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Valuing Open Research

25 October 2019

Written by Gill Bristow, Dean of Research, College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Cardiff University.

The theme of this year’s Open Access week – ‘equity in open knowledge’ – serves as a powerful reminder that at the heart of the open access movement is the idea that all knowledge should be shared freely, and for the benefit of everyone. This includes both the outputs of scholarly research, and the data on which it is based. As such, it’s a useful reminder that Universities need to be supporting and celebrating open research more broadly, and that the drive for open access publications is just one, albeit very important, part of this much bigger endeavour.

Open research is the practice of undertaking research in such a way that others can collaborate and contribute, and where research data, protocols, lab notes and other research processes are readily available, and under terms that enable reuse, redistribution and reproduction of the research and its underlying data and methods. Open Research comprises openness throughout the research cycle, through collaborative working and sharing, and through making research methodology, software, code and digital research materials readily available online, along with instructions for using them. Open Research includes, but is not limited to, making publications freely available online (Open Access), in addition to the underlying research data (Open Data) software, research protocols, tissue samples and the research materials used. Open research embraces all disciplines and all methods of conducting research and collecting data whether that be in the form of words, interviews, numbers, tissue samples, cell lines and images.

There are good reasons why open research is good practice for researchers and should be supported by Universities. Fundamentally, openness is a route to greater research quality, visibility and impact. It is not therefore simply an end in itself. Open research practices improve the visibility and therefore the discoverability of research. Open research reaches a larger audience, creating more scope for greater citations, uptake and use. It enables the generation of research impact and can bring benefits to researchers in terms of academic reputation and reward. It can also promote more effective communication and collaboration between researchers. Open research practices also improve the rigour, validity and reproducibility of research by ensuring that claims are accompanied by the evidence on which they are based. Furthermore, open data and publications can be interrogated, reused, built upon and adapted. This allows for the creation of new knowledge and creative discovery, and improves our collective ability to improve key societal challenges and problems. Open research is based on the principle that that we are all dependent on the ability of people all over the world to both have access to the knowledge produced through research, and to be able contribute to the work of shaping and advancing that knowledge. As such, there are very good reasons why equity in open knowledge – the theme of open access week – is such an important agenda.

The value of open research is being more widely recognised and supported in the policies of research funders and publishers. There are also considerable changes taking place within research communities as academic practices begin to embrace greater openness throughout the research cycle, and as infrastructures and systems evolve to support and enable greater transparency of outputs and sharing of data in all its various forms. This process of change will clearly take time however and progress towards full openness must inevitably be regarded as a long term ambition. It is also important to note that there is a continuum of openness. There are often good reasons why data cannot be widely shared, for example. As a consequence, the mantra of enabling research to be as ‘open as possible and as closed as necessary’ is widely accepted by those engaged in the open research endeavour.

Ultimately, the pace and nature of progress towards greater openness in research will depend upon culture change within research communities. It will require greater awareness of the benefits of openness for individual researchers and institutions, as well as better understanding of where the barriers lie to greater sharing and how they might be overcome by training, support, appropriate infrastructure and systems. At Cardiff, we’ve decided to set up an Open Research group to explore these issues and better understand how as an institution we can support our researchers to enhance the visibility of their research, and how we can better champion and celebrate the value of an open research culture. We look forward to sharing our progress with you!