The modern open science movement has significantly increased access to knowledge over the past two decades. Despite the growing number of open outputs, the underlying scientific ecosystem has remained essentially unchanged. Technological advances have driven exponential growth in the volume of scientific data, and despite new technology becoming more affordable, these changes have outpaced the development of infrastructure and practices necessary for effective data sharing and collaboration.  

While reproducibility remains the bedrock of science, we believe pursuing reproducibility for the sake of reproducibility is a mistake. Instead, we think more energy should be focused on building tools and experiences that are more joyful and collaborative, where reproducibility is a positive side effect.  There’s an opportunity to drive a new wave of innovation in open science practices. Our focus is on identifying and supporting solutions that can significantly improve collaboration, data sharing, and, ultimately, the rate of scientific impact. The current scientific communication system prioritizes static narratives over a more data-centric approach. This creates a barrier to using modern computational tools to analyze information more objectively, as the raw data is not made available alongside subjective interpretations. By separating the data from these interpretations, researchers can use the information more efficiently and effectively, potentially leading to faster breakthroughs and discoveries.

We recognize that a successful transition to more collaborative science requires more than simply tinkering around the edges of existing practices. The current academic landscape often falls short of its full potential for collaboration. We seek transformative ideas that push science beyond the confines of the status quo and fully embrace the possibilities of the modern technological landscape. Our vision is a future where researchers, policymakers, and the general public benefit from the rapid and open sharing of research outputs. We champion practical and sustainable solutions that demonstrably provide superior value, focusing on open solutions not simply because they are open, but because they represent the best value for money and the best path forward for scientific progress.

To achieve this, we are looking to support projects that have the potential to modernize or disrupt current scientific collaboration practices and drive significant change. By adopting an experimental approach, we aim to fund various promising solutions. We will prioritize communities in academia and industry receptive to novel approaches, providing them with the support and infrastructure necessary to sustain the long-term adoption of impactful practices.

Focus Areas

We are launching the program with three initial focus areas. As we learn more from our investments in the space, we may expand or modify these areas in future years.

Improving Data Infrastructure

Scientific data infrastructure has yet to fully exploit its enormous potential. We believe there’s an urgent need for a transformation in data-focused publishing and collaboration, mirroring the impact of GitHub on code sharing and software development. We aim to fund technology and practices that accelerate data sharing for researchers, making it more interactive and enjoyable, enabling quick feedback, fostering new collaborations, and enhancing impact. Examples of work in this focus area include infrastructure for rapid data collaboration in executable notebook environments, adjacent compute infrastructure, and coordination efforts to enable this work.

We recognize that many data-sharing practices and policies are compliance-driven. Top-down mandates from funding agencies, governments, and universities may lead to researchers simply going through the motions of open science without truly embracing it. Understanding and addressing researchers’ motivations can foster a genuine cultural shift, inspiring the scientific community to adopt sustainable open science practices. We aim to transform data sharing into a more engaging and rewarding experience. 

As certain practices gain momentum within research communities and are supported by sustainable infrastructure and established workflows, funding can be strategically directed toward policies and mandates reinforcing these practices. By cultivating lasting behavioral change, we can empower the scientific community to embrace a culture of open science.

Novel Publishing Models and Infrastructure: Shifting the Narrative

Our goal is to redistribute attention in science from papers to data, treating papers as one of many static interpretations created at a given time. Achieving this shift requires diverse open publishing platforms and improved identifier graphs.  We plan to fund projects that make disseminating scientific results fast, frequent, and flexible for the benefit of researchers. Supporting the development of low-cost, open-source dissemination options and improving pre/post-publication peer review are key components of our vision. We aim to provide research groups and organizations with tools to publish their work quickly, creating a sustainable and diverse ecosystem to support this transition. 

Additionally, there is significant potential for AI (and non-AI) tools to help reduce the cognitive burden of managing peer review of rapidly disseminated artifacts. These tools can help identify new reviewers, especially from underrepresented regions, improve the discoverability of related artifacts, and manage the tedious coordination of the peer-review process. By leveraging AI to augment human efforts, we can enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of scientific communication.

Improving the Persistent Identifier Ecosystem and Applications

Despite the growing use of persistent identifiers in science, finding and linking relevant open work remains challenging. By supporting the development of new methods and tools that leverage these identifiers to create a more interconnected graph of research outputs, we can shift the focus from just papers to datasets and other research outputs. Every open science artifact then becomes a valuable entry point. Efforts like ImpactStory sparked interest in researchers and demonstrated the power of identifiers for open science. We are keen to fund modern approaches to improving this graph and showcasing what we can learn, and we encourage more initiatives like these. This is a key step in making open science broadly useful.

An Undercurrent of AI for Science

We are excited about the potential of AI-based approaches in our focus areas. The open science community is currently navigating the evolving landscape of AI, which presents both challenges and substantial opportunities. While concerns about generative AI exist, there is also strong optimism about how AI can effectively address and overcome long-running challenges in open science, such as improving data quality and enhancing machine-actionable intelligence. We want to explore and support AI initiatives through our funding, recognizing the transformative impact these technologies may have on the field.

Types of Grants

The Navigation Fund’s Open Science program will make three types:

The Innovation Fund

Prototype Development and Implementation: The first activity focuses on rapidly developing and implementing innovative prototypes. While we encourage high-risk, high-reward projects in this category, we also welcome ideas demonstrating a clear potential for impact and sustainability. We understand that transformational solutions may require new voices in the open science space. Therefore, we are actively seeking ideas beyond the traditional actors. Grants can be used for infrastructure development and community building, with requests typically under $500k.

Expert Gatherings (Working Groups): The second activity supports expert gatherings for areas within open science that face significant challenges but lack clear next steps. These meeting grants will enable diverse groups of experts to gather, discuss challenges, network, and brainstorm potential solutions. Outputs from these meetings may later qualify for prototype grants under this category. Meeting grants are designed to cover participant support and will be $20-100K.

The Validation & Scaling Fund

These larger grants are available for open science projects that have achieved some demonstrated value within a specific scientific community. The grants can be used to expand into adjacent communities and identify less receptive ones, informing our future funding strategies. Funding can also support established projects with multiple communities that have not yet secured a sustainable operating model, allowing them to explore different models for long-term success. Additionally, grants can be used to improve infrastructure, operations, and governance for long-term sustainability. These grants will range from $500K to $2 million.

The Growth Fund

Similar to a Series A round in the startup ecosystem, this fund is designed to support projects that have moved beyond the proof-of-concept stage, have gained adoption in multiple communities, and are on the path to sustainability. By the end of the funding round, the approach or idea should be sufficiently de-risked, making it easier to attract more traditional funding and develop diversified revenue sources. This funding provides a one-time boost to execute a business or sustainability plan, expand in specific areas, or pursue innovative directions. These grants will range from $1 million to $5 million.

What is Not in Our Scope?

We aim to direct our resources toward new ideas where TNF’s unique approach can have the greatest impact. To this end, several important areas are better served by other dedicated funders:

Scientific open-source software: This area is already well-supported by several programs, such as The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Essential Open Source Software for Science program, The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Better Software for Science program, and NASA's Transform to Open Science program, among others.

General operating funds for well-established open science projects: We primarily aim to support early- to mid-stage initiatives. While we may occasionally make exceptions, our focus is on fostering growth and development in emerging areas.

Basic research on open science: Our meeting fund facilitates expert gatherings that generate actionable insights and potential proposals for us or other funders. However, our primary goal is not to fund academic research in open science but to promote practical, impactful advancements.

Meet Our Program Officer for Open Science

Introduce Yourself to the Open Science Team

We are excited to announce the launch of our funding program, initially focusing on these areas. As we proceed with our investments, we will thoughtfully refine our strategy and approach, informed by our experiences. If you have a compelling idea that aligns with our goals, we invite you to submit a brief statement of interest.