Unearthing the secret world – The GO-GN Delft seminar

This post was written by Adrian Stagg, @openKuroko

Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.

Neil Gaiman, A Game of You

Zero language skills, foreign currencies, a keen dislike of fragrant cheese, and a desire to learn were my constant companions in the journey to Delft. As one of the fortunate few to be generously funded to attend the seminar and OE Global Conference, it was with some trepidation that I considered my second international flight (my first was to Toronto in late 2017). That said, I’d also been funded to present at the CC Summit, and to attend OER18 in Bristol, so this was shaping up to be a journey almost worthy of the subtitle ‘There and back again’.

The prospect of presenting on the current state of my PhD work was similarly daunting, as it often feels that Romeo’s description of ‘mis-shapen chaos in well-seeming forms’ (Romeo and Juliet, I, I) has the right of it. Admittedly, Romeo was not speaking about the Doctoral journey, but when he uses phrases like ‘much to do with hate, but more with love’ (ibid.), I do consider his words are appropriately recontextualised to remind us to enjoy the research, the questioning, and (dare I say) even quantitative analysis.

However, this was also to be the first time I’d sat in a room with fellow Doctoral students and discussed the issues that face us all. Gaiman’s quote at the header of this post is apropo simply because all of these ‘secret worlds’ aren’t often explored. When we attend conference papers, or panels, we have small glimpses into the ‘worlds’ created and inhabited by others (and sometimes they resonate with our own), but the in-depth experiences in Delft allowed us to walk in others’ worlds and poke in the corners, asking why? or tell me more.

The initial activities led by Bea, Chrissi, and Catherine gave us the opportunity to provide the group with an abstract of our research, and then consider specific aspects of the PhD. In the former, synergy emerged among a number of the other students and I (in our research areas), as well as opportunities for collaboration. I noticed that even people working in different contexts, different sectors, and using different methodologies had something that would shape my views, and I spent most of the session writing furiously and joining concepts in my notebook.

The second activity was similarly worthwhile; Chrissi and Catherine asked each group to consider one topic (provided to us) about undertaking Doctoral research and design a plan that would demonstrate one’s complete inability to engage with the topic. Our group considered the literature review, and I we all discussed the dangers of reading too much and too little (so when might one have read enough?), balancing reading and writing, and the ultimate fear of ‘missing’ the seminal work in the field. We also acknowledged the role of the Supervisor to help guide our initial literature forays, and shared experiences of ‘being supervised’ (complete with hilarity and sobbing in equal portions).

The presentations were the most powerful section of the seminar. My experience of openness in Australia is disconnected, isolated, and generally only facilitated online. There are few opportunities to gather in one place and engage in the free flow of face-to-face conversation and the serendipitous lunchtime conversation. In the same manner, the value of hearing first-hand about OEP initiatives in other countries, the application of openness in other contexts, and the different lenses used to understand openness cannot be under-stated. There were many nationalities represented, diverse voices, and fascinating pathways into open research that I had not considered.

The other interesting experience was meeting people who I’d only interacted with via Twitter (if you aren’t following the GO-GN via Twitter, go and do it now. The blog post will still be here when you come back). In the lead up to the seminar, a number of us had coordinated travel, been given advance warning of the weather (and tips for travel), as well as shared resources. In any other situation being told ‘Oh, I follow you online’ would illicit an immediate sense of fear (especially as the Senate Hearing involving Mark Zuckerberg was in progress whilst we were abroad), but at the seminar, it became a way to introduce oneself. Throughout the seminar we continued to share comments, questions, resources, and connections via Twitter, and I now follow everyone who was there (again, outside of the context of Twitter this statement would be concerning). For anyone who is involved in any way with openness, I’d recommend Twitter as an essential tool for connection, and also maintaining the currency of your knowledge. This space moves incredibly fast, and many of the leading researchers (and the rest of us) share news and research this way.

The actual presentation was not as harrowing as expected. When the realisation dawns that all of the researchers providing feedback appear in your reference list (as do some of the students in the audience), the experience is akin to presenting to the invoked embodiment of ones EndNote library. However, there was little cause for alarm. As I meet more of what I term the ‘who’s who of openness’, I’m struck by how approachable, supportive and simply human (in the best way) they are, irrespective of academic standing. The word community is perhaps over-used in academia, but for open researchers and practitioners, this word does retain meaning. I was privileged to be immersed in a room with recognised researchers and excellent students, and learning freely from their experiences. This demonstrated the renewable nature of open practice – by sharing ideas and resources we are not lessened (nor is the Commons depleted), rather open practice strengthens all present. Whilst at the Creative Commons Summit, I was exposed to their motto – When we share, everyone wins – and the GOGN embodies this principle.

I’ll close this post with the advice given by Bilbo Baggins to his nephew on travel (in The Lord of the Rings):

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Whilst I’d like to think that I ‘kept my feet’, I cannot know exactly where I’ll be swept off to with the connections that I made in Delft, but I am looking forward to the journey.

Adrian Stagg



Featured image by Joshua Sorenson on Unsplash

One Comment

  • Rob Farrow

    Rob Farrow

    Thanks Adrian! I’m glad that you found the presentations less intimidating than expected. One of the ideas behind GO-GN is to provide an environment where researchers can benefit from critical and friendly feedback. Keep up the good work!

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