Throughout her career, Odile has been breaking barriers and innovating. Whether it’s been at the helm of an ultra-light aircraft, paragliding, riding her motorcycle or in her professional life, Odile has always liked taking risks. “I love a challenge,” she says. “It’s a way to learn, and to learn about yourself, while exploring new things.” This love of a challenge may be what led Odile to spearhead large-scale projects that bring her colleagues together through her enthusiasm and commitment.
On 1 January 2020, as a part of the merger between INRA and IRSTEA, Odile Hologne became the Director of Open Science (DipSO), which was established for INRAE to address issues in open science and digital change. For Odile, open science is more than simply open access. Open science “covers everything from opening the research process to more kinds of people, including non-scientists, to making a wider range of products, such as publications, data and software, accessible so that more people can use them,” she says. This will lead to a change in the way research is conducted. “It will be possible to imagine researchers collecting data in the same way they carry out their bibliographic research today,” she says. Advances in digital technology will also have an impact on the ways researchers work, in the methods they use to analyse ever-larger datasets, and also in the ways researchers collaborate with each other — and with people outside the research community. Such new approaches will mean that scientists and professionals working in scientific and technical information fields will have to adapt to the changing digital landscape and to meet the needs of participative science. “The aim is to make connections between different areas of expertise, to develop new services, to innovate and find new ways of doing things, and to involve everyone in the change,” she says. “INRAE can draw on the dynamic network of professionals who work for the Institute,” she says, adding enthusiastically that “INRAE allows people to take the initiative and to build innovative projects. It’s a workplace that gives you freedom while also giving you a sense of working together for an organisation tackling today’s important issues.”
A long-time information technology innovator
Using new technologies to disseminate knowledge
Odile’s desire to take over the family farm is what guided her towards agricultural studies in secondary school and later to agricultural science at an engineering school. After having focused on the technical aspects of farming, Odile turned her attention to agriculture’s economic and digital aspects. Therein she found her calling: using new technologies to disseminate knowledge; a calling that she put into practice with an early work experience at France’s National Centre for Studies and Innovation in Advanced Technology (CNERTA) in 1988. CNERTA’s mission was to foster the use of new technology in agricultural teaching. Odile developed specialised multimedia systems and innovative teaching tools that used computer systems at a time when computer technology was still in its early days. “Computer technology, managing and disseminating knowledge, and innovation have been drivers in my career.”
Keeping pace with developments in science and technology
Odile spent three years in the IT department of the French Research Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Engineering (CEMAGREF) — which later became the National Research Institute of Science and Technology for Environment and Agriculture (IRSTEA). She implemented the IT strategic plan and contributed to the development of a new financial management system. In 1999, Odile became the head of CEMAGREF’s scientific and technical information department, landing in a role she found very gratifying. “The work touched on publishing and documentation, with a focus on new technology and developing innovative editorial publications,” says Odile. From early days, she set out to be innovative and to move beyond traditional expectations in this field. She established Éditions Quæ, no easy feat as it brought together the publishing activities of four research institutes — the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER), INRA and CEMAGREF. Odile led her colleagues as the new publishing house grew. “I love having a bit of creative freedom in my work and to be able to encourage colleagues to get out of their work routines.”
Sharing knowledge in a digital age
A process of evaluation, assessment and feedback
In 2004, Odile joined INRA as a member of the Scientific and Technical Information (IST) department. She was set with the task of assisting a network of 200 information officers whose work was being completely reshaped by the emergence of digital technologies. Whereas in the past, information officers were responsible for managing scientific publications in a library, the arrival of online journals meant that researchers could now compile their research materials independently. “It was a paradigm shift in term of how people accessed and disseminated information,” says Odile. To help the information officers adapt to the change, Odile developed a plan, set policy, monitored external developments in the field and was attentive to the needs of INRA staff to work together, to grow professionally and to develop new services. “In my role, I sat at the intersection of staff, technology and organisational needs, and was also responsible for training within the organisation.” For Odile, the key to success is to surrounding herself with experts, and to listen to her instincts and then follow a process of evaluation, assessment and feedback, then rolling out an idea if it meets the needs of the organisation.
While new digital tools to share and analyse information were being developed, the open science movement began to revolutionise, once again, the work of scientific and technical information professionals, and of research professionals in general. The aim of the open science movement is to grant free, open access to publications and to scientific data so that others may reuse it. Odile is an enthusiastic proponent of open science. “Making our data accessible and reusable is the best way advance knowledge.” She adds that “although data is more accessible, it doesn’t mean that everyday people are more involved in the science. Participatory research approaches are one way to engage people more.” Odile continues to push boundaries and to innovate by bringing together activities that incorporate knowledge dissemination, the relationship between science and society, and digital technology under one roof at INRAE’s Directorate for Open Science (DipSO). It is an ambitious new project, a “risky bet” as she calls it, alluding to a Mark Twain quote that suits Odile so well: “They did not know it was impossible so they did it.”
55, married, 1 child
General engineer in the Corps of Bridges, Waters and Forests, on secondment to INRAE