Open research (also known as 'open science' or 'open scholarship') is a movement underpinned by a set of principles that aim to increase and embed openness throughout the research process.
At its core, open research means researchers working collaboratively, sharing knowledge and experiences throughout their processes, and including and valuing a more diverse range of people and perspectives. This includes making methodologies, software, code, and research findings freely available online, and involving the general public and other knowledge systems in the research process.
Open research consists of many strands depending on the stage of research, with some overarching principles weaving throughout them all. Four key aspects are highlighted in the infographic below with further information on each in the tabs above.
Open research recognises the importance and unique value of different knowledge systems and incorporating the expertise of people outside the immediate or easily-reached research environment. Ensuring research is inclusive of a broad range of people and cultures helps everyone engage, and allows knowledge of all types to continue to develop.
The ways to achieve this are diverse, so we've outlined some key considerations or initiatives to help increase the inclusivity and diversity of your research.
One of the key ways that researchers can engage with the public is to share their expertise and findings for the betterment of society. Some examples of this include community events and civic projects.
Community events help share your research with the public. They can include talks or lectures, or going into schools and other community hubs to share what you've discovered so others outside your research project can learn and benefit from your findings.
Your research may aim to support the development of civic projects. This can range from seeking to inform policy with your research to setting up "Research Shops" where you ask the public for the issues they face and then use your expertise to provide a solution.
Not only do these practises benefit the communities beyond the University, they can also help to increase the visibility of your research and profile. The Centre for Public and Policy Engagement at the University supports the development of relationships between researchers, policymakers, and the public to help improve people's lives.
As the name suggests, Citizen Science is about encouraging the general public to engage in their own research, often in collaboration with, or directed by, academic/research institutions.
There are many different variations, reflecting the diversity of subjects and disciplines across academia, ranging from the public being consulted on a particular stage of the research, to designing/co-designing the whole research process. Some projects are only possible because of the involvement of so many participants from the general public, opening new opportunities for research.
Here are a few Citizen Science projects to help inspire you:
Find out more about Citizen Science from UCL.
Research and academic processes in the UK tend to follow norms and processes that often go unquestioned as the "right" way to do research. However, knowledge existed in many different forms before the current dominant paradigm, and so it's important to recognise the value of knowledge that doesn't fit into conventional academic systems.
Many of these can be more common in indigenous cultures, for example folklore and oral traditions, meaning their exclusion from being considered in knowledge as defined by the global north disproportionally impacts marginalised groups and risks centuries of knowledge being lost.
Being open to alternative ways of understanding the world, gathering knowledge, and even what constitutes knowledge, helps increase inclusivity and preserve history and ideas.
Find out more from UNESCO, and read more about the Library's work on equality, diversity, and inclusion.
Research and education inform one another, so ensuring educational resources are freely available for others to use and build upon helps improve the quality of teaching and research.
The key principles of open education were outlined in the Cape Town Declaration in 2008. You can find more information about open education from the University of Edinburgh and UCL, with UCL highlighting some case studies of how open education has benefited their staff and students.
We've highlighted some key areas of open education below.
Just like submitting your research outputs to institutional or subject repositories, you can submit teaching resources to teaching repositories. This makes them available for others to use and build upon, and gives you access to a host of new material to use with students.
The National Teaching Repository (NTR) is hosted on FigShare, and provides an easy way to share your expertise and gain credit for the teaching materials you create. You can freely use and build upon a variety of teaching materials, ranging from lesson plans to PowerPoint slides to educational games.
Having free access to these resources makes it easier to develop teaching materials rather than having to start from scratch, shares best practice, and leads to innovations in teaching. Contact the team to find out more about sharing your teaching resources through the NTR.
Textbooks continue to be a huge expense for students and libraries. But with increasing efforts supporting open access for long form publications, more knowledge can become freely available to more people.
Publishing monographs open access is becoming increasingly common, with some funders making it a requirement (for example, UKRI's open access policy for long form publications coming into effect from 1 January 2024). The Open Textbook Library and Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) help you produce and find resources for you to use and share with students and colleagues. For Essex-authored works, the Open Access Fund is available to our researchers to help make new publications open access.
Thinking beyond the textbook and considering all the other methods of imparting knowledge also helps to make learning more equitable and accessible, especially as technological advances make creating and disseminating resources easier.
(Also known as Open Pedagogy or Open Teaching Practices).
Sharing what you learn about teaching can help you and others to become better teachers. A lot of teaching practices rely on their underpinning resources, highlighting the importance of Teaching Resource Repositories and Open Textbooks. There are also opportunities to build communities of practice and collaborate with other educators to develop new ways of teaching, for example, through conferences or online forums.
Sharing teaching practices also allows you to engage your students as educators, recognising that everyone involved has something to contribute to the teaching process. This is a great way to help students to learn and share their own insights. Simple assignments that get students to share their knowledge, such as editing Wikipedia, can help embed their learning, develop their teaching/communication skills, and share what they know with the world.
Being open with your research isn't just about how you publish your findings. It starts at the very beginning of the research process.
Rather than waiting until the peer review process during publication, you can get feedback to improve your methods and results as you go, increasing transparency, saving you time, and helping you produce the highest quality research.
Sharing sooner can be especially beneficial when you are working on something of urgent importance (for example COVID-19) as it allows other to build on your findings and develop vital responses faster.
Open source software and code is already a well-establish practice through platforms like GitHub, and so may not be immediately recognised as Open Research. However, these practices are a great example of how effective open sharing of your work as you are creating it can lead to faster and more effective solutions and greater recognition in your community.
Whilst less established than open code, making your research notes freely available as you develop them is increasingly possible. This can be making them available literally as you're writing them, for example on a live updated system like Google Docs, or releasing iterative updates as you progress through your writing.
Both examples above help to share your expertise and build your profile as a researcher long before your final publication, as others can see your thought processes and learn from them whilst you are still conducting your research.
Pre-registration is a broad term covering the publication or sharing of parts of the research process before the completion of the final output. This can include the initial proposal including the fundamental question/hypotheses, a version of the final output before peer review (often called a preprint), or anything in between.
Sharing the stages of research throughout the process helps to take the pressure off the final publication, and can increase the quality of research through the constant gathering of feedback from the community. It also makes things more transparent, reducing bias and increasing reproducibility.
Platforms such as OSF Preprints help to facilitate the publication of preprints, and Octopus breaks down the entire research process into eight independent but connected publication types that can each garner peer reviews and enable specialists to focus on publishing and getting credit for the work that is most relevant to their expertise.
Traditionally, scholarly publishing has used some form of blind peer review process, meaning at least one party involved doesn't know who the others are. The increasingly common practice of double-blind peer review, where only the editor knows any of the other parties, puts most of the power in the hands of the editor, reducing the transparency of the review and editing process.
Open peer review seeks to increase the transparency of the review and editing process by making everyone's identities and comments at each stage off the process available publicly. This helps to foster a supportive and engaged community as reviewers are incentivised to provide constructive and fair criticism, whilst gaining credit for their service as a peer reviewer and preventing editors from making opaque decisions.
Some publishers already offer this and platforms such as Octopus have take the integration of open peer review to the next level by facilitating public peer reviews at all stages of the research process.
Open publishing is what many people think of first when discussing open research due to the emphasis on open access publishing in processes like the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and research funder policies.
Knowing the context to why open access is important and what else it entails will help you understand the benefits for your own work rather than just following it for compliance reasons.
Open access usually refers to scholarly publications, but refers to anything that is freely available to access online without paywalls.
Open access publishing is increasingly important, with it becoming the norm for journal articles and growing in monograph publishing. Funders using public money will often require open access for any research they fund and it is increasingly a focus in the REF.
We have several guides to help you with open access:
Making data open is ensuring the underlying data that underpins or informs research outputs is available for others to use and scrutinise. Whilst data is typically thought of quantitatively, and so more relevant to STEM subjects, in this context it includes all forms of data, including videos, photographs, interview transcripts/recordings, and more.
It can sometimes be complicated to make data open as it might need anonymising if human participants are involved. Permission always needs to be sought before collecting data. The advice we give is to make data "as open as possible, as closed as necessary" and to think about publishing your data early in your research planning so you can get the necessary permissions from the start.
Find out more:
The copyright licence you apply to your work has a huge impact on how shareable and reusable it is.
Publishing and sharing your work using open licences helps to ensure the information is freely available to a wide audience. Here are some examples:
Open research has wide-ranging benefits. At the core of the open research movement is the ideas of transparency and fairness to allow society as a whole to access scientific research, not just those with paid access. This is especially important for publicly funded research and in lower-income countries.
Making research more transparent and accessible also facilitates better reproducibility, leading to more reliable findings and trust in the research community.
Open access publications are used more than paywalled publications. This means open research increases the visibility of you, your research, and your institution, boosts your research profile, and increases opportunities for collaboration.
The effects of the open research movement are felt globally. Enabling unlimited access to scientific processes and findings, ensures important research findings are made available to everyone regardless of background or wealth.
This Ted Talk summarises some of the underlying incentives for moving toward open research.
Throughout this guide, different elements of open research will be explored in more depth.
Open access: An introduction to open access, including explanations of the routes to publishing open access, and the benefits of open access.
Open access publishing: Information about current opportunities to publish open access with no added fees, including the University's deals with publishers, and links to our institutional repository.
Open access content: Discover some of the best ways to find open access content either for your own research, or to add to your reading lists.
Negotiations between publishers and UK Universities: Information about the latest negotiations between academic publishers and UK universities.
Full Open Science: Information about a YUFERING project encouraging researchers to fully adopt open science practices throughout their research lifecycle.
The content on this page was informed by the following sources: