Traditional scientific approaches whereby small teams work on individualized problems and systems is a valuable means to increase understanding. However, this approach can lead to context-dependent results that are difficult to connect across systems and use towards beneficial outcomes. In addition, traditional approaches require small teams to have sufficient resources to design and implement their own studies. To accelerate the generation of revolutionary outcomes that are transferable across study systems and increase equity in science, we need a new way of doing science that complements traditional approaches.
A set of principles has emerged that can be used to intentionally build research programs that are guided by, implemented by, and beneficial for the science community while striving for transferable results. These are the ICON principles in which research is Integrated across disciplines; Coordinated with consistent protocols; Open across the entire research lifecycle; and Networked whereby a broad range of stakeholders design, implement, and benefit from the work. One element of being open is making data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable (FAIR). However, the open component of ICON goes beyond FAIR data, aligning with the concept of ‘Open Science by Design’.
While the basic concepts of ICON principles are established, the intentional use of these principles together has only recently started. It is not yet clear how to best use or modify ICON across diverse research settings that vary in disciplinary foci, geography, resources, goals, stakeholders, etc. There is a need to study how ICON principles are used across domains and centralize experiences, perspectives, and understanding of this approach to science.
The ICON Science Cooperative has been established to meet this need. The Cooperative will revolutionize the way science is done to dramatically accelerate scientific progress while enhancing equity. The Cooperative will enable broad use of ICON principles across sectors. The ultimate measure of success is to shift the paradigm of scientific culture and training until ICON principles are mainstream. To do so, the Cooperative will be developed as a centralized entity providing expertise, tools, and other resources that will assist the community to reduce barriers that currently limit the use of ICON principles. A key element is the recognition that ICON is implemented differently across sectors; the Cooperative is working with the scientific community to develop and continually improve guidance for how to use ICON across diverse research settings to advance scientific understanding and equity.
The goals are scientific advancements and enhanced equity that together dramatically increase human capacity to understand, predict, and influence systems towards beneficial outcomes. To achieve these goals depends critically on developing ICON principles and their implementation with the science community. For example, feedback is needed on what technical methods and community engagement tools are optimal for carrying out highly distributed sampling campaigns. The Cooperative leadership recognizes there are challenges that go well beyond our expertise, such as how to most appropriately and effectively pursue enhanced equity. While expanding ICON research will not solve inequity in science, we aim for the Cooperative and ICON projects to be a tool in working towards a more equitable distribution of knowledge, skills, and resources. The philosophy of our approach is to carefully lean into challenges with community guidance. We expect continual improvement based on transparent intentions, listening, and honest evaluation.
The ICON Cooperative aims to enable researchers from all domains to implement ICON science for mutually beneficial outcomes, accelerating the pursuit of transferable results and enhancing scientific equity.
We value your feedback on how we further enable the community to use ICON principles. Please email ICONS@pnnl.gov with your thoughts on what is working, what needs to be improved, and what opportunities we could pursue.