This article explores the recently published National Framework on the Transition to an Open Research Environment, the process behind its preparation, and the move to implementation. It argues that ultimately, open research requires system thinking and a change in research culture and behaviour, including the need for alliances across departments, sectors, and communities.
In Europe and beyond, there is growing recognition of the value of open research and the need for a forward-looking view to shape and prepare for the future. The environment in which research is performed and how knowledge is shared are changing fast. There are significant efforts to re-engineer research publishing for a modern, digital era and to enable better use and re-use of research data. In parallel, the criteria for assessing funding decisions and career progression must also change. The transition to greater transparency and openness has a key objective of enhancing and supporting research excellence, research integrity, and public trust in research.
In July 2019 the Irish government published the National Framework on the Transition to an Open Research Environment.1, 2 The Framework recognises the importance of coordinating at national level to better support research and researchers in this changing environment. It focuses on the key areas of open access (OA) to publications, enabling FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable) research data, underpinning infrastructures for access to and preservation of research, development of skills and competencies, and changing incentives and rewards to adjust the research evaluation system.
The Framework combines two years of activities under the National Open Research Forum (NORF), where diverse working groups joined up the conversations from a myriad of ‘open’ agendas happening at local, national, EU, and international levels. Emerging from an earlier committee on open access to publications, and responding to EU policies3 and multinational initiatives,4 the NORF provided a space to think about and design how the Irish research system should work in the future.
The Forum is co-chaired by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and the Health Research Board (HRB), with secretariat from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) and support from the Department of Education and Skills (DES). Importantly, its members combine the expertise of representatives from policy, research funding, research performing, library sector, and other key stakeholders in the research system across Ireland.
The National Framework articulates a common understanding from different perspectives, and major efforts were made to include all voices. The final document was shaped by a public consultation involving twenty-seven organisations or institutions, and by a national meeting of over 150 stakeholders co-hosted with the Royal Irish Academy to consider the impact of Plan S.5 It coordinated with the strategic review of the Irish Research eLibrary (IReL)6 and the National Working Group on Bibliometric Tools and Resources.7 The National Library of Ireland (NLI) and the Research Data Alliance (RDA Ireland) hosted a workshop with international speakers on open research data.8 A joint meeting of the NORF and the National Research Integrity Forum (NRIF) discussed the linked agendas of integrity and openness, essentially two sides of the same coin, and their contribution to the overall Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) agenda.9
The National Open Research Forum provided a space to think about and design how the Irish research system should work in the future.
Regular updates and presentations were given to the Innovation 2020 Implementation Group meetings, the body responsible for national research strategy.10 Finally, before the Dáil rose for its summer 2019 holidays, Minister Halligan formally launched the National Framework and welcomed continued collaboration for its implementation.
What has emerged is an ambitious but achievable agenda for implementation. Noticeable are the more mature clauses under open access to publications where there were existing national coordination efforts. Some of the main elements are:
The National Framework is but a first step towards creating a national action plan. It is built on a genuine willingness to adapt and to do things differently, and it enshrines the belief that no one should be left behind. The multi-annual planning will engage with researchers at every research career stage and representing all disciplines; it commits to respect, engage with, and support the research community in the broadest sense, and to address disciplinary, professional, national, and global concerns in the area of research. Agreement on a common direction acknowledges that some funders and research-performing institutions may have specific requirements relating to open research which should also be observed.
Ultimately, open research requires system thinking and a change in research culture and behaviour. The conditions required for implementation need to be cultivated. NORF membership is now being refreshed to focus on agreeing ‘concrete actions, allocation of responsibilities, and associated financial planning’.
On a grand scale we are looking at public sector reform. It may be helpful to consider an ‘innovation curve’ that illustrates the process from exploration of opportunities and challenges, through delivery and implementation, to system change. This reflects the different kinds of support needed for growth at each stage, and is being used to good effect by the Goal Programme for Public Service Reform and Innovation.15 It has been championed by NESTA UK (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) and the Young Foundation under its social innovator series.16
Successful reform has been shown here to need good levels of trust and mutual respect, a strong sense of collective responsibility, and data and evidence to benchmark and measure transformation and to adjust or stop practices that are not working. While accountability may sit with one department or agency, the solution more often sits with a broader group.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge the dedication of my NORF colleagues in delivering what has been great progress on open research in Ireland to date. Renewed efforts are now needed to assess the readiness of our infrastructure, working processes, and capacity to help open practices to grow and thrive.
We are moving beyond the individual areas of open research to understand the complex relationships between them and the underpinning regulatory and legal environment. The demand for alliances across departments, sectors, and communities – from the top down and from the bottom up – to deliver open research lends itself to a distributed leadership model, one that can better influence culture.
A long journey awaits.
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