Reflecting on the Open Research Award at the University of Reading

On 9th June the University of Reading welcomed around 90 people to its virtual Open Research Award 2021 event. This was an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate our progress with open research. The event was opened Dr Phil Newton, Research Dean for Environment and senior management champion for Open Research and followed by a thought provoking update presented by Professor Parveen Yaqoob, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and PVC for Research and Innovation.

We were excited to welcome keynote speaker Sarah de Rijcke, Professor in Science, Technology, and Innovation Studies and Scientific Director at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS), Leiden University. Professor de Rijcke is co-author of the Leiden Manifesto for Research Metrics and the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science. Sarah’s presentation brought a global context to our own open research and responsible metrics initiatives.

We then enjoyed fascinating presentations from our four finalists. Dr Alanna Skuse received first prize for work with Open Access monographs and her proactive response to challenges for openness in the humanities. The prize for the best presentation went to Dr David Brayshaw and Dr Hannah Bloomfield for a presentation on meteorological data for the transition to future clean energy systems, decided by live audience vote and with the suspense of a tie-break!  You can access the slides and summary panel comments to see how our presenters are using and supporting open research methodologies and learning new skills. There is also a full recording of the event on YouTube.

What is the Open Research Award?

It is a biennial competition to recognise and reward researchers or research students at the University of Reading who demonstrate use of open practices to make their research more accessible, transparent or reproducible. The entrants submit case studies for scrutiny by a University judging panel made up of open research practitioners, senior managers and professional services staff. They draw up a shortlist of those most closely matching the competition criteria and they select the Award winner and runners up. There is the incentive of prizes, this year ranging from £150 to £500. Four finalists are invited to present their entries at the event.

The competition rules against which all of the submissions are judged are stated in the Open Research Award 2021: Guidelines, available on the Award web page. They include Open Research objectives, practices and examples which entrants are encouraged to use in order to identify suitable case studies. Inspiration can also be found from viewing our existing set of case studies. The submissions must identify the open practices used and the reason they were used, discuss any barriers or challenges encountered, and how these were handled, and describe the benefits realised and lessons learned as a result.

Why did we introduce it?

Establishing the Open Research Award is a key action in our Open Research Action Plan 2021-2023. One of the biggest challenges with practising open research as a norm is the cultural shift needed for researchers to believe that open research is better research and that it is easier to do than might be expected. We found that our Open Research Statement and associated useful guidance are only starting points. For better engagement, we need researchers to lead by example and to be recognised and rewarded. The Open Research Award, along with our Open Research Champions initiative, is a flagship in encouraging the sharing of open research experiences, building confidence and developing new skills. The Award provides a showcase of varied and inspiring examples for researchers by our researchers. That it is now on the University calendar, alongside established Research Impact Awards, will raise the profile of open research within the institution by demonstrating the University’s commitment to it.

How did we plan the event?

The Award had been trialled at our 2019 Open in Practice event and so the competition process was already largely designed. We also had a small budget for prizes provided from the Open Research Action Plan funding. So we were off to a good start. We formed a small event working group from members of the Library’s Research Engagement team, beginning work in earnest around 3 months before our target dates. Our biggest challenge was the sheer volume of interdependent dates associated with managing a competition within an event. The UKRN publication, Open Research Awards: a Primer from UKRN is full of tips for establishing and running an open research competition. It is co-authored by ourselves and members of several universities who have been involved in running Open Research Award competitions based on the Reading model.

What did we achieve?

We ticked a box in our Open Research Plan! But much more importantly, we have rewarded and showcased the winning entries and we have learnt from all of the entries about what is understood by open research and where support is needed. We also have great material for further case studies and exemplars. The longer term benefits will come from the energy and can-do attitude generated on 9th June. The Open Research Champions will take this momentum forward through regular Open Research Forums. It is slow progress in the right direction. We hope to be inundated with entries for the 2023 Award!

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