Working collaboratively to support an open research future: Lessons learned

Research Publishing
By: Eugenie Regan, Wed Dec 8 2021
Eugenie Regan

Author: Eugenie Regan

VP Research Solutions

The value and importance of open science, and within this open data, is a central component of how we move research and knowledge forwards. For Springer Nature, as Frank Vrancken Peeters and Steven Inchoombe have written about before,  sharing all elements of  research is fundamental to trust, integrity and reproducibility and therefore the advancement of discovery and trusted knowledge.

COVID-19 may be the most visible example of scientific data to date that has been shared, used, re-used and discovered in the most collaborative and collective way across all research stakeholders, across all nations and continents. It has had an essential role to play in increasing the credibility of that research – on the one hand validating data so that researchers can trust it, and on the other hand, combating scientific misinformation, so that wider society can trust it.  Yet despite what’s shown to be possible, there are still some barriers and hesitations around both the development and adoption of open data and open research solutions – within and outside of the research community. 

Over the past week, two collaborative reports, our annual State of Open Data report led by Digital Science and Figshare and a report led by the Research on Research Institute (RoRI), which Springer Nature have been part of, have been published. At their core both reports address the key commitments, attitudes and behaviours across the research and scholarly publishing ecosystem to open research practices. Whilst the RoRI report looks specifically at attitudes and behaviour during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the SooD, as an annual report, evaluates researcher attitudes to open data and sharing across a period of now 6 years, both share very similar conclusions.

Sharing research (be this in the form of preprints or the data sources itself), despite an awareness of its benefits and enthusiasm for an open research future, is low. For example, according to the RoRI report only 5% of all peer reviewed COVID-19 studies have an associated preprint, whilst the SooD report demonstrates that, despite year on year progress being seen around awareness of the principles of data sharing, there is increasing concern from researchers and a decline in willingness to share data and research.  The reasons for this are mixed but include concerns around data misuse, lack of credit for sharing their data, and the need for better support in how to make data and research sustainably open.

Against the backdrop of the current pandemic where the role of research and data has given us a glimpse of the great outcomes that are possible if we, as a community, make data and research more openly and routinely shareable (and sustainable) –  the conclusions of these reports can be seen as somewhat disappointing.   It is clear that there is more that we collectively need to do if we are to move to a truly open research world and fully support the research community in driving this forward.

What can we do to encourage researchers into an open research future? 

As  a community we  need to get better at taking concrete steps to drive forward appropriate measures. Encouraging open sharing, promoting its benefits, building an evidence based approach to its value – whilst important, on their own, are not enough. Collaboration across all stakeholders needs to take place – policy makers, funders, publishers and researchers. These are all important conversations that need to continue to take place to effect positive change through collaboration, awareness and innovation. Coupling these real world examples with clear policy, better credit, explicit funding, practical help and answers to common questions are all essential factors in accelerating openness and  sharing to an established norm. There are no easy answers, and no “silver bullet”, but there is much we can act on now.

  • Engage and evaluate data and research sharing attitudes and advocate for best practice

 We continue to work with our partners to monitor and evaluate data and research sharing attitudes, building an evidence based approach and advocating for best practice - for example as through the State of Open Data Reports, our open research white paper series and through our most recent collaboration with RoRI.

  • Encourage good research practice and open data through journal policies and author information

We have long been committed to advancing reproducibility and open research practices across our journals, such as the steps taken to improve reproducibility of published research by the Nature portfolio journals, the introduction of Springer Nature Data policies and longstanding support for protocol sharing (including through Protocol Exchange, our open repository for community-contributed protocols).  

We see our role as publisher as one where we can, and should play an active voice in the community, collaborating with partners to help develop standards, tools and services to better support sustainable open research, and therefore open science practice. Examples of this include our recent involvement with the MDAR framework and our ongoing  drive of the FAIR data principles.

  • Provide credit mechanisms and support greater transparency for good data management and open data

We continue to work with the research community to develop best practice tools and accreditations at an author and institutional level. We facilitate data publishing in open access journals Scientific Data and BMC Research Notes; through Registered Reports in BMC journals and multiple Nature Portfolio journals including Nature Human Behaviour, Nature Communications and Scientific Reports; and pilot projects on data citation and data badges.

Springer Nature’s flagship open data journal, Scientific Data, offers authors the opportunity to describe and share their research data with a wide audience. We published The FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship in Scientific Data in 2016, the first formal publication of a jointly endorsed set of principles that states that research should be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable.

  • Continue to develop research solutions, inline with community needs, to best support researchers, institutions and funders

We are proud to have created a suite of online professional development Nature Masterclasses for researchers including Managing Research Data to Unlock its Full Potential, alongside solutions such as In Review which makes it easy for authors to post their submitted manuscript on the Research Square preprint platform. Our goal is to empower the research community by putting the control around how they engage with open data solutions and practice in their hands, supported through training, and automated services and innovative platforms such as Figshare.  We continue to develop a suite of research solutions to better support a more open workflow.

  • Partnering with the community

Through collaborations on research reports or through our support on a number of education and best practice initiatives, we continue to engage directly with the community to help ensure that we, as publishers, are supporting the community in the way in which they need and standing up for the challenges they face.

Researchers are at the heart of what we do. We recognise the enormous pressures and challenges confronting them  and we are committed to working with researchers to address their pain points, find answers to data sharing challenges, help researchers and funders make the most of their data, and work collaboratively with wider stakeholders for policy change, so that we can all drive forward the world benefits of open research and science. Whilst publishers are a small part of this much larger cog – by playing our part we can contribute, more than we have been able to before, in driving forward positive change.

The State of Open Data Report can be found here

The RoRI report can be found here

More on Springer Nature’s Research Solutions and drive for open research can be found here and here. 

Eugenie Regan

Author: Eugenie Regan

VP Research Solutions

Eugenie Regan holds a Ph.D degree from National University Ireland, an MBA from University of Cambridge, is a Fulbright alumnus, and Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society. Eugenie is a widely respected and published conservation scientist and is the author of more than 40 academic papers including in Science and Nature. She has developed and managed projects with the UN Environment Programme, European Commission, and World Bank, amongst others, in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Eugenie joined Springer Nature in May 2020 as VP of Research Solutions leading the dissemination and development of solutions to empower researchers to advance discovery.