Tag Archives: open data

US requirements for public access to research

Niamh Tumelty, Head of Open Research Services, Cambridge University Libraries

Yesterday it was announced that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has updated US policy guidance to make the results of taxpayer-supported research immediately available to the American public at no cost:

Federal agencies have been asked to update their public access policies to make publications and supporting data publicly accessible without an embargo. This applies to all federal agencies (the previous policy only applied to those with more than $100 million in annual research and development expenditure) and allows for flexibility for the agencies to decide on some of the details while encouraging alignment of approaches. It applies to all peer-reviewed research articles in journals and includes the potential to also include peer-reviewed book chapters, editorials and peer-reviewed conference proceedings.

The emphasis on “measures to reduce inequities of, and access to, federally funded research and data” is particularly important in light of the serious risk that we will just move from a broken system with built-in inequities around access to information to a new broken system with built-in inequities around whose voices can be heard. Active engagement will be needed to ensure that the agencies take these issues into account and are not contributing to these inequities.

While there will be a time lag in terms of development/updating and implementation of agency policies and we don’t yet have the fine print around licences etc, this will bring requirements for US researchers more closely in line with what many of our researchers already need to do as a result of e.g. UKRI and Wellcome Trust policies. Closer alignment should help address some of the collaborator issues that have arisen following the recent cOAlition S policy updates – though of course a lot will depend on the detail of what each agency puts in place. Researchers availing of US federal funding need to engage now if they would like to influence the approach taken by those who fund their work.

There continues to be a very real question around sustainable business models both from publisher and institutional perspectives, alongside the other big questions around whether the current approaches to scholarly publishing are serving the needs of researchers adequately. It is essential that this doesn’t just become an additional cost for researchers or institutions as many of those who have commented in the past 24 hours fear. Many alternatives to the APC and transitional agreement/big deal approaches have been proposed, from diamond approaches through to completely reimagined approaches to publishing (e.g. Octopus).

There will be mixed feelings about this. While there is likely to be little sympathy for the publishers with the widest profit margins, this move is sure to push more of the smaller publishers, including many (but not all!) learned societies, to think differently. We need to ensure that we understand what researchers most value about these publishers and how to preserve those aspects in whatever comes in future – I am reminded of the thought-provoking comments from our recent working group on open research in the humanities on this topic.

These are big conversations that were already underway and will now take on greater urgency. The greatest challenge of all remains how to change the research culture such researchers can have confidence in sharing their work and expertise in ways that maximise access to their work while also aligning with their (differing!) values and priorities.

Open Research in the Humanities: CORE Data

Authors: Emma Gilby, Matthias Ammon, Rachel Leow and Sam Moore

This is the third of a series of blog posts, presenting the reflections of the Working Group on Open Research in the Humanities. Read the opening post at this link. The working group aimed to reframe open research in a way that was more meaningful to humanities disciplines, and their work will inform the University of Cambridge approach to open research. This post reflects on the concept of FAIR data and proposes an alternative way of thinking about data in the humanities.

As a rule, data in the arts and humanities is collected, organised, recontextualised and explained. We are therefore putting forward this acronym as an alternative to LERU’s FAIR data (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable). Our data is collected rather than generated; organised and recontextualised in order to further a cultural conversation about discoveries, methods and debates; and explained as part of the analytical process. Any view of scholarly comms as uniquely about the distribution of and access to FAIR data (‘from my bench to yours’) will seem less relevant to A&H academics. Similarly, the goal of reproducibility of data – in the sense in which this often appears in the sciences and social sciences, where it refers to the results of a study being perfectly replicable when the study is repeated – is, if anything, contrary to the aim of CORE data: i.e. the aim that this data should be built upon and thereby modified through the process of further recontextualization. Our CORE data, then, understood as information used for reference and analysis, is made up of texts, music, pictures, fabrics, objects, installations, performances, etc. Sometimes, this information does not belong to us, but is owned by another person or institution or community, in which case it is not ours to make public.


The A&H tend to bring information together in new ways to further discussion about socio-cultural developments across the globe. Available digital data is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the material that is worked with.[1] Arts and humanities scholars, who spend their lives thinking about the arrangement and communication of information, are acutely aware that archives (digital and otherwise) are not neutral spaces, but man-made and the product of human choices. This means that information available online, to a broadband-enabled public, is asymmetrical and distorted.

One of the main benefits of open research is that it is thought to make data globally accessible, especially to ‘the global south’ and to institutions with fewer available funds to ‘buy data in’. As we explore below (‘research integrity’), this unidirectional view of open access is problematic. In general, digital material tends to reproduce English-speaking structures and epistemologies. As FAIR data is redefined as CORE data, an attention to context will hopefully promote the diverse positions occupied by all those who make up the world and who produce research about it.

Support required

In order usefully to employ CORE data in the A&H, we need to bring to the surface and examine underlying assumptions about knowledge creation as well as knowledge dissemination.

The work of the digital humanities – rooted explicitly in digital technologies and the forms of communication that they enable – is obviously a vital part of these discussions about opening up the CORE data of the humanities. Digital work, in the same way as any other successful A&H research, needs to consider its own materiality and conditions of production, evaluate its own history, draw attention to its own limits, and navigate its trans-temporal relationships with data in other forms (the manuscript, the printed text, the painting, the piece of music). This is a developing field and one that still has an uneasy relationship with the existing tenure/promotions system.[2] Colleagues noted that training needs are evolving constantly. It is often hard to know where to turn for specific guidance in e.g. how to manage one’s own ‘born digital’ archives, how to deconstruct a twitter archive, and so on.

This issue also overlaps with the need, as part of the ‘rewards and incentives’ process outlined below, to evaluate the success of colleagues as they undertake this training and negotiate with these processes. DH is one of the most exciting and rapidly developing areas of research and needs to be widely resourced. But it would also be harmful to collapse all A&H research into ‘the digital humanities’. The work of colleagues whose CORE data is resistant, for whatever reason, to wide online dissemination in English also needs to be allocated the value it deserves: some publics are simply smaller than others.

Postscript: the group subsequently became aware of the CARE Principles of Indigenous Data Governance. These principles will also be considered when developing our services in support of data management and ethical sharing.

[1] Erzsébet Tóth-Czifra, ‘The Risk of Losing the Thick Description: Data Management Challenges Faced by the Arts and Humanities in the Evolving FAIR Data Ecosystem’, in Digital Technologies and the Practices of Humanities Research, edited by Jennifer Edmond (Open Book Publishers, 2014), https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0192.10

[2]See the excellent article by Cait Coker and Kate Ozment ‘Building the Women in Book History Bibliography, or Digital Enumerative Bibliography as Preservation of Feminist Labor’, Digital Humanities Quarterly 13 (3), 2019, http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/13/3/000428/000428.html – where the authors of the ‘Women in Book History’ digital bibliography still see the tenure system as ‘monograph-driven’, and had to fund their research through selling merchandise.

Open Research at Cambridge Conference – Opening session

The Open Research at Cambridge conference took place between 22–26 November 2021. In a series of talks, panel discussions and interactive Q&A sessions, researchers, publishers, and other stakeholders explored how Cambridge can make the most of the opportunities offered by open research. This blog is part of a series summarising each event. 

The opening session, chaired by Dr Jessica Gardner (University Librarian and Director of Library Services) included talks by Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research), Professor Steve Russell (Acting Head of Department of Genetics and Chair of Open Research Steering Committee), Mandy Hill (Managing Director of Academic Publishing at Cambridge University Press) and Dr Neal Spencer (Deputy Director for Collections and Research at the Fitzwilliam Museum). All four speakers foresee an increasingly open future, with benefits for both institutions and researchers. They also considered some of the challenges that still need to be worked through to avoid potential problems.

What is working well?

In recent years, we have made great progress in the proportion of publications that are open access. Over three quarters of publications with Cambridge authors last year were openly available in some form.

The trend is continuing and it is not unique to our institution. CUP have set an ambitious goal for the vast majority of research articles they publish to be open access by 2025.

Other forms of publication are becoming common, meeting different dissemination needs. Preprints have been the star of the show during the pandemic, allowing rapid dissemination while formal peer review follows down the line.

Diagram from Mandy Hill’s slide: ‘Increasingly open platforms and formal publishing will meet different dissemination needs’

In the scholarly communication arena, open access articles benefit from more downloads and citations. Museum-based projects involving artisans, schools and artists all found enthusiastic responses.

What can we look forward to?

Research culture is coming under the spotlight across the sector, and Cambridge has committed to an ambitious action plan to create a thriving environment to do research. Key principles include openness, collaboration, inclusivity, and fair recognition of all contributions.

Diagram from Prof Steve Russell: ‘Going Forward’

Implementing the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) is part of this progress. We want to assess research on its own merits rather than on the basis of journal or publisher metrics. This also means recognising all research outputs and a broad range of impacts.

Reproducibility is increasingly recognised as critical in a number of disciplines. A developing UKRN group within the University aims to ‘take nobody’s word for it’ – but rather support reproducible workflows that underpin confidence in the conclusions of research. By sharing and rewarding best practice we can become world leaders in this area, and in open research more widely.

In the past, museum collections have tended to be documented in limited ways, with poor accessibility and interoperability, which made it hard to discover and use materials. Several exciting projects at the Fitzwilliam Museum and more broadly have started to change that. There are opportunities for a single discovery portal, tying together different collections. The Fitzwilliam Museum is also making its collection discovery process richer, by providing opportunities for deeper dives, and more connected, by linking with other collections and resources.

Deep zoom access to an image in the Fitzwilliam collection. Adapted from Dr Neal Spencer’s slide ‘Fitzwilliam Museum Collections Search’.

What problems should we be mindful of?

There are still barriers that hinder some open research aspirations. Historical constraints on the ways we find materials, conduct research, and publish results remain. Some systems may need to be reimagined, while not scrapping structures that are still serving us well.

Cambridge is a large and complex institution, where change takes time. Nevertheless, there is an established governance structures and an evolving set of policies that support open research.

Most importantly, researchers should be at the centre of the move towards open research. It is important that they benefit from open practices, rather than finding themselves torn between competing priorities. Conversations continued throughout the week to explore possible approaches in different disciplines, drawing from the rich diversity of experiences to shape the future of open research at Cambridge.