In Conversation with the Wellcome Trust – sharing & managing research outputs

In July 2017, the Wellcome Trust updated their policy on the management and sharing of research outputs.  This policy helps deliver Wellcome’s mission – to improve health for everyone by enabling great ideas to thrive.  The University of Cambridge’s Research Data Management Facility invited Wellcome Trust to Cambridge to talk with their funded research community (and potential researchers) about what this updated policy means for them.  On 5th December in the Gurdon Institute Tea Room, the Deputy Head of Scholarly Communication Dr Lauren Cadwallader, welcomed Robert Kiley, Head of Open Research, and David Carr, Open Research Programme Manager, from the Wellcome’s Open Research Team. 

This blog summarises the presentations from David and Robert about the research outputs policy and how it has been working and the questions raised by the audience.

Maximising the value of research outputs: Wellcome’s approach

David Carr outlined key points about the new policy, which now, in addition to sharing openly publications and data, includes sharing software and materials as other valued outputs of research.

An outputs management plan is required to show how the outputs of the project will be managed and the value of the outputs maximised (whilst taking into consideration that not all outputs can be shared openly).  Updated guidance on outputs management plans has been published and can be found on Wellcome’s website.

Researchers are also to note that:

  • Outputs should be made available with as few restrictions as possible.
  • Data and software underlying publications must be made available at the time of publication at the latest.
  • Data relevant to a public health emergency should be shared as soon as it has been quality assured regardless of publication timelines.
  • Outputs should be placed in community repositories, have persistent identifiers and be discoverable.
  • A check at the final report stage, to ensure outputs have been shared according to the policy, has been introduced (recognising that parameters change during the research and management plans can change accordingly).
  • Of course, management and sharing of research outputs comes with a cost and Wellcome Trust commit to reviewing and supporting associated costs as part of the grant.

Wellcome have periodically reviewed take-up and implementation of their research outputs sharing and management policy and have observed some key responses:

  • Researchers are producing better quality plans; however, the formats and level of detail included in the plans do remain variable.
  • There is uncertainty amongst stakeholders (researchers, reviewers and institutions) in how to fulfil the policy.
  • Resources required to deliver plans are often not fully considered or requested.
  • Follow-up and reporting about compliance has been patchy.

In response to these findings, Wellcome will continue to update their guidance and work with their communities to advise, educate and define best practice.  They will encourage researchers to work more closely with their institutions, particularly over resource planning.  They will also develop a proportionate mechanism to monitor compliance.

Developing Open Research

Robert Kiley then described the three areas which the dedicated Open Research Team at Wellcome lead and coordinate: funder-led activities; community-led activities and policy leadership.

Funder-led activities include:

  • Wellcome Open Research, the publishing platform launched in partnership with F1000 around a year ago; here Wellcome-funded researchers can rapidly and transparently publish any results they think are worth sharing. Average submission to publication time for the first 100 papers published was 72 days – much faster than other publication venues.
  • Wellcome Trust is working with ASAP-Bio and other funders to support pre-prints and continues to support e-Life as an innovative Open Access journal.
  • Wellcome Trust will review their Open Access policy during 2018 and will consult their funded researchers and institutions as part of this process.
  • Wellcome provides the secretariat for the independent review panel for the com (CSDR) platform which provides access to anonymised clinical trial data from 13 pharmaceutical companies. From January 2018, they will extend the resource to allow listing of academic clinical trials supported by Wellcome, MRC, CRUK and Gates Foundation.  Note that CDSR is not a repository but provides a common discoverability and access portal.

Community-led activities

Wellcome are inviting the community to develop and test innovative ideas in Open Research.  Some exciting initiatives include:

  • The Open Science Prize: this initiative was run last year in partnership with US National Institutes of Health and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. It supported prototyping and development of tools and services to build on data and content.  New prizes and challenges currently being developed will build on this model.
  • Research Enrichment – Open Research: this was launched in November 2017. Awards of up to £50K are available for Wellcome grant-holders to develop Open Research ideas that increase the impact of their funded research.
  • Forthcoming: more awards and themed challenges aimed at Open Research – including a funding competition for pioneering experiments in open research, and a prize for innovative data re-use.
  • The Open Research Pilot Project: whereby four Wellcome-funded groups are being supported at the University of Cambridge to make their research open.

Policy Leadership

In this area, Wellcome Trust engage in policy discussions in key policy groups at the national, European and international level.  They also convene international Open Research funder’s webinars.  They are working towards reform on rewards and incentives for researchers, by:

  • Policy development and declarations
  • Reviewing grant assessment procedures: for example, providing guidance to staff, reviewers and panel members so that there is a more holistic approach on the value and impact of research outputs.
  • Engagement: for example, by being clear on how grant applicants are being evaluated and committing to celebrate grantees who are practicing Open Research. 

Questions & Answers

Policy questions

I am an administrator of two Wellcome Trust programmes; how is this information about the new policy being disseminated to students? Has it been done?

When the Wellcome Open Research platform was announced last year, there was a lot of communication, for example, in grants newsletters and working with the centres.

Further dissemination of information about the updated policy on outputs management could be realised through attending events, asking questions to our teams, or inviting us to present to specific groups.  In general, we are available and want to help.

Following this, the Office of Scholarly Communication added that they usually put information about things like funder policy changes in the Research Operations Office Bulletin.

Regarding your new updated policy, have you been in communication with the Government?

We work closely with HEFCE and RCUK. They are all very aware about what we aim to do.

One of the big challenges is to answer the question from researchers: “If we are not using a particular ‘big journal’ name, what are we using to help us show the quality of the research?”.

We have been working with other funders (including Research Councils) to look at issues around this.  Once we have other funders on board, we need to work with institutions on staff promotion and tenure criteria.  We are working with others to support a dedicated person charged with implementing the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and identify best practice.

How do you see Open Outputs going forward?

There is a growing consensus over the importance of making research outputs available, and a strong commitment from funders to overcome the challenges. Our policy is geared to openness in ways that maximise the health benefits that flow from the research we fund.

Is there a licence that you encourage researchers to use?

No. We encourage researchers to utilise existing sources of expertise (e.g. The Software Sustainability Institute) and select the licence most appropriate for them.

Some researchers could just do data collection instead of publishing papers. Will we have future where people are just generating data and publishing it on its own and not doing the analysis?

It could happen. Encouraging adoption of CRediT Taxonomy roles in publication authorship is one thing that can help.

Outputs Management Plans

How will you approach checking outputs against the outputs management plan?

We will check the information submitted at the end of grants – what outputs were reported and how these were shared – and refer back to the plan submitted at application. We will not rule out sanctions in the future once things are in place. At the moment there are no sanctions as it is premature to do this.  We need to get the data first, monitor the situation and make any changes later in the process.

What are your thoughts on providing training for reviewers regarding the data management plans as well as for the people who will do the final checks? Are you going to provide any training and identify gaps on research for this?

We have provided guidance on what plans should contain; this is something we can look at going forwards.

One of the key elements to the outputs management plan is commenting on how outputs will be preserved. Does the Wellcome Trust define what it means by long term preservation anywhere?

Long term preservation is tricky. We have common best practice guidelines for data retention – 10 years for regular data and 20 years for clinical research. We encourage people to use community repositories where these exist.

What happens to the output if 10 years have passed since the last time of access?

This is a huge problem. There need to be criteria to determine what outputs are worth keeping which take into account whether the data can be regenerated. Software availability is also a consideration.

Research enrichment awards

You said that there will be prizes for data re-use, and dialogue on infrastructure is still in the early stages. What is the timeline? It would be good to push to get the timeline going worldwide.

Research enrichment awards are already live and Wellcome will assess them on an ongoing basis. Please apply if you have a Wellcome grant. Other funding opportunities will be launched in 2018. The Pioneer awards will be open to everyone in the spring and it is aimed for those who have worked out ways to make their work more FAIR.  The same applies to our themed challenges for innovative data re-use which will also launch in the spring – we will identify a data set and get people to look at it.  For illustration, a similar example is The NEJM SPRINT Data Analysis Challenge.

Publishing Open Access

What proportion of people are updating their articles on Wellcome Open Research?

Many people, around 15%, are editing their articles to Version 2 following review. We have one article at Version 3.

Has the Wellcome Trust any plans for overlay journals, and if so, in which repository will they be based?

Not at the moment. There will be a lot of content being published on platforms such as Open Research, the Gates platform and others. In the future, one could imagine a model where content is openly published on these platforms, and the role of journals is to identify particular articles with interesting content or high impact (rather than to manage peer review).  Learned societies have the expertise in their subjects; they potentially have a role here, for example in identifying lead publications in their field from a review of the research.

Can you give us any hints about the outcome of your review of the Wellcome Trust Open Access policy? Are you going to consider not paying for hybrid journals when you review your policy?

We are about to start this review of the policy. Hybrid journals are on the agenda. We will try to simplify the process for the researcher.  We are nervous about banning hybrid journals.  Data from the last analysis showed that 70% of papers from Wellcome Trust grants, for which Wellcome Trust paid an article processing charge, were in hybrid journals.  So if we banned hybrid journals it would not be popular.  Researchers would need to know which are hybrid journals.  Possibly with public health emergencies we could consider a different approach.  So there is a lot to consider and a balance to keep.  We will consult both researchers and institutions as part of the exercise.  There is also another problem in that there is a big gap in choice between hybrid and other journals.

If researchers can publish in hybrid journals, would Wellcome Trust consider making rules regarding offsetting?

That would be interesting. However, more rules could complicate things as researchers would then also need to check both the journal’s Open Access policy and find out if they have an approved offset deal in place.

Open Data & other research outputs

What is your opinion on medical data? For example, when we write an article, we can’t publish the genetics data as there is a risk that a person could be identified.

Wellcome Trust recognise that some data cannot be made available. Our approach is to support managed access. Once the data access committee has considered that the requirement is valid, then access can be provided. The author will need to be clear on how the researcher can get hold of the data.  Wellcome Trust has done work around best practice in this area.

Does Open Access mean free access? There is a cost for processing.

Yes, there is usually a cost. For some resources, those requesting data do have to pay a fee. For example, major cohort studies such as ALSPAC and UK Biobank have a fee which covers the cost of considering the request and preparing the data.

ALSPAC is developing a pilot with Wellcome Open Research to encourage those who access data and return derived datasets to the resource, to publish data papers describing data they are depositing.  Because the cost of access has already been met, such data will be available at no cost.

Does the software that is used in the analysis need to be included?

Yes, the policy is that if the data is published, the software should be made available too. It is a requirement, so that everybody can reproduce the study.

Is there a limit to volume of data that can be uploaded?

Wellcome Open Research uses third party data resources (e.g. Figshare). The normal dataset limit there is 5GB, but both Figshare and subject repositories can store much higher volumes of data where required.

What can be done about misuse of data?

In the survey that we did, researchers expressed fears of data misuse. How do we address such a fear? Demonstrating the value of data will play a great role in this.  It is also hard to know the extent to which these fears play out in reality – only a very small proportion of respondents indicated that they had actually experienced data being used inappropriately.  We need to gather more evidence of the relative benefits and risks, and it could be argued that publishing via preprints and getting a DOI are your proofs that you got there first.

Published 26 January 2018
Written by Dr Debbie Hansen
Creative Commons License

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