Open Access Week 2019: Publicly funded research data are a public good

This week October 21 – 27, 2019 is Open Access week, an international event celebrating and promoting openness in research.

In keeping with this year’s theme, Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge, this blogpost reflects on the public benefits of open data, the current challenges and opportunities.

We’re using the Library’s twitter account (@sgullibrary) to retweet interesting articles and blogpost all this week.


Open for whom?

This week the international research community is celebrating Open Access Week by reflecting on equity in open knowledge; enabling inclusive and diverse conversations on a single question: “open for whom”? Today’s blog post focuses specifically on open research data. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) state in their Common Principles on Data Policy that:

Publicly funded research data are a public good, produced in the public interest, which should be made openly available with as few restrictions as possible in a timely and responsible manner.

But who exactly does open research data benefit? We often speak about the benefits of open data to research and innovation:

  • enabling transparency
  • promoting reproducibility
  • boosting opportunities for collaboration
  • enhancing opportunities for innovation
  • reducing inefficiencies in research

The public ultimately benefit from open research data but are often treated as beneficiaries and not active, engaged partners.

This year’s theme asked me to challenge an assumption that open research data are for (and used primarily by) scientific/technical specialists working “in the public interest”, rather than the public themselves. A noble endeavour, I thought. So off I set…

Picture of a unicorn galloping over a rainbow.
Designed by Freepik

Who is the public?

At the very start, I faced a conundrum – who exactly is the public? The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) helped ‘define the territory’. The short answer is everyone. Anyone can be a part of the range of groups that make up the public.

Graph of stakeholders in public engagement supplied by The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement.
Source: The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement

Non-governmental organisations, social enterprises, health and well-being agencies, local authorities, strategic bodies and community, cultural and special interest groups all comprise members of the public with an interest in accessing data to inform decisions that will benefit their group.

Releasing raw data in ways that make the data easy to find, access, understand and reuse helps maximise the potential benefits of research data across the social spectrum. It should be easy to discover what research data are available and how that data can be accessed. When released, data should be in open formats so that anyone can be able to access it, not just a select or privileged few possessing expensive, proprietary software. Data should also be shared with sufficient information about how it was created, how it should be understood and how to reuse it meaningfully and responsibly. Finally, data should always be shared under licences which tell people what they can do with it. Called FAIR data, these principles of data management and sharing enable maximum reuse of research data.

Measured voices

It’s here that a measured voice within in me started whispering… and I listened carefully.

Colourfully drawn arrows going in different directions on a blackboard

Is this really enough? This still has the potential to get messy. Very messy. Especially if we’re talking about health and medical data derived from human beings, which can be sensitive and which we have taken responsibility for protecting.

In the fallout of various data scandals, including scandals about the data used to train artificial intelligence, organisations everywhere are scrambling to restore public trust in the way we handle and use data. Part of restoring that trust is in the transparency offered by open data. Another aspect of restoring trust is in safeguarding the data that people provide us with and using that data responsibly, in ways individuals have consented to.

This tension between openness and our professional responsibilities is recognised in the UKRI’s data policy as well:

UKRI recognises that there are legal, ethical and commercial constraints on release of research data. To ensure that the research process is not damaged by inappropriate release of data, research organisation policies and practices should ensure that these are considered at all stages in the research process.

This is a tension we are constantly negotiating given the kinds of data that we handle at St George’s.

Data ethics

A new field of applied ethics, called data ethics, gives us a useful framework for exploring and responding to legal and moral issues related to data collection, processing, sharing and reusing. The Open Data Institute has developed the Data Ethics Canvas to help organisations identify and manage ethical issues related to data. The UK Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport also provides a Data Ethics Framework to guide the use of data in the public sector. 

Being responsible in our data sharing means that a large amount of data produced from human participants are only available on request from other researchers. This takes me right back to where I started, though with the caveat that it might be particularly relevant for health and medical research: an assumption that open research data are for (and used primarily by) scientific/technical specialists working “in the public interest”, rather than the public themselves.

But maybe there’s a middle ground for health and medical data derived from human participants? Maybe there are possibilities for us to create meaningful and lasting partnerships with ‘the public’ to realise the public benefits of data? The UK Biobank engages very closely with their participants, but they are still participants. I wonder if there are examples out there of projects where participants are also decision-makers about their data. Or examples of projects that have formed collaborations with civil society and/or public sector groups to realise the greater benefits of data. It would be nice to see examples of initiatives like these to use as a springboard for wider conversation. 

Michelle Harricharan, Research Data Support Manager (researchdata@sgul.ac.uk)


If you are interested receiving updates from the Library on all things open access, open data and scholarly research communications, you can subscribe to the Library Blog using the Follow button or click here for further posts from us.

Open Access Week 2019: Open for Whom?

This week October 21 – 27, 2019 is Open Access week, an international event celebrating and promoting openness in research.

Banner for Open Access Week 2019 "Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge"

This year’s theme is Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge (1). This goes beyond calling for open access to research, and asks whether we’re supporting equitable participation in research. It’s an opportunity to reflect on whose interests are being served by current modes and systems of open access, and which voices are being left out of the conversation.
We’ll be using the library’s twitter account (@sgullibrary) to retweet interesting articles and blogpost all this week, as well as adding to the conversation ourselves – look out for more posts here on the library’s blog.


Who needs open access?

The basic principle of open access and open research is about ensuring that no-one is prevented from accessing research findings because they, or their institution, can’t afford to pay to access researchers work. This is especially important in health sciences, as clinicians, patients, policy makers, charities and so on all have an interest in accessing up to date health research, but may not be able to afford to subscribe to all the articles and journals they need. Earlier this year, the BMJ posted two pieces calling on researchers to remember doctors in developing countries (2), and to remember patients (3).

How to find open access research

To find open access articles you can use these tools:

  • CORE is the world’s largest collection of open access research papers.
    • Download the CORE browser extensionOne-click access to free copies of research papers whenever you hit the paywall” (requires Google Chrome or Chromium).
  • Unpaywall also indexes open access content.

How does SGUL facilitate access to our research?

We have our institutional repository, SORA. Our researchers can upload their accepted manuscripts via our CRIS system and then, publisher policies permitting, we can make these full texts available via SORA, meaning that anyone with an internet connection can access them, even if they’re behind a paywall on the publisher’s website.

We also help researchers to access funds to pay to make the final published version of their work openly available immediately on publication: see the Open Access Publishing FAQs for more, or get in touch via openaccess@sgul.ac.uk

Our Research Data Repository is available to help SGUL researchers make available research outputs that aren’t traditional publications: not just research data, but poster presentations, source code, and more. Anything deposited will be given a digital object identifier (DOI), a long-lasting reference to the output, helping it to be easily found and cited. We can also help researchers with their data management plans, and with managing their data across the research cycle. If you’d like to learn more, get in touch via researchdata@sgul.ac.uk

Banner for Open Access Week 2019 "Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge" in translations

What can you do?

This Open Access week, here are some things you can do to help promote greater access to health research:

  • Upload your accepted manuscripts to the CRIS so we can make them available via SORA.
  • Think about whether you have research data or other outputs you can make available: see our page on Research Data Management for things to consider.
  • Start a conversation with your colleagues about open research: is there anything you can do to help other researchers build on or access your research? Have any other researchers made their data or other outputs available that could help you in the research you’re doing?

Any questions? Get in touch with us

We look forward to hearing from you.

Michelle Harricharan, Research Data Support Manager

Jenni Hughes, Research Publications Assistant

Jennifer Smith, Research Publications Librarian

References

  1. Shockey, N. Theme of 2019 International Open Access Week To Be “Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge” [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2019 Oct 21]. Available from: http://www.openaccessweek.org/profiles/blogs/theme-of-2019-international-open-access-week-to-be-open-for-whom-.
  2. Murthi, M. Open access: remember doctors in developing countries. BMJ [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2019 Oct 21]. 365: l2255. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l2255.
  3. deBronkart, D. Open access: remember the patients. BMJ [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2019 Oct 21]. 365: l1545. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l1545.

If you are interested receiving updates from the Library on all things open access, open data and scholarly research communications, you can subscribe to the Library Blog using the Follow button or click here for further posts from us.

Resolved: Problem accessing Oxford Medicine Online

The problem with accessing Oxford Medicine Online has now been resolved.

_______

We’re currently experiencing a problem with accessing the e-books that we subscribe to via Oxford Medicine Online.

We’ve passed information about the issue on to the publisher, and hope that this will be resolved soon.

Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

 

 

 

Scribd launches online book market

As reported on FT.com today, Scribd, a digital document sharing service, has launched an online retail market for books and documents today. An excerpt from their press release states:
Scribd’s library of free original documents to include for-purchase works, many of which are new, exclusive or hard-to-find anywhere else on the Internet. In a radical departure from industry norms, the Scribd Store offers a generous revenue sharing agreement that gives sellers 80% of revenue. Prices are set by the seller and currently range from $1 for a graphic novel panel to $5,000 for an in-depth China market research report.  . . .

The company will soon launch an iPhone application to give readers and buyers access to documents across multiple platforms; the mobile-optimized version of Scribd.com is already very popular. At launch, the beta version of Scribd Store will be open to buyers and sellers in the United States, with international launches to follow. . . .

With Scribd Store’s flexible pricing, publishers have complete control over price and packaging. Sellers can specify selling whole documents, a chapter or an exact selection of pages, or in instalments. They can also choose whether to serialize their books for $1.00/chapter; now, instead of having to purchase a country guide travelers can buy a standalone city chapter from Lonely Planet. Documents can be read on Scribd.com, downloaded to a PC, printed, or made accessible through web-enabled mobile phones. . . .

Sellers on Scribd Store must own the digital rights to the works they wish to sell and provide detailed information about their ownership of those works in order to sell their works through Scribd Store. Sellers can also easily manage their digital rights—choosing viewing/reading options such as “View on Scribd only,” “Download PDF.