eLife Innovation Initiative: a community-driven approach promoting open-source innovation

We explain how we work with our community to bring open source to open science.
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eLife’s stated mission is to “accelerate discovery by operating a platform for research communication that encourages and recognises the most responsible behaviours".

While the open-access eLife journal is a prominent part of that platform, we recognise that the best ideas and opportunities for improving research communication will always come from the community of researchers and developers whose drive to innovate is inspired by their own day-to-day experiences. This is why we see investing in technology innovation at the community level as a way to help achieve our mission, by engaging with innovative open-source projects with a special focus on modern infrastructure for science publishing and online tools for sharing, using and interacting with new results.

The eLife Innovation Initiative was born in 2015, and has since then supported the development of a number of open-source tools for the sharing, consumption, discovery and evaluation of research. In that time, the Initiative has strived to expand its reach, engaging new communities and communicating across the board with many different audiences including funders, innovators, developers, researchers, industry specialists and open source evangelists.

Over the years, the Innovation Initiative’s scope has increasingly focused on discovering, funding and supporting as many promising open-source projects as possible, nurturing a lively conversation on publishing technologies, and breaking through barriers and gatekeeping behaviours.

In close collaboration with many external stakeholders, the Innovation Initiative has achieved some significant milestones. In 2018, our collaboration with Hypothesis led to a more publisher-friendly, open-source solution for research discussion and annotation. In 2020, our long-standing collaboration with Stencila made possible the launch of the Executable Research Article for eLife authors and the publishing community at large, and which has since already been adopted by one other journal and continues to attract interest from more. And all the while, the Innovation Initiative has continued to actively seek out and support grassroots innovators such as Plaudit, ReFigure and Open Knowledge Maps.

In addition to these collaborations, the Initiative has fueled self-organised community events, engagement and participation through mentorship opportunities such as the Innovation Leaders 2020 and the yearly eLife Innovation Sprint, and has acted as a sponsor to sister organisations in the open-source space, promoting the principles of open source for open science across a diverse set of communities.

The goals of the eLife Innovation Initiative are set year by year, and represent a consistent effort to manifest a coherent approach and alignment to the eLife mission and to the overall values of open-source innovation, while responding to feedback from the community. Our main objectives for 2021 will be to:

  • Nurture and grow the communities we come into contact with daily, and create a space where all these different voices can network and interact together to produce open-source solutions that solve real problems. In addition to organising the eLife Innovation Sprint 2021, which will take place later this year, our plan is to research and designate a platform that will host the innovation community and keep fueling a network of contacts and opportunities.
  • Increase our participation in online discourse and showcase eLife’s and the community’s innovations in the open-source space to a broader audience. We plan to achieve this goal by consistently producing and releasing content on eLife Labs, and showcasing projects and inspiring personalities while advocating and participating at open-source-focused events and calls. More specifically, we will carry on a series of interviews with innovators and we will collaborate closely with the ecosystem of communities populating eLife to be able to address recognised issues and relevant topics.
  • Foster a mentorship environment with other actively invested institutions, and develop a multi-year pathway that focuses on openness, trustworthiness, equity, diversity, and inclusion: the mentorship model will be intended as a reciprocal system through which we can learn from innovators in the community and share ideas and best practices, even as we continue to share eLife’s skills, support and expertise with researchers and developers.

The Innovation Initiative is taking this opportunity to share its vision and objectives as a way of taking responsibility for the path moving forward, and we welcome all suggestions and collaboration opportunities.


We welcome comments, questions and feedback. Please annotate publicly on the article or contact us at innovation [at] elifesciences [dot] org.

Do you have an idea or innovation to share? Send a short outline for a Labs blogpost to innovation [at] elifesciences [dot] org.

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