A More Focused Mission

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As we have finished up our preparations for OAI8, we’ve had a wonderful opportunity to review our company’s mission. Doing so has helped us to focus even more on what we are trying to achieve and will (hopefully) help us to be able to make more of a difference.

I want to share with you a little of the journey that we went through, and why we made some of the changes that we made.

To start with, here is our original mission:

We are a social entrepreneurship company with a mission to change the way the world does research. By utilizing current technologies, we are creating software that works the way research has the potential to work. This is a researcher-driven effort to shift the paradigm of current research practices and lower the barriers to research.

Our new mission cut out the second sentence altogether, since we realized over time that the fact that we develop software is more of an implementation detail—it is one way that we fulfill our mission. Even though we cut out a whole sentence, the new mission is almost the same length, but a lot more specific:

We are a social entrepreneurship company with a mission to preserve and accelerate the process of research. This is a researcher-driven effort to shift the paradigm of research, remove barriers to knowledge dissemination, and make research more accessible to the world.

In our original mission “chang[ing] the way the world does research” sounds a little vague. There are many ways to change the way people do research, and a lot of those changes could be bad! Our passion is really in preserving the research process. Preserving the process leads to the acceleration of future research because you don’t have to do as much backtracking of your own research or guessing what other researchers have done.

The last sentence grew quite a bit.

The first part of the last sentence of our original mission talks about “shifting the paradigm of current research practices.” This is a good thing, and we want to do this. For collaboration to really work, we need to change some of the ways we do things (the practices). For instance, effective collaboration is difficult with someone that keeps all of their research notes on a notepad in a filing cabinet. Yet we realized over time that the problem goes deeper than practices. Many of us, myself included, think of “research” as the published output of the research process, the journal article, the research paper, etc. This mindset was created out of necessity. In the “old days,” researchers kept their research notes by hand and had to wait to publish until they had a finished product because it was expensive and time-intensive to typeset and print that paper, and that doesn’t take into consideration the cost of the printing press! To move ahead with research, we need to stop thinking this way. In our modern world, little bits of research can be published as we go along for little or no cost. Does that diminish the value of the final output of the research process—the paper? I don’t think so, but we do need to enlarge our scope of what we recognize as research.

So we realized that we not only need to shift the research practices, but we need to shift our whole concept of what research is.

There were a lot of implied social ills in the last part of the sentence, “lower the barriers to research,” and we needed to be more explicit. There are many barriers to research, some financial, some cultural, and some technical. Dissemination and accessibility of research can be talked about with multiple levels of meaning. The prevailing definition refers to the distribution and accessibility of research papers, in either paper or electronic form. Open access repositories store thousands, even millions of these papers. But on a deeper level, accessibility could be thought of as referring to the concepts and questions that these papers are addressing. The technology to access research at this level would completely change the way that research is used by the world. In our new mission, this is what we mean when we talk about making research more accessible to the world. This is what we are trying to accomplish with research cases.

Well, we are simple people with big ideas. I love having a mission that completely inspires me, and it was an amazing experience for me to dig deeper into an idea that I thought we had completely thought through so many times before.

Now, all that’s left is to get a lot done!