By Camilla Gilmore, Chair of Loughborough University’s Open Research Group and Professor of Mathematical Cognition
One of the challenges of institutional change around open research practices is the diversity of disciplines involved. Open research covers a range of activities that promote the openness, transparency, rigour, and reproducibility of research. These values are relevant to all disciplines, but the way these activities are applied and the (perceived) barriers to using them can look very different in different disciplines.
The challenges of promoting open data provide a clear example of this. In behavioural sciences, where quantitative and qualitative research data comes from human participants, one of the major challenges is how to share data ethically and anonymously. In contrast, in STEM subjects, particularly where industrial partnerships are common, the challenges are around confidentiality, commercial sensitivity and IP protection instead. Consequently, promoting open data at an institutional level must be informed by these different concerns and challenges and provide appropriate disciplinary-specific training and support.
This was a problem that I became immediately aware of when I took over the role of chair of Loughborough’s Open Research Working Group (ORWG) in early 2020. As individual researchers, our perceptions of the “state of the art” of open research are informed by our own disciplinary experience. But to make institutional change, we need to ensure that the systems supporting open research and the opportunities and incentives we promote apply to researchers in all disciplines. I felt that I didn’t know enough about what open research looks like in other disciplines.
Fortunately, I was not alone in feeling like this. Professor Emily Farran (Academic Lead, Research Culture and Integrity, University of Surrey) had similar concerns, and so we decided that it would be beneficial to draw together examples of open research practices and resources across as wide a range of disciplines as possible. This project quickly became a substantial task and benefitted from many authors and contributors. The resulting document, Open Research: Examples of good practice, and resources across disciplines (osf.io/3r8hb) was initially launched in December 2020. The document is updated annually in response to suggestions and feedback from readers (if you think good practice in your discipline is missing, why not suggest it here?).
This work has now been incorporated into the UKRN (UK Reproducibility Network) webpages, where 28 separate disciplinary pages provide case studies, examples of open research practices and disciplinary-specific resources. These highlight that, while open research practices may look different in different disciplines, there is much to learn by looking beyond our own discipline and seeing commonalities in approaches.
At Loughborough, we are ensuring that our institutional activities are sensitive to disciplinary differences by creating Open Research Leads in each school who sit on the ORWG. But we are building on the commonality of challenges by working across schools to provide training and opportunities. Look out for more opportunities in the coming academic year.
The views and opinions of this article are the author’s and do not reflect those of the University…although hopefully they do reflect Loughborough University values.