Talking about Open Research at the University of Reading

Are you an Open Researcher? Do you support or promote Open Research? Did the conference convert you? If you’ve got an Open Research story to tell and would like to write a post for our blog, please drop me a line. We would love to hear your stories.

On 30th March we hosted the conference Open in Practice: Inspirations, Strategies and Methods for Open Research here at the University of Reading. Our aim was to stimulate conversation about Open Research, to showcase the benefits of an Open Research approach, and to enthuse researchers to adopt open methods in their own research practice.

The conference featured a number of guest speakers, including academics, publishers and data specialists, who came to talk about their experience of Open Research and what it means in practice. The audience included a broad representation of University researchers and research students, members of the University’s research support services, and academics from beyond Reading. Altogether 90 people, over two-thirds of them research-active, attended the conference, and took part in a day of stimulating discussions.

Slides from speakers’ presentations and a record of the concluding panel discussion can be found here, and you can relive all the drama of the day at our Storify timeline. In short video clips Marcus Munafo and Simon Tanner summarise the key messages of their plenary talks, and several of our delegates tell us about their Open Resolutions.

Why a conference on Open Research?

This is the first time the University has organised an event of this nature. Why did we do it? For two reasons.

First, because the University’s publications team is based in the Library, while our research data service (for very good reasons) sits in Research Services (our research office), and we had been talking for some time about how we can work together more effectively, and offer more holistic support to our researchers as they produce and disseminate the outputs of their research.

Secondly, we wanted to stimulate a broader discussion in our communities, not just about open access or research data, but about open practice in general, as it applies throughout the lifetime of research, and as it affects the processes of research as well as the communication of its end results. We wanted a conversation to take place not just about publishing open access and open data, but about open methods and materials, and open technologies and standards, and using rapid communications, preprints and other means of collaboration and engagement to bring dialogue and peer review into the heart of the research activity.

From this germ developed our idea for a conference themed around the encompassing concept of Open Research.

Open Research: a definition

The core concept of Open Research has often been advanced under the name of Open Science; we prefer the term Open Research, as being inclusive of both the humanities and the sciences.

Open Research is based on the principle that knowledge produces greatest benefit by being shared as openly as possible as early as possible in the discovery process. It is the idea that the methods, materials and results of research should be made openly and freely available wherever possible, so that they can be consulted and used by others, either to validate original research findings, or to realise additional value, through further research, through innovation, and through translation of created knowledge into other kinds of impact.

Open Research practices include:

  • the use of open digital technologies, tools and services to support collaborative research and engagement with stakeholder communities;
  • transparent documentation of research methods;
  • early communication of results using preprints and other informal publications;
  • sharing of data and software code using open licensing and open standards; and
  • using open access methods to publish research results.

Central to Open Research is the idea that modern technologies and evolving methods of communication have transformed the possibilities of research practice, shifting the focus from ‘publishing as fast as possible’ to ‘sharing knowledge as early as possible’. Open Research affects how research is performed, how researchers collaborate, how knowledge is shared, and, ultimately, how knowledge is realised as social and economic value. The means by which research is communicated are integral to the quality, integrity, and effectiveness of the research.

Open Research:

  • underwrites research quality, and demonstrates integrity in the conduct of research, by providing access to its materials, and enabling the widest possible critical engagement with its methods;
  • uses open publication and licensing to make its data, materials and findings accessible to and usable by others;
  • engages with academic and non-academic stakeholders in the design and conduct of research and its translation into real-world social and economic benefit.

See Marcus Munafo talking about how Open Research informs research quality.

Don’t mention compliance!

We were determined from the outset that we did NOT want to talk about compliance. This conference was not to be about what you need to do to make your publication REF-eligible, or what your obligations are if you are funded by this or that Research Council. Researchers hear enough about this. We wanted to: 1) inspire researchers, by showcasing excellence in Open Research and talking about all the positive reasons why it is a good thing; 2) present to our audience practical examples they could take away and apply in their own day-to-day work to make their research more open.

We also wanted a conversation that would embrace researchers in the humanities as well as the sciences, and that would guarantee something of interest for everyone. Accordingly the speakers we invited included academics from a variety of disciplines who were known as proponents of Open Research practice, and publishers and data service providers who could talk about methods for disseminating research materials and results.

So how did it work out?

Was it worth it? We believe so. We had a good turnout, with researchers from across the disciplinary spectrum and at all stages of the research career, from PhD students to professors, coming together to exchange ideas and engage in spirited discussion. I hope that our guests were inspired by the possibilities of Open Research, and that at least some of them have implemented changes in the way they work as a result. I would single out two key messages, which I hope will continue to resonate in the minds of those who attended.

Open Research is better research

In his formal Welcome at the start of proceedings, University Research Dean Phil Newton advanced the proposition that Open Research is better research. Better for all the reasons elaborated in the course of the day:

  • because Open Research more transparent and trustworthy;
  • because open methods contribute to better research design and better quality control;
  • because open communication maximises the transfer of knowledge to others for social and economic benefit;
  • and because the long term benefit to the individual researcher of being open in their practice (in terms of research integrity, quality, reach and impact) invariably trumps any perceived short term advantage from restricting access to research.

I hope this proposition was axiomatic for every member of our audience, and that it will continue to illumine how they think about, carry out and support research throughout their careers.

Everyone can do something!

In his closing words, Phil challenged everyone present to take away one new thing they had learnt and apply it to make their research more open, or to enable others to be more open in their research practice. In the spirit of practising as he preached, Phil made his own resolutions there and then:

  • To use the ideas generated during the conference to inform discussions about University support for open access and research data management through the steering groups for these services that he chairs;
  • To investigate the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA);
  • To investigate what we as a University can do to enable better research design and statistical reliability in our research results.

(If you want to find out more points 2 and 3, take a look at Marcus Munafo’s talk on Scientific ecosystems and research reproducibility).

A number of delegates at the conference told us about their Open Resolutions.

The take-home message is that everyone can do something to make research more open, whether as a researcher you resolve to register your next study protocol, or to share your data, or to make your software code open source, or to publish an open access monograph; or whether as a research support professional you work to facilitate or promote open research practices.

Not least of the positive outcomes for us was that a number of staff from our University’s research support and management services attended, and were able to make sense of specific support functions, such as open access and research data services, in the context of the broader Open Research philosophy. This has in turn provoked some discussion of the questions: Are there practical ways in which the University can do more to enable and encourage Open Research practice on the part of our researchers and research students? And by taking practical steps in this direction, can we increase the quality, productivity, and competitive strength of our research?

Would we do it again?

We had excellent positive feedback from our conference guests. I am delighted that through this conference we have stimulated such interest and variety of discussion among our researchers, among those who manage and support research at the University, and also on the part of those from outside the University who joined in the conversation on the day. I hope the conference will have a threefold legacy:

  • Researchers will be encouraged to change how they work and to try new things to make their work more open;
  • The University of Reading will develop its services to better support and promote the adoption of Open Research practices on the part of its researchers;
  • We and our researchers will continue to participate in the ongoing conversations about Open Research and Open Science, and in some measure contribute to the evolution of an Open Research culture, not just here in the UK, but across the world, to the greater benefit of researchers, research organisations and the beneficiaries of research.

We have been sufficiently encouraged by the reaction to the conference to consider making Open In Practice an annual event. It’s too early to say whether that will happen yet, but I hope it will, and by this means we can continue to join in the Open Research conversation.

Cross-posted from