It’s been on my to-do list for a very long time to draft an institutional open research statement for Aston University. It is one of those tasks that kept getting pushed to the side when more pressing matters cropped up (like REF), only for me to be reminded at various events where speakers discussed their own approaches to open research statements. The matter become more pressing when my team rebranded from ‘Open Access Team’ to ‘Open Research Team’ at the beginning of 2021, but it was only in late Spring 2021 that I had the time to sit down and seriously think about crossing this off my list. The first hurdle with any task is getting started – deciding how to approach the task and outlining what needs to be done to achieve it. (Did I mention that I love to-do lists?)
For me, the excellent blog by Nick Sheppard ‘Open access is not enough: reproducible science, research and scholarship’, posted on the UKCoRR blog on December 2, 2020, was the logical starting point – especially the section ‘Is there a policy for that?’. An initial reading of the statements linked to in Nick’s blog provided food for thought, and I used them to put together a list of prompts for my team: What is open research? What is included in open research? What can we as a team support now, and how? What would we like to do in the future, and how? What policies do we currently have in place to support open research? What key expectations/practices should staff and students follow/do? I gave my team the link to Nick’s blog for background reading (and statement stalking) then asked then to complete the list of prompts individually for discussion at a dedicated team meeting.
Discussion of the various statements and the team’s responses was lively. It was interesting to hear how their responses emphasised different aspects of open research depending on their area of expertise, which highlighted how much of our work is hyper-focussed on just a few areas. This is perhaps unsurprising given my team’s small size and the REF compliance focus of the past few years.
I collated the team’s response documents and comments from the discussion and created a very messy (and very long) draft statement for review at our next team meeting. We edited this draft several times for conciseness and clarity, removing jargon, adding links, and rearranging the sections for a more logical reading order. When we were all happy with it, I sent the final draft for internal review to our Library Director and Head of Research Strategy in the Research Knowledge Exchange office.
Why is an open research statement important?
Although writing an open research statement for Aston University had been on my to-do list for a long time, pressing ahead with it now is about much more than just jumping on the bandwagon because everyone else has one. I want our statement to be as much about what we (that is, the Open Research Team and the university as a whole) can do right now as what we are aiming to do in the future. It is an aspirational statement that highlights positive practice rather than being just another policy that requires compliance (and compliance policing). In fact, the opening line in our statement is ‘Openness in research is about more than policy compliance: it is the establishing and enacting of good practice across disciplines that allows knowledge to be accessible throughout the research lifecycle.’ By focussing on the positives and outlining steps that staff and students can take to engage with open research we can show that good practice is achievable, even if we all need to do more to learn about different areas of open research that are beyond our comfort zones.
Following the next stage of review, I am hoping to present the final draft statement at Aston’s first 2021-2022 University Research Committee meeting in October. We are also working on building content for our new Open Research webpages and normalising the switch from ‘Open Access Team’ to ‘Open Research Team’. We always did more than open access, but this official rebrand, combined with the open research statement and the newly created Open Research Specialist role, will better advertise all the support that we can offer now and what we would like to support in the future.