How Can We Encourage Open Research Practices?

June 6, 2019 Rebecca Harkin

This year’s British Psychology Society’s Annual conference was held at the Convention Centre in the beautiful north Yorkshire town of Harrogate. At the meeting, Rebecca Harkin (Publisher, Psychology and Education, Wiley) chaired a panel discussion featuring a variety of perspectives on how we can encourage participation in open research practices. She was joined by Kate Button (Senior Lecturer, Department of Psychology, University of Bath), Emma Norris, (Research Fellow, Human Behaviour Change Project, UCL) and Elizabeth Moylan, (Publisher, Research Integrity and Publishing Ethics, Wiley).

Here, Rebecca catches up with the panelists to share their thoughts from the discussion.


‘Open research’ (used interchangeably with ‘open science’) is an all-encompassing term speaking to the set of practices that aim to improve the accessibility, reproducibility, and integrity of research outputs. It’s being driven by new digital tools that aid research collaboration and sharing of information which enables response to real world challenges in a rigorous, practical, and shared way. It’s also complex, spanning issues such as open access, open practices (e.g., Registered Reports and transparent peer review), open tools, open data and code, open collaboration and open recognition.

Q. Kate, there have been huge developments in transforming research practices, but it can seem overwhelming to the un-initiated. Where do people start?

A. Well, I can give you my perspective, from the point of view of incorporating open research practices into my lectureship and supervision of students. I’d like to share an anecdote, from Robi Blumenstein (President, CHDI Foundation), that likened traditional ways of undertaking and publishing research with car manufacturing in the US in the 1970s. All the quality checks for car manufacturing took place at the end of the process (just like with traditional peer review of a submitted paper). If there was an issue with the quality control, it was too late to fix at the final end-point. Many faulty cars rolled off the production line.

Responding to this situation, Japanese manufacturers revolutionized car manufacturing by introducing quality checks throughout the whole process, and in so-doing dramatically improved the quality of the end-product. And that’s what open ways of working can do for the quality and integrity of research too. Simple things like pre-registering a study, specifying the analysis plan, making use of open materials and sharing data, following reporting guidelines - these are all ways in which ‘quality checks’ can be incorporated from the beginning of the research lifecycle and into publishing. While we all recognize that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, I recommend that people focus on manageable steps that can make a difference, e.g. use version control, try pre-registration, post a pre-print.

Q. Thank you Kate, and following on from that, Emma, can you share your perspective and experiences in trying to embrace open research practices as an early career researcher?

A. Yes, I think that “open research” really boils down to a set of discrete behaviors within a complex environment. I’ve personally found that small changes, as Kate notes, can make a big difference. For example, sharing my work as a preprint on the Open Science Framework gave me valuable pre-publication discussion and feedback, and also widened the interest and reach of my research. But there’s a real need for institutions to give their researchers the capability, motivation, opportunity and support to implement open research practices and recognize these too. It’s vital that these skills are embedded in training and ways of working not only for PhDs and post-docs but for senior faculty as well. We’ve found that a great initiative that helps with this is ReproducibiliTea – a reproducibility-themed Journal Club, focusing on reproducibility, transparency and rigor. It’s a great initiative for creating space to think about open research practices and the impact of your work, and discussing solutions with others. They are also connecting to the UK Reproducibility Network (UKRN) so expect more things to come!

Q. Thank you Emma, and finally, Elizabeth can you explain how publishers can encourage open research practices?

A. We all recognize open research isn’t just the future, it’s the here and now, and publishers have a role to play in facilitating open research and open publishing practices. While Psychology as a discipline is really leading the way with open research initiatives, other fields are also advancing and we need to support these efforts. Publishers can play their part by adopting Registered Reports, by adopting open data policies and data availability statements, by recognizing and celebrating open research practices e.g. with open research badges on published articles and by opening-up peer review. I echo the thoughts of Kate and Emma in that we need to enable the measured steps researchers can take along their journey to open research: one size does not fit all. There’s also a need for collaborative effort too, not only support and recognition of open research activities from publishers - but from institutions and funders too.

Thank you Kate, Emma, and Elizabeth for your perspectives on this, and to the BPS for the opportunity to discuss this topic at their annual meeting.

About the Author

Rebecca Harkin

Publisher, Wiley // Currently works with a range of leading international societies in the fields of psychology and education, developing successful publishing portfolios, and providing both practical and strategic guidance in the context of a rapidly changing research environment.

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