Open and transparent research is vital, but not easy - and it is reliant on research professionals

Tamsin Burland headshot
Tamsin Burland
Neil Jacobs headshot
Neil Jacobs

Openness and transparency are important components of rigorous and reproducible research and are fundamental to supporting a healthy research and innovation culture.

Researcher working at a desk

A shift to open research practices requires new ways of planning, conducting and disseminating research. This is not, however, a straightforward task and cannot by achieved by researchers on their own. Strong institutional support and input from experts with the right skills, experience and knowledge are necessary fort facilitating progression to a more open research culture.

Collectively, we call these experts ‘research professionals’, and they include research managers, library and information staff, laboratory and facility professionals, commercialisation and IP professionals, IT and research software engineers, public engagement teams, finance and legal staff.

For a shift to open research to happen, effective collaboration between researchers and research professionals is essential. When working well, such collaborations promote a common understanding of open research, and enable the adoption of good research practice and sharing of lessons learned, all of which results in better research outcomes (for example – more rigorous research or avoiding repeated experiments).

A UKRN/Jisc convened workshop on the role of research professionals in supporting open practice found many challenges and barriers to successful collaboration between researchers and the research professionals. These include:

  • A lack of a shared and broad understanding of open research
  • A focus on compliance rather than on opportunities for open research
  • Lack of recognition for the contributions of research professionals
  • Unclear expectations of how research could or should be more open
  • Isolation of professional staff in siloes

Case studies as catalysts

As yet, the value of collaborations in fostering open, transparent and ethical research has not been fully realised. Compelling and openly available examples of successful collaborations between researchers and research professionals could go a long way towards creating a better understanding of their value in achieving common goals.

So, that’s exactly what we’re creating: a collection of case studies to help drive culture change. Our aim is to build a collective narrative and mutual understanding of the strength of inter-professional working.

Leading by example

The UK Reproducibility Network (UKRN) is a peer-driven national alliance with the mission to uphold the UK’s reputation for top-tier research, by understanding the challenges in achieving rigour and transparency in research.

As a follow-up to the workshop, we put out a call for case studies that describe a real activity or episode in a research project, which highlights the contributions of research professionals in achieving open and transparent research.

The following case studies are available to read on the UKRN website:

  • At Oxford Brookes University, an academic librarian ensured important health research was published open access, permitting the study findings to be accessible to healthcare professionals and patients
  • From the University of Glasgow, the research information team ensured appropriate licensing and curation of research outputs and full recognition for all those involved in the study
  • Harper Adams University’s case study looks at how technical staff in a shared research facility enabled collaborations within and between institutions and the sharing of knowledge and best practice
  • Leeds Arts University’s research professionals ensured important data could be shared appropriately while remaining within the parameters of participants’ consent
  • The University of Northumbria demonstrated how copyright experts can facilitate the sharing of online study material between different research groups, thus reducing the need to recreate resources
  • The University of Bath received crucial advice from ethics experts at the application stage, which enabled the sharing of research data at the end of the study without compromising participant privacy.

A collaborative future

Our hope is that these case studies will reach three different audiences: research professionals, research funders / policy makers and the researchers themselves (including their networks and societies). These studies could be just the beginning of a larger collection, building a collective narrative and mutual understanding of the strength in inter-professional working in the adoption of open research practices.

We see this as complementing the amazing work of initiatives such as The hidden REF, which highlights the value of non-traditional - often open - research outputs, and of those who contribute to them, including research professionals.

In the longer term, a collection of case studies could inspire greater:

  • Recognition and investment in a wide range of research professional roles
  • Cooperation between different research professionals, both within and among institutions
  • Recognition of research professionals when developing policies, strategies, procedures and funding criteria
  • Involvement of research professionals in research projects, especially early on in the process.

In the not-so-distant future, we hope that most research can be open, transparent and reproducible. This could pave the way for research of the highest quality, that could solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.

And we believe the contribution of passionate professional staff on the ground will be at the centre of this revolution.

Find out more

Read the UKRN case studies.

Learn about supporting a healthy research and innovation culture.

About the authors

Tamsin Burland headshot
Tamsin Burland
Head of product

I lead a team who support Jisc members in managing their research information. Services include Publications Router, The UK ORCID Consortium and the Research Repositories Dynamic Purchasing System. We also provide advice and consultancy around research management systems procurement.

Neil Jacobs headshot
Neil Jacobs
Head of the UKRN Open Research Programme