Thanks to Dr Dorka Tamas Postdoctoral Research Assistant (Open Research Case Studies) for pulling this blogpost together.

On 16 January, we heard from Dr Bernadette Moore, Associate Professor at the School of Food Science and Nutrition and Chair of the Open Research Group at Leeds and Dr Robert Darby from the University of Reading, who talked about his experience working towards Open Research culture at his institution. 

You can watch a full recording of the event on YouTube (note that we had some ‘technical issues’ from 18:00 – 23:50 (direct link to this point where Robert’s talk begins) so fast forward that bit!

Bernadette introduced the University of Leeds Open Research Statement, highlighting that open research is embedded in the University’s Vision and Strategy 2020-30.

Open research practices increase research quality and reproducibility, facilitate interdisciplinary and international collaboration, and advance knowledge. The University of Leeds Statement is part of a wider cultural change across UK higher education with many other universities having published similar statements, which are collated on this blog post. The University of Reading was in fact the very first in 2019.

Bernadette introduced a timeline of the open research movement, including the founding of Project Gutenberg in 1971, with a mission to digitise books and planted the roots of open access. Later, the more inclusive terms open science and open research developed, which Bernadette described as a ‘marriage’ between digital technology and the curation and preservation of scholarly knowledge. Over time, research funders have increasingly mandated open access to ensure that the outputs of publicly funded research are open and accessible to everybody. 

“The White Rose Repository, created in 2004, is an incredible resource for those of us in Leeds, Sheffield, and York. In 2014, the first Open Access Policy was published and the formation of the Scholarly Communication Steering Group that has now been subsumed into the Open Research Group. In 2015, the Research Data Leeds Repository was founded.” 

Bernadette acknowledged the hard work of several grassroots communities at Leeds that have developed over the pandemic, such as the Open Lunch series led and the ReproducibiliTea Journal Club. Enabling open research practices is one of five pillars of the Research Culture Statement, along with embedding EDI, recognising diverse forms of research activity, and supporting teams that the University recognises as being essential to achieving leading research that is collaborative, inclusive, open, and sustainable. 


“The Open Research Group has representatives from across the professional services at key decision makers from the library and IT and professional development along with representatives from each of faculty.” 

The Open Research Group met for the first time in February 2022. The first priority was allocation of funding from Research England’s enhancing research culture funding, which has been used to develop the Open Research Case Studies, fund a scoping exercise on Citizen Science platforms and support projects related to Wikimedia. The Open Research Statement was drafted during the Summer and published in the autumn term, when the Open Research Hub also went live and the University of Leeds became a member of the UK Reproducibility Network (UKRN), which is thanks to the long-term strategic vision of Professor Daryl O’Connor and Dr Eike Rinke

Towards the end of 2022, the Open Research Group prioritised strategic objectives and the action plan, to raise awareness of open research, refine training, fairly attribute research contributions i.e. CredIT, and improve access to University of Leeds research outputs. 

“We want to improve our discoverability and external engagement training and development cross-all disciplines. This is a very interdisciplinary space and depending on what discipline you are, your open research journey may be quite different.” 

Bernadette concluded her by highlighting that the Open Research Group asks from every researcher, student, and staff member at Leeds to:

  • use the term open research 
  • register and share protocols and methodologies to improve research quality 
  • share software, code and datasets to support open knowledge 
  • use persistent identifiers and the appropriate licenses to ensure that all our research outputs are open access 
  • adopt the praxis of engaged research with the public. 

Experiences of working towards an open research culture at Reading

Robert is the Research Data Manager at the University of Reading which he highlighted was the first University in the UK to have an outwardly facing statement on open research. Reading began their open research journey in 2016-17 with the initial premise that as a University, they simply were not open enough. Beyond compliance with open access requirements, the institution saw very little evidence of open behaviour among its researchers. Robert described some of the frustration at a lack of engagement with expectations around sharing research data for example while open access and data management training had poor attendance (which is certainly something we also relate to at Leeds).

“The University of Reading’s Open Research initiative was a response to those conditions, but not necessarily a very strategic one at that point. It evolved as they engaged stakeholders and developed a sense of purpose.” 

Reading’s Open Research initiative included two main phases. The first from 2017 to 2020 explored ways to engage with the research community and key stakeholders, including senior management, research managers, and professional services. The focus was on communicating and understanding open research – why it is important, what it means in practice, and what people can do about it. 

From 2020 they began more strategic activity towards creating an Open Research culture and putting into effect their open research action plan funded from 2021-2023. Robert highlighted some of the milestones the University has achieved: in 2017, they organised an open research-themed conference to start the conversation within our research community, which led to a phase of consultation with stakeholders. Then the open research statement was published in early 2019, which was the springboard for various communication activities, along with a second conference and an open research award competition. 

A committee for Open Research and Research Integrity was formed in 2019 as one of the objectives of a new Research and Innovation strategy. They also joined the UK ReproducibiliTea Network in 2020, and funding was approved for the Open Research Action Plan, launched in 2021. With the help of Research England funding, they began a five-year open research program to accelerate the uptake of open research practices across the sector. 

“The Open Research Statement broadcasts commitments to the principles and aims of open research to tie together existing policies on open access and research data, and to encourage researchers to adopt open practices in their work. We also developed an open research handbook on detailed practical primer and published a series of open research case studies.” 

The University of Reading is looking to increase research support capacity to provide more support and training. They are embedding open research into systems and processes, the Recruitment and Promotion Frameworks, and integrating open research objectives into research planning processes. They also want to cultivate grassroots activities, such as the Open Research Champions program. launched in 2021. The program recruits staff and student volunteers who can act as local advocates for good practice in open research. They are now in the second year of that program with twenty-five champions across thirteen schools. 

“The Open Research Champions are not professional services who are telling researchers what to do so their research is engaging, but they are their peers and colleagues who can make open research part of the conversation in those networks and transmit the knowledge and motivation in ways management and professional services perhaps can’t.” 

Through UKRN Reading have developed a checklist to help other organisations develop their own Open Research Action Plan. These engagement activities have led to productive dialogue with the research community and stimulated some positive action to promote cultural change. They found that consulting on an open research statement enabled them to engage senior management and the research community which led to a more strategic program of activities. 

“There has also been an evolution in the sector in recent years towards a greater focus on these issues of research openness and reproducibility from UKRN to Research England. It shows that funders are taking the issue of open research very seriously and what we’re doing as institutions is both reflecting and contributing to change that’s happening across the sector.” 

What next?

Robert emphasised that the University of Reading is at the beginning of a long road and there still hasn’t been a widespread transformation of research culture, only a gradual increase in data sharing over the last five years (there are other factors here such as the adoption of data-sharing policies by publishers). Being open is often hard work for little immediate reward and in the absence of strong incentives, accountability, and sufficient training and support, many researchers won’t change their practices. These are systemic problems that need systemic solutions. 

The 2022 publication on reforming research assessment was a significant milestone for Reading, which is part of the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment. Robert noted many of the challenges, and overarching cultural change, need long-term commitment. It also takes time to develop a shared institutional understanding to build the Coalition of stakeholders who will drive change. It needs to involve senior management, professional services, and members of the research community. He also highlighted that open research norms and expectations need to be embedded in the processes by which research is undertaken, managed, and evaluated, particularly the Research Excellence Framework (REF) needs to develop to include open research criteria. 

“Universities have to be a supportive partner to the research community to enable researchers to take ownership of the problems and the solutions, for example, this is where the open research champions program can contribute. They also need to invest in support and training to integrate open research training at all levels. Even undergraduates should be learning about the basic concepts and practices, and postgraduate students early career researchers should be developing and applying practical understanding.” 

Robert finished his presentation by reminding us that there is a growing community of researchers and professionals working together towards a vision of open research. It’s in everyone’s interest to engage with the open research community, and the ethos of collaboration that UKRN exemplifies has the potential to transform research culture.