May 20, 2024

Can an open research statement drive best practice?

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The University of Reading published an institutional Statement on Open Research in January 2019 which we hoped would encourage best practice and help to establish a flourishing open research (OR) culture.

Our initiative began with a consensus that open research was more than just open access (OA) and data sharing; that it was a matter of growing importance for a publicly funded research organisation.We just felt we were simply not open enough.Beyond Research Excellence Framework (REF)-driven archiving of research publications, we had low adoption of open access publication, and repository-based sharing of research data and code was (and remains) the exception. Ultimately, for most of our researchers, working openly did not enter their day-to-day business of research. That left us with the question of how to create engagement with open research at our university.As far back as 2016, the idea of using open research as a strategic theme to direct our research engagement began to crystallise. OR offered us a positive language in which to communicate to researchers and graduate students the possibilities and benefits of using open methods. It also enabled us to discuss a wider range of practices, such as research programming and code sharing, use of preprints and open peer review and study pre-registration.In March 2017 we held an OR-themed conference, Open in Practice. The event was attended by members of senior management and professional services as well as researchers and graduate students and effectively kick-started the OR conversation at Reading. This resulted in the decision to publish our OR statement.ChallengesDeveloping our statement in consultation with the research community, we were navigating in uncharted waters. We did not know of any other universities that had issued a substantive OR statement. However, we were aware that Cambridge University was working on an open research position statement, which led to some productive dialogue with Danny Kingsley, at the time deputy director of scholarly communication and research at Cambridge University. We were also inspired by the paper ‘Open science and its role in universities: a roadmap for cultural change’, published by the League of European Research Universities (LERU) in May 2018.Our statement expresses support for the aims and principles of OR and encourages researchers to adopt open practices that are relevant to their discipline and research context.Yes you can!Our motto is: ‘As open as you can, as early as you can’.We know that researchers can struggle to make a connection between such a high-level statement and their everyday research practices.Researchers are often overwhelmed by the idea of OR and do not know where to start, what tools to use, or how to find help. To encourage everyone to consider small steps towards being more open, we held several engagement and communication activities:The release of our statement was followed by a second Open in Practice conference in spring 2019, and we organised an open research award, which showed examples of best practiceOur statement is supported by a web page listing 12 things researchers can do to be openTo extend our practical guidance we have published six OR case studies from our researchers, many derived from entries to the award. These are the first in a planned series of case studiesWe also published an Open Research Handbook, designed to provide a practical primer on open practicesCan an OR statement encourage good practice?The answer is, of course, perhaps. Currently we have no evidence that adopting our statement has made any big difference at the coal face. However, the process of developing a statement has felt useful to the university.Our open research statement has given us a shared language to engage with senior managers, our professional services colleagues, researchers and students.It has also provided a frame of reference within which to define expectations, develop policy, and shape services. As a university, Reading is still far from being open enough; but we are now thinking and acting more strategically as we strive to be as open as we can, as early as we can.

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