Supporting those that support Open Research

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The Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) is the main structure that focuses on all matters related to open research at the University of Cambridge. It stays abreast of new scholarly communication tools, techniques, policies and practices for the University. The OSC and its team do an outstanding job to support and train all researchers Open Access and Research Data policies.

The OSC, despite its critical contributions, is currently under review. A review is not a very nice position to be in, but it could also be an opportunity to highlight to the top managers of the University what an important role the OSC plays, and hopefully resulting in more open research support at the University.

The members of the University were invited to contribute to the review. I sent my comments out; here they are.

Dear Office of Scholarly Communication Review Panel,

I am writing to provide feedback for the review of the Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC), following the invitation for comments in the University Reporter No 6466, Vol CXLVII No 32. In this letter, I will describe the reasons why open research is an essential mechanism of modern scholarship, document my personal experience with the OSC and how it currently addresses these needs, and how the University could continue to further improve their support the open research.

There is a clear and unstoppable trend towards greater openness in research, ranging from wider and more open dissemination of all research outputs (data, software, material and methods, and research manuscripts), to a desire for more transparency in the research processes themselves (open peer review, pre-registration, early publication of pre-prints and consideration of these in grant proposals). The reasons underlying this drive for open research range from wider dissemination within and beyond the scientific community, to supporting better reproducibility and thus greater trust in research outputs. These changes are promoted and supported by many researchers, especially early career researchers (ECRs), by new publishers and data sharing platforms, as well as major UK funders (for example BBSRC, MRC and Wellcome Trust in particular). This changing research landscape is an opportunity for those that can adapt and appreciate the necessity of open research, and a threat to those that cannot or do not want to embrace open research.

It is essential for an institution such as the University of Cambridge, that benefits from a unique prestige and position in national and international research to be at the forefront of these changes. To do so, it needs to support its researchers in making these transitions by informing them, and by providing adequate training and infrastructure. In addition, an institution of such a calibre ought to go beyond the mere minimal requirements mandated by funders, but should play a leading and pioneering role in understanding and defining the future directions of this changing open research landscape.

Who, at the University of Cambridge, is in a better position to successfully address these fundamental needs of an ever more dynamic research horizon than the Office of Scholarly Communication? The OSC has, over the years, been extremely successful in informing, training and supporting researchers toward greater openness in their research, as required by the funding bodies. For example, the OSC has been instrumental in making scholarly outputs available via green and gold open access (OA) models, administering these dedicated funds, and assisting researchers in complying with their funder’s OA requirements. The OSC has facilitated and even at times enabled the communication around open research between researchers and individual researchers their departments (for instance by expressing their support of the Data Champions directly to their respective Heads of Departments). Importantly, the OSC has been able to reach out widely, from graduate students to PIs, departments and libraries at the University, and the wider community of stakeholders who influence open data, open access and open research in general.

The OSC has been leading the way with various innovative projects to promote open research practice and open researchers, such as the Data Champions initiative and the Open Research Pilot Project (in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust). The OSC has successfully engaged with many stakeholders, in particular with researchers and funders, positioning themselves as a major player in open research. They are up-to-date with changes in funder requirements, participate in and foster discussions about the evolution of these requirements, and hence are ahead of the curve in terms of support and service to researchers. These successful activities have reached beyond the University of Cambridge, and the OSC is seen by researchers, data managers, managers and librarians around the world, as a prime example of successful engagement and support with their research community.

All major funders are going to increasingly regard best practice in open science as an prime requirement when submitting applications. It is essential for the researchers at this University to continue to benefit from the support they currently benefit from to remain competitive. It is hard to imagine this University maintaining its world-class reputation, without being at the forefront all aspects of modern, open research, and the OSC is currently the only entity at the University of Cambridge, capable of successfully accomplishing these tasks.

On a personal level, as a modern and open scholar, I have immensely benefited from the support, networking opportunities, and collaborations (I am an active participant in the Data Champions initiative and one of the fours participating research groups in the Open Research Pilot Project) offered by the OSC. This level of support is not available anywhere else in the University, whether at the level of the laboratory, the Department, the University Library or any other official structure withing the University. The OSC helped me realise my potential as modern, successful open scholar.

I consider it an absolutely necessary for the University of Cambridge to support open research in general, and the OSC in particular. Firstly, I would urge the University to:

  • to give the OSC its full support, including financial, so that the OSC can maintain and expand its highly qualified team and continue to support the community.

In addition, the University, in collaboration with the OSC, should

  • Sign the Declaration of Open Research Assessment (DORA (following the examples of UCL and Imperial College)

  • Positively value a commitment to open research and publishing practices.

  • Endorse immediate open publishing, including pre-prints.

  • Endorse and value the open publication and dissemination of all research outputs, including data, software, material and methods, in accordance with the UK Concordat on Open Research Data.

  • Actively support and train all students and researchers in best open research practice in accordance with the UK Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers and the UK Concordat on Research Integrity.

  • Promote greater transparency by publicly reporting it’s own expenditure in journal substations and article processing charges, and transition it journal subscriptions to distance itself from commercial publishers and support OA publishing.

  • Enable a wider participation of the academic community, in particular ECRs, into the discussions and decision making at the various levels at the University by, for example, registering all post-doctoral researchers in the Regent House.

In my opinion, the University’s support for open research plays a critical role, both to support its own position on the national and international scene, and to support its researchers, in particular the ECRs to remain among the very best in the world. I urge the members of the panel to continue to and increase their support the OSC.

Yours sincerely

Dr Laurent Gatto

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