Unlocking the potential of open research
On April 27, Rebecca Lawrence, Managing Director at F1000, participated in a panel discussion at the Westminster Higher Education Forum policy conference which explored the ‘Next steps for sharing research outputs and data’. In this blog, Rebecca outlines the key issues and potential of open research and suggests how to address them for open research in the UK to truly flourish.
“What we really need is a UK Open Research Task Force that brings research funders, institutions, societies, publishers and researchers together around a table to work collaboratively on coordinated action to move towards more open research behaviors across the scholarly research system.”Rebecca Lawrence, Managing Director at F1000
There is a growing acknowledgment that a shift of the research ecosystem towards more open research behaviors would help us support greater integrity (and hence trust) of the research that we conduct and communicate, reduce research waste in the system and reduce publication bias leading to greater reproducibility. Consequently, it would help build new knowledge faster and increase the impact of the research that is funded and conducted.
Challenge conventional wisdom
Focusing on the scholarly communication part of the system, there’s a plethora of tools available today that enable rapid and open sharing of a wide range of research outputs to boost collaboration and accelerate the reach of knowledge. These range from preprint servers that are now available in most major disciplines (e.g. arXiv and bioRxiv) to data repositories (both subject-specific and multi-disciplinary such as Zenodo), through to full open research publishing systems (e.g. Open Research Europe and F1000Research). These publishing systems have been successfully running for over 10 years now using an approach that combines the benefits of ‘pre-printing’ (rapid publication with no editorial bias) with mechanisms to assure quality and transparency (invited and open peer review, archiving and indexing).
Preprints are certainly part of the solution, but in this age of increasingly blurred lines between truth and fake information, it is key for readers and users of research to not only know if new findings have been reviewed by experts, but also to transparently see for themselves who has reviewed the study and what they said about it. With increasing concerns around research reproducibility and growing research integrity issues, not only do we need increasing eyes on new findings to spot issues and concerns but also greater sharing of the fundamentals behind the research itself e.g. the methods used, the data/materials the conclusions are based on, etc. And we need to better recognize that research is always evolving and updating as we try to validate new ideas and theories, and hence the associated publications should also evolve, hence our shift from Version of Record to Record of Versions.
In order to see greater adoption of such open research tools and approaches, we need to reward and incentivize researchers in new and different ways. It’s fair to say that currently many of the incentives in the research system are still focused on journal impact factors (JIFs) and/or the brand/prestige of the publication venue. However, growing efforts are making good progress in shifting mindsets and approaches, such as the EC’s Reforming Research Assessment initiative and the growing momentum behind DORA (Declaration on Research Assessment).
We also need to incentivize transparency in the scholarly communication system, particularly the sharing of the underlying data and the methods to support the use and reuse of new discoveries. We also need to provide adequate credit beyond standard narrative research articles, to better recognize that research outputs come in all shapes and sizes and don’t have to be transformative in their content to be valuable to the research community. And a transparent and open peer review process ensures accountability of the review process, as well as credit for the crucial and time-consuming work that reviewers undertake. Taken together, these aspects will also have a significant impact on improving research integrity and trust to help us collectively fight against growing misinformation.
Minimize the burden on researchers
Whilst there is growing support for all of the aspects mentioned above, we must ensure that in our haste to implement more of these initiatives, we don’t simply add to what is already an onerous burden on researchers that takes them away from what they do best – doing the research itself. To be successful in this shift, we need to make it easier for researchers to adopt open research practices by minimizing administrative work and avoiding duplicated efforts.
We need to ensure that our research infrastructures are interoperable so that researchers only need to add the information once. And the uptake of unique identifiers, whether it’s to identify them as a researcher (e.g. ORCID IDs), or to recognize other types of activities and outputs (e.g. grant DOIs, DOIs on review reports, dataset UIDs and citations), is crucial to enable greater linking and interoperability of the scholarly infrastructures.
Change entrenched cultures and mindsets
It is really important that we align our policies and requirements, both between the different stakeholders in the system (e.g. funder vs institutional vs publisher requirements) as well as internationally (given much research is a result of international collaboration). Otherwise, researchers get caught in the middle of conflicting requirements, if they can even work out what all the different requirements are!
We also need to think about what research culture we want, particularly with regards what as a community we think success should look like. Career success in the future shouldn’t be solely about publishing in the ‘big’ journals with high impact factors, or focus so heavily on getting tenure or bringing into the institution significant funding. It should ultimately be about contribution to knowledge in the many forms that this can occur and through the many types of career paths that this can take.
Many areas of research require effective teamwork and as in all good teams, it needs different people with different strengths in different areas. It’s therefore crucial that we properly credit and reward a range of types of contributions to research. That’s why F1000 was an early implementer of the CRediT (Contributor Roles Taxonomy) system and is a supporter of The hidden REF, celebrating all research outputs and recognizing every role that makes research possible.
I believe we also need to better cultivate a culture of positively acknowledging scientific contributions even when things go wrong. Fundamentally research is ever-evolving – sometimes we disprove new ideas very quickly, sometimes it takes decades, but we need to be more supportive of this process and not demonize researchers who make genuine mistakes or errors. Equally and particularly for early career researchers, through open research we are trying to make a much more open and constructive environment for them to be able to openly discuss and critique other research, even that from more senior researchers.
Empower the open research community
To enable a change in culture and mindset will require us to step back and think about why we are encouraging open research practices in the first place. In some cases, I think we have become so focused on ensuring openness to everything that we have forgotten to what end, as open research is not a means to an end in itself. We therefore need to ensure that we start by explaining to the research community why this approach is better, both for them as researchers, but also for research and for society more broadly.
Then we need greater availability of training resources on how to practice open research, both for early career researchers as well as for senior faculty members who ultimately control the current system. We also need greater training and resource (and consequently funding) dedicated to experts in particular aspects of open research (such as data stewards) so that researchers don’t have to try and become experts in everything. As an example, with our partner on Wellcome Open Research, we’re bringing in experts to advise, encourage and support researchers on best practices in data management, including how to collect, curate, store and share research data. Read more about what our data champions do here.
Monitor for unintended consequences
As we work towards greater open research adoption, we need to ensure we are monitoring for any unintended consequences. For example, with open access models, we don’t only focus on models that enable access for those that can afford it. This is going to require us to work collectively on sustainable approaches that adequately cover the costs of high-quality scholarly communication processes to ensure the integrity of those processes such that the review and validation (and consequently trust) in the outputs being shared are maintained, but in a way that enables everyone to contribute to the system.
This covers not only open access to the publication but also to the underpinning data, methods, materials, etc., including the time and effort required to get outputs to an adequate level of presentation such that they can be used and reused by others. Furthermore, we need to ensure that in our eagerness to get to full open access, we don’t crowd out innovation and ensure adequate support and funding are available for new innovative publication models.
Greater impact through cross-sector working
Ultimately, any real progress towards open research adoption requires cross-sector working – this is a collective action problem that we’re not going to solve individually.
I believe we need to refocus on what we want from research and who can facilitate it. It seems to me we sometimes get so focused on aiming for open research in itself that we forget why we’re doing it. In some real cases, opening everything up isn’t necessarily always the answer. It’s all about what we’re trying to achieve and how open research can help us deliver high quality and trusted research that has a significant impact on moving forward our knowledge and consequently society.
Obviously, policy is a great start, but I believe we now need more attention (and funding) to support how we are actually going to implement it. Perhaps one answer to this is an Open Research Task Force in the UK (and possibly other parts of the world, similar to the EC’s Open Science Policy Platform that ran from 2016 to 2020), which brings together research funders, institutions, scholarly societies, publishers, infrastructures and researchers to look at how we can really move forward in many of the above aspects and ensure tangible outcomes.
We should not underestimate the enormity of the tasks to fully embed, incentivize and unlock the potential of open research. As we have seen during the COVID-19 epidemic, the global research community is both willing and able to collaborate, share and discard protectionism and closed access to research findings – the work galvanized by the US OSTP and PubMed’s efforts are great examples.1
It therefore begs the question: if such collaborative and open ways of sharing research are shown to be the most effective way to bring solutions to important research questions, how do we utilize what we have learned during COVID to ensure we are working like this all of the time.
Find out more about our publishing partnerships with funders, institutions and societies around the globe here.
About Rebecca Lawrence
Rebecca Lawrence is Managing Director at F1000. She launched F1000Research in 2013 and leads the initiatives behind F1000’s funder- and institution-based platforms. With over 20 years’ experience in publishing, Rebecca has played a key role in working groups across the breadth of Open Research including such organizations as the Research Data Alliance, and the European Commission.