obvious benefit. On 1 September 2021 I’ll start as a professor for Social Technical Transitions at Johannes Kepler University Linz. You’ll only be invited if you have good research publications. But you should ask yourself how you can distinguish yourself from your competitors, for instance in teaching. It has surely been an advantage for me that I have won teaching awards or developed my own innovative teaching formats. Showing that you are willing to break new ground in teaching is surely an advantage. Of course I don’t know which factor was decisive for the appointment. But I would dare to say that it has made a difference compared to others. Now I hold a chair where working interdisciplinary is of growing importance. The positive experiences I have made enable me to implement similar teaching formats. Beyond this it is very instructive to see what colleagues are doing, how they teach the topic, what literature they use, what assignments they set. As professors we work a lot on our own. It feels good to see how others do it and perhaps learn from it.

You publish openly communicated online data. What resonance do you get?

TG: My huge advantage is that I can use these online data in teaching. For instance, I teach courses in stakeholder management where my research into phenomena like crowdfunding or blogs is highly relevant. Because the cases are visible, students can see what kinds of organisations are behind these cases. That makes it more tangible. They also ask different kinds of questions. While teaching, I also show them how I coded and I can discuss this with the students in the course.

Regarding science communication: You have attended re:publica and give interviews to well-known German media. What effects does this kind of visibility have on your research?

TG: It really makes a difference for me to be visible in the media and to attend re:publica. It’s a lot easier for me to get access to data or to start cooperations because I am perceived as a relevant actor. If companies or start-ups, whose data I want to study, “google” me it is highly advantageous for me to be present outside the science system. Besides gaining access for field research, I think it’s also useful for being visible to funders. And to go back to teaching: I also make contact with people whom I can invite to my courses. At re:publica I got to know Ferdous Nasri from CodeCurious. That’s a coding community in Berlin. Ferdous Nasri gave a talk during starters’ week at Leuphana University which had the positive effect of more students inscribing for the voluntary course DataX which is a Leuphana project teaching basic coding and data analysis skills. Of course, being visible requires a lot of work. Some universities like Leuphana welcome it, others less so. That’s still very heterogeneous.  

Do you have any tips for other economists regarding Open Science?

TG: As a first entry I definitely recommend publishing in Open Access if the money is available. Many universities explicitly promote this. You see it very quickly in the download statistics if an article is available in Open Access.

Thank you!

The interview was conducted on April 13, 2021.

About Professor Thomas Gegenhuber

Thomas Gegenhuber is professor for business studies with a focus on digital transformation at Leuphana University Lüneburg. From 1 September he will hold the chair of “Social Technical Transitions” at Johannes Kepler University Linz (Austria).

Thomas Gegenhuber studies phenomena of digital transformation from the perspectives of organisation theory. These include crowd-driven forms of organisation, openness as organisational practice and cultural entrepreneurship in a digital economy. Gegenhuber has presented his work at academic and practitioner-oriented conferences and has worked for and with Don Tapscott, a pioneering thinker of digital transformation. Since January 2021, Thomas Gegenhuber has been a member of the expert group for the 3rd gender equality report commissioned by Federal Minister Franziska Giffey. His focus in the report was on “Digitisation-related startups”.



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