At the most recent RDA plenary in Barcelona, I participated in a panel chaired by Jean-Claude Burgelman of the European Commission. His final question of the panel really got me thinking. That was ‘If you could change one thing today to speed up the promise of Open Research/Science/Data, what would that be?’
By Mark Hahnel.
The panel had focussed on the much talked about balance between carrots and sticks in moving towards an open academic future. At figshare, we have been working very hard on providing as many carrots for researchers as possible in the 5 years we’ve been working in this space. This includes the addition of altmetric scores and citation counts to each public output, allowing academics quantify the amount of credit they are getting for their non-traditional, but potentially equally impactful research outputs.
Other members of the panel answered Jean-Claude with some fantastic suggestions, such as; demanding the whole academic research process is done in the open - every experiment, every method, available at all times on the web, or giving non traditional research outputs equal credit to papers in grant decision making. Obviously we are already seeing moves in this space, with mandates from many public and private funders of research now requiring open access to papers and data. We also have seen suggestions that outputs other than publications and their impact will be rewarded at an equal level in funding decisions.
I still feel that there is something missing to truly drive open research forward at a faster pace. On the panel, numbers were bandied around about the percentage of academics that believed open research was for the best and the number that actually engaged in open access to research practices and compliance in general. Compliance when it came to open data (digital products of research), was quoted as being in the early teens (10 - 15%). From my point of view, we are already on an unstoppable course towards enforced mandates requiring all digital products of open research are made publicly available. The question for me is how can we get from 10-15% to 90% in 5 years instead of 15?
At figshare, we have seen how different academics have different motivations for open research. These can be roughly divided into 3 categories of academic, obviously with lots of overlap between the groups and researchers falling into multiple groups:
From surveying the research community over the last few years, we know that the percentage of users in category 1 and 2 is in the minority, for many valid and some not so valid reasons. We will continue to add more incentives for researchers to make their outputs publically available based on categories 1 and 2, but we know this will not boost the percentage from 15% - 90% in the short term. I believe that the biggest opportunity to move further, faster is by targeting group number 3. The interesting point about group number 3 is that their motivations are reactionary in all cases. They are being told to do something by someone who stands between themselves and getting something they want at a certain point in the research lifecycle - be it financial support, or career advancement, which is obviously also linked to financial support. eg.
The problem with relying on these reactionary points is that they are often too few and far between to drive change at a fast pace. Grants for example may only be applied for every few years. So what can be done to create more reactionary points? My suggestion was to have annual audits on data practice to see how academics are managing their outputs both privately and publically. The responsibility for this seems to fit at the level of the institutions. Surely they have an incentive to make sure that their researchers are on top of their data management requirements, so as to reduce risk of funding being pulled in future. A dashboard of individual researcher data practices could be easily technically supported, without having to make all of the data publically available, but just knowing where it lives, how much of it there is and what format it is in. It would also be wise to have an escrow like functionality, should anything happen to the academic.
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