Tag Archives: Wellcome Open Research

The Open Research Pilot – one year in

As we close in on the halfway point for the Open Research Pilot between the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Trust, how are things going?

Well, in many ways exactly as expected. The primary issues that we are facing are a lack of sustainable support for infrastructure and a lack of reward and incentive to work openly. None of this is news, and while no new issues are being surfaced by the Open Research Pilot, having the dialogue is helping the participating researchers exchange ideas and the Wellcome Trust develop new services and policies.

This was the take home message from the second full meeting of the Open Research Pilot participants held in London at the Wellcome Trust on 13 September. Given one of the main goals of the project is to learn what the barriers and incentives are for open research and to share these findings with others interested in the subject to inform policy development, it seems the Pilot is on track.

This blog summarises the discussions and ideas that arose at the event. A full write-up and the presentations are now available in the Open Research Pilot collection in Apollo, the University repository. The notes are also available from the pilot kick-off meeting held in January in Cambridge.

As a memory jogger, information about the Pilot and the different people and research projects involved are available. A blog describing the kick off meeting is also online as part of our new Open Adventures blog platform.

Outcomes of the meeting

Main issues raised:

  • Today a successful researcher and a good researcher are not necessarily the same thing
  • Time is a big issue. It takes time to annotate data sets to be made useable to others
  • The current incentive and reward structure is a barrier to change
  • The ethos needs to change with regard to the need to publish in particular journals
  • There is a need to re-define what is valuable and this may need to be defined at the discipline level
  • There is a mismatch between the reliance the research community have on certain resources and the availability of funding for long-term sustainability
  • There is a need for dedicated staff to manage sharing of research at the institute or department level

Possible solutions:

  • The new publishing platform, Wellcome Open Research is cheaper and faster than traditional publishing outlets
  • There are movements towards international approaches to collectively funding scientific infrastructure
  • The participants have found having access to library colleagues through this Open Research Pilot Project has been useful for figuring out where to put their research data – this does raise questions about future library services
  • We need strong leadership to drive the change to Open Research and given the risk adverse nature of institutions, change needs to be led by funders


Summary of the discussions

Wellcome Open Research update

Robert Kiley and David Carr gave a progress report on what had been happening in open science at the Wellcome Trust. They gave an update on the new Wellcome Trust open publishing platform, Wellcome Open Research.

When Wellcome Open Research was launched, ‘success’ was defined as 25-30 publications in a year. However in less than a year, more than 100 items have been published on this platform from a broad range of institutions. While half the publications are research articles, the rest are other output types such as data notes, software studies and protocols. This is important, given the new requirement of the Wellcome Trust to share all research outputs.

The platform is relatively popular as well. A comparison of the volume of Wellcome Trust funded publications across the range of publications showed Wellcome Open Research was found to be the fourth most used after Scientific Reports, PLoS ONE and Nature Communications.

This is significant because the average cost of publication on the Wellcome platform is of the order of £700, which is significantly lower than the average cost of the other named publications (generally around £2000).  It is not just cheaper, it is faster as well. Robert described an example where an item was submitted, reviewed, approved, published and made discoverable and then requests were received for the data within a three week period.

Open data, Funding and Sustainability

Recently as part of this Pilot, the OSC published a series of blogs discussing the problem of supporting infrastructure, from the researcher perspective, the funder perspective, and that of the university library. The group discussed the serious problem with infrastructure being funded at a grant level but the data is used by the whole community. Funders do not necessarily fund ongoing infrastructure which is in competition with new requests to fund new ideas. Another question is whether it is even the funder’s job to provide long-term sustainability?

The point was raised that there is a mismatch between a reliance on certain resources on the one hand, but a reluctance to fund for long-term sustainability.  For example, when arXiv (an e-print service, operated by Cornell University) asked the physics community to provide support, they thought that it was the library’s responsibility to provide funding, not theirs.  Similarly, Canadian Health Research heavily rely on GenBank, but do not contribute to the costs of this resource.

This problem is recognised internationally and there are some attempts to address the problem. Earlier this year there was a meeting of several major funding organisations, from which a strong consensus emerged that core data resources for the life sciences should be supported through a coordinated international effort(s) that better ensure long-term sustainability and that appropriately align funding with scientific impact. There is also some work to to build a stable and sustainable infrastructure for biological information across Europe

Support for Open Research activities

One question posed to the researchers in the group was: what support from their institutions and funders would they want to make their data more accessible? It was commented that time was a big issue. For example, it takes time to annotate data sets to be made useable to others.  One group said that they could write protocols and a series of articles to put on Wellcome Open Research, which would be a good thing, but it would take the team a long time.

There appears to be a need for dedicated staff to manage sharing of research at the institute or department level.  It was commented that having had access to library colleagues through this Open Research Pilot Project has been useful for figuring out where to put their research data. An action was taken for the library component of the group to think about what support is being provided in this context (and into the future).

Open Research and Culture

In the current climate it is easy to identify a successful researcher.  A successful researcher has prizes, publishes in particular journals with high impact factors and has grants and funding. But a successful researcher and a good researcher are not necessarily the same thing. One of the blockers for a future Open Research environment seems to be the research community itself.  For example, the current incentive and reward structure is a barrier to change and there is a need to re-define what is valuable and this may need to be defined at the discipline level.

Some suggestions that arose in the discussion were:

  • a data re-use prize by Wellcome Trust
  • only provide grants or Fellowships to institutions or departments that have signed or support the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA)
  • travel fellowships awards for good Open Research practices (noting that credit should be given to the individual winning the award and not the head of the laboratory who was the recipient of the original grant)

By ‘fighting on different fronts’, slowly the research environment might change. We need strong leadership to drive the change to Open Research, and the leadership needs to come from funders and institutions for the researchers to align themselves with working openly. But institutions are very risk adverse with activities that could jeopardise funding, so change needs to be led by the funders.

The hybrid question

While open access could be a vehicle for improving open research, the route to achieve this is debatable. The group asked whether funders could insist on green open access or only pay for truly open access journals. If payment for articles in hybrid journals, for example, was stopped, the money saved could be used to invest in other aspects of open research.

An alternative option discussed was whether the value given for APCs be limited, say to $1000? But this would be very difficult to implement, as an indicator, the SCOAP3 project took five years to get off the ground.

The question arose: if Wellcome Trust stopped paying for open access in hybrid journals, would researchers stop applying for funding? The feeling was no. But researchers perceive that when applying for grants, their record for publications in particular journals is very important.  The ethos needs to change with regard to the need to publish in particular journals.

Next steps

The Office of Scholarly Communication is coordinating an “In Conversation” event on 5 December to give researchers the opportunity to talk to Wellcome Trust representatives about their Policy on data, software and materials management and sharing.

We are also looking to find evidence that data is reused.

The Wellcome Trust will be using the group as scoping group for a proposal that the Wellcome Trust build a repository by sharing the draft requirements.


Published 10 November 2017
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley, based on notes by Dr Debbie Hansen
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Sustaining open research resources – a funder perspective

Originally published 26 July 2017, Written by David Carr, Wellcome Trust

This is the second in a series of three blog posts which set out the perspectives of researchers, funders and universities on support for open resources. The first was Open Resources, who should pay? In this post, David Carr from the Open Research team at the Wellcome Trust provides the view of a research funder on the challenges of developing and sustaining the key infrastructures needed to enable open research.

As a global research foundation, Wellcome is dedicated to ensuring that the outputs of the research we fund – including articles, data, software and materials – can be accessed and used in ways that maximise the benefits to health and society.  For many years, we have been a passionate advocate of open access to publications and data sharing.

I am part of a new team at Wellcome which is seeking to build upon the leadership role we have taken in enabling access to research outputs.  Our key priorities include:

  • developing novel platforms and tools to support researchers in sharing their research – such as the Wellcome Open Research publishing platform which we launched last year;
  • supporting pioneering projects, tools and experiments in open research, building on the Open Science Prize which with the NIH and Howard Hughes Medical Institute;
  • developing our policies and practices as a funder to support and incentivise open research.

We are delighted to be working with the Office of Scholarly Communication on the Open Research Pilot Project, where we will work with four Wellcome-funded research groups at Cambridge to support them in making their research outputs open.  The pilot will explore the opportunities and challenges, and how platforms such as Wellcome Open Research can facilitate output sharing.

Realising the long-term value of research outputs will depend critically upon developing the infrastructures to preserve, access, combine and re-use outputs for as long as their value persists.  At present, many disciplines lack recognised community repositories and, where they do exist, many cannot rely on stable long-term funding.  How are we as a funder thinking about this issue?

Meeting the costs of outputs sharing

In July 2017, Wellcome published a new policy on managing and sharing data, software and materials.  This replaced our long-standing policy on data management and sharing – extending our requirements for research data to also cover original software and materials (such as antibodies, cell lines and reagents).  Rather than ask for a data management plan, applicants are now asked to provide an outputs management plan setting out how they will maximise the value of their research outputs more broadly.

Wellcome commits to meet the costs of these plans as an integral part of the grant, and provides guidance on the costs that funding applicants should consider.  We recognise, however, that many research outputs will continue to have value long after the funding period comes to an end.  Further, while it not appropriate to make all research data open indefinitely, researchers are expected to retain data underlying publications for at least ten years (a requirement which was recently formalised in the UK Concordat on Open Research Data).  We must accept that preserving and making these outputs available into the future carries an ongoing cost.

Some disciplines have existing subject-area repositories which store, curate and provide access to data and other outputs on behalf of the communities they serve.  Our expectation, made more explicit in our new policy, is that researchers should deposit their outputs in these repositories wherever they exist.  If no recognised subject-area repository is available, we encourage researchers to consider using generalist repositories – such as DryadFigShare and Zenodo – or if not, to use institutional repositories.  Looking ahead, we may consider developing an orphan repository to house Wellcome-funded research data which has no other obvious home.

Recognising the key importance of this infrastructure, Wellcome provides significant grant funding to repositories, databases and other community resources.  As of July 2016, Wellcome had active grants totalling £80 million to support major data resources.  We have also invested many millions more in major cohort and longitudinal studies, such as UK Biobank and ALSPAC.  We provide such support through our Biomedical Resource and Technology Development scheme, and have provided additional major awards over the years to support key resources, such as PDB-EuropeEnsembl and the Open Microscopy Environment.

While our funding for these resources is not open-ended and subject to review, we have been conscious for some time that the reliance of key community resources on grant funding (typically of three to five years’ duration) can create significant challenges, hindering their ability to plan for the long-term and retain staff.  As we develop our work on Open Research, we are keen to explore ways in which we adapt our approach to help put key infrastructures on a more sustainable footing, but this is a far from straightforward challenge.

Gaining the perspectives of resource providers

In order to better understand the issues, we did some initial work earlier this year to canvas the views of those we support.  We conducted semi-structured interviews with leaders of 10 resources in receipt of Wellcome funding – six database and software resources, three cohort resources and one materials stock centre – to explore their current funding, long-term sustainability plans and thoughts on the wider funding and policy landscape.

We gathered a wealth of insights through these conversations, and several key themes emerged:

  • All of the resources were clear that they would continue to be dependent on support from Wellcome and/or other funders for the long-term.
  • While cohort studies (which provide managed access to data) can operate cost recovery models to transfer some of the cost of accessing data onto users, such models were not appropriate for data and software resources who commit to open and unrestricted access.
  • Several resources had additional revenue-generation routes – including collaborations with commercial entities– and these had delivered benefits in enhancing their resources.  However, the level of income was usually relatively modest in terms of the total cost of sustaining the resource. Commitments to openness could also limit the extent to which such arrangements were feasible.
  • Diversification of funding sources can give greater assurance and reduce reliance on single funders, but can bring an additional burden.  There was felt to be a need for better coordination between funders where they co-fund resources.  Europe PMC, which has 27 partner funders but is managed through a single grant is a model which could be considered.
  • Several of the resources were actively engaged in collaborations with other resources internationally that house related data – it was felt that funders could help further facilitate such partnerships.

We are considering how Wellcome might develop its funding approaches in light of these findings.  As an initial outcome, we plan to develop guidance for our funded researchers on key issues to consider in relation to sustainability.  We are already working actively with other funders to facilitate co-funding and make decisions as streamlined as possible, and wish to explore how we join forces in the future in developing our broader approaches for funding open resources.

Coordinating our efforts

There is growing recognition of the crucial need for funders and wider research community to work together develop and sustain research data infrastructure.  As the first blogin this series highlighted, the scientific enterprise is global and this is an issue which must be addressed international level.

In the life sciences, the ELIXIR and US BD2K initiatives have sought to develop coordinated approaches for supporting key resources and, more recently, the European Open Science Cloud initiative has developed a bold vision for a cloud-based infrastructure to store, share and re-use data across borders and disciplines.

Building on this momentum, the Human Frontiers Science Programme convened an international workshop last November to bring together data resources and major funders in the life sciences.  This resulted in a call for action (reported in Nature) to coordinate efforts to ensure long-term sustainability of key resources, whilst supporting resources in providing access at no charge to users.  The group proposed an international mechanism to prioritise core data resources of global importance, building on the work undertaken by ELIXIR to define criteria for such resources.  It was proposed national funders could potentially then contribute a set proportion of their overall funding (with initial proposals suggesting around 1.5 to 2 per cent) to support these core data resources.

Grasping the nettle

Public and charitable funders are acutely aware that many of the core repositories and resources needed to make research outputs discoverable and useable will continue to rely on our long-term funding support.  There is clear realisation that a reliance on traditional competitive grant funding is not the ideal route through which to support these key resources in a sustainable manner.

But no one yet has a perfect solution and no funder will take on this burden alone.  Aligning global funders and developing joint funding models of the type described above will be far from straightforward, but hopefully we can work towards a more coordinated international approach.  If we are to realise the incredible potential of open research, it’s a challenge we must address

Originally published 26 July 2017,
Written by David Carr, Wellcome Trust

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