Data experts from the UK Data Service and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have been working together on a project to investigate researcher's attitudes and behaviours towards open research.
Commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, the project considered the sharing and reuse of research data, code, and open access publications in order to identify practical actions the Wellcome Trust can implement to remove barriers and maximise the opportunities for practicing open science.
The project gathered evidence from 842 researchers via a survey and focus group discussions, with the findings showing open research practices are increasing and the benefits outweigh the barriers for most researchers. Researchers report new collaborations and increased citation rates as benefits from data sharing. Whilst fear of misuse and loss of publication opportunities remain as barriers, these are largely unfounded as very few researchers have actually had direct bad experiences from data sharing. However, researchers noted that preparing data for reuse could be time consuming and costly.
Code sharing is more in its infancy, being less practised, resulting in fewer benefits, but is also less problematic for researchers. No significant barriers to code sharing exist, other than the time, funding and skills needed to prepare code for sharing, especially due to rapid software changes that makes long-term validity challenging. Rewards and recognition for practising open research would motivate researchers to make research data and code more readily available.
Certain benefits, barriers and motivations for open research apply to researchers in general; other characteristics are very much determined by research discipline, career stage, the location where a researcher is based or carries out research, and the kind of research methods used and data generated.
Thanks to parallel surveys, carried out amongst researchers, funded by the Wellcome Trust and by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), this research was able to show the influence of the ESRC’s mandatory data sharing policy and data infrastructure support. The impact of this policy is ESRC-funded researchers tend to reuse more existing data and suffer less from lack of skills to share data. For Wellcome-funded researchers, the lack of suitable data repositories is an important barrier.
Recommendations to the Wellcome Trust include providing guidance and support for data preparation and management, infrastructure development and showcasing examples of data sharing to allow researchers to see how data is being used in their research community. The report also makes recommendations for specific research disciplines, early-career researchers and those in low and middle income countries.