How can openness improve the research environment?

Open Research Forum, 5 November 2018

Open Research can offer the means to increase the accessibility of research, and it will be essential for university departments and Units of Assessment to demonstrate the real-world impact of research projects in impact case studies submitted to the REF. But how can individual researchers identify opportunities to build openness into their research projects?

The second Open Research Forum (ORF), held in November 2018, sought to support and inspire Manchester researchers through the presentation of four case studies from different research disciplines. These showcased real-life examples of Open Research, providing practical pointers for attendees to consider and adapt to their own projects.

As well as organised events, the ORF includes a digital space to facilitate discussion of Open Research issues. Ahead of this year’s Forum event, two digital case studies were shared via the Forum site. Professor Andreas Prokop and Sanjai Patel of the School of Biological Sciences shared their experiences of a science communication initiative to support The Manchester Fly Facility in engaging effectively with non-academic audiences. And Emily Griffiths, information governance manager at Greater Manchester Connected Health City, described finding ways to balance aims for openness with respect for patient confidentiality when seeking to share sensitive patient data. We encourage researchers to share their thoughts and experiences of public engagement and open data, either by commenting on these blog posts, writing their own piece, or speaking at a future Forum event — get in touch with us if you’d like to contribute to the Forum.

Dr. Caroline Jay shares her case study on Open Research methods at the Open Research Forum, 5 November 2018

November’s Forum event kicked off with Dr. Caroline Jay of the School of Computer Science considering what it means for a research project to be undertaken using open methods, and how doing this could change research culture. Caroline discussed how it’s possible to undertake new analyses and consider new research questions if research methods are FAIR — Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable — but pointed out that achieving FAIR methods is technically challenging, and not really supported in researcher credit systems, which could disincentivise researchers from making the effort. Reusing software developed by other researchers could potentially save time and money, but this can also prove challenging if, as in Caroline’s example, software is incompatible with your own computer system. Caroline highlighted containers like Docker and executable papers as potential solutions to this frustration.

Caroline closed her case study by considering how problems with reproducibility are framed. Labelling lack of reproducibility of data as a research integrity issue may be less helpful than focusing on providing better support for researchers to improve research software. You can access Caroline’s slides which accompanied her case study via the Researcher’s perspective section of this site.

Professor Hannah Barker delivers her ORF case study on Open Access publication of her recent monograph

The second case study was delivered by Professor Hannah Barker of the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, and Director of the John Rylands Research Institute. Hannah shared her experiences of engaging with Open Access (OA) publication, having used institutional funds to publish her recent monograph Gold OA. It’s less common for monographs to be published OA compared to journal articles, which has at times resulted in Humanities authors reporting feeling left out of funding opportunities for OA for their main research outputs, so Hannah’s talk presented a valuable opportunity to consider the experiences of a Humanities researcher engaging with openness for such an output.

A key message from Hannah was that publishing a monograph OA is not enough to guarantee it will reach intended non-academic audiences. Hannah reported very little support from her publisher in promoting her book once it was published OA, suggesting perhaps publishers are less motivated to publicise OA books compared to non-OA publications, which may be perceived as more likely to result in sales (though Knowledge Unlatched has shared fascinating evidence that challenges this view). Hannah emphasised the importance of establishing a publication strategy from the outset, before a book is published OA, building in actions to maximise the opportunity for non-academic audiences — who may well have contributed to a research project — to find, access and benefit from an OA output. The University of Manchester Library is working to develop support in this area, so watch this space.

Hannah commented that she would consider approaching Manchester University Press if planning to publish a future monograph OA, as a smaller press may offer a more flexible and possibly more supportive approach to dissemination and promotion of the output than a commercial publisher. Hannah acknowledged, however, that Early Career Researchers may benefit from demonstrating publication with a larger press on their CVs.

The case studies shared at the Forum event and online offer insight into ways that Manchester researchers are engaging with openness at different stages of the research process and in different research disciplines, and we hope these provide practical and inspirational support for other researchers and project leads keen to incorporate openness into their work.

Open Research Forum, November 2018

Please share your thoughts by commenting below, or if you’re interested in contributing a blog post on your own experiences of Open Research or speaking at a future ORF event, please get in touch with us:

If you use Twitter, check out #UoMORF18 for more discussion of this November’s ORF event.