Globally, the interrelated issues of reproducibility, open science, and quality have become increasingly prominent over the past few years (Vitae, UKRN, UK Research Integrity Office 2020; House of Commons 2018; Rathemacher 2017; Baker 2015) with an accompanying set of new requirements and skills for the research sector. This article is making the argument for a more structured approach to researcher training. There is a need to identify and articulate a clear framework or curriculum for training and professional development in areas of research practice beyond disciplinary-specific skills and knowledge. This will allow institutions to more systematically approach this growing area and also provide structure for libraries as the provider of much of the training in these areas, not only in development of content, but also in terms of the types of skills they need to recruit for or develop amongst their staff.
Open science, open scholarship, open research, and open knowledge have aligned but slightly different meanings. There are so many different definitions of “open” that there has been an attempt to define the definitions (Bosman 2017). This article will use the following definition (noting in this instance “science” is being used in the European sense of the Latin “scienta” meaning “knowledge” and incorporates all research areas):
Open Science is the practice of science in such a way that others can collaborate and contribute, where research data, lab notes and other research processes are freely available, under terms that enable reuse, redistribution and reproduction of the research and its underlying data and methods. (FOSTER n.d.)
This paper will consider the interrelated question of changing researcher needs and the subsequent learning requirements for those supporting researchers.
The author’s interest in this area has stemmed from working in senior positions in scholarly communication in the UK and Australia and directly observing issues with the ability to recruit staff with scholarly communication skills. A series of exploratory workshops (Kingsley 2017) led to the formation of a multi-organizational group of training providers in the UK to address the lack of role profiles and recruitment and development of open research support staff (ORCC 2021). This combined with research into the area (Sewell 2017; Kingsley, Richardson, and Kennan 2020), and subsequent work in multiple institutions in Australia informs much of the discussion in this article, which by its development tends to focus on activity in Europe, the US, and Australasia.
This article is focused on the skills and knowledge required of research support staff, which have changed in response to recent significant changes in government and funder expectations of researchers in relation to ensuring their work is more transparent. Increasingly research outputs are expected to be openly accessible (Wellcome Trust 2020; UKRI 2019; Australian Research Council 2018; National Health and Medical Research Council 2018; National Institutes of Health 2008; Vidal 2018). Open science and open research are increasingly on the agenda of institutions across the globe (Wellcome Trust 2020; UKRI 2019; Vidal 2018; National Health and Medical Research Council 2018; Research Councils UK 2013; National Institutes of Health 2005). The “open” agenda is international. In Nov 2021 UNESCO will adopt their open science recommendations (UNESCO 2021) .
This article will first address the need for different skills and knowledge now required of researchers before moving to the issue of ensuring those that support researchers are able to meet these emerging training needs.
Changing Requirements of Researchers
The UK offers an example of the high-level interest in the issue of reproducibility. The UK Research Integrity Office was established in 2006 as an independent charity offering support to the public, researchers, and organizations to further good practice in academic, scientific, and medical research. Universities UK released The Concordat to Support Research Integrity in July 2012 (Universities UK 2019). In 2017–2018, the UK Parliament, Science and Technology Committee conducted a research integrity enquiry after which the Concordat was revised in 2019. UK Research and Innovation has established a Research Integrity Committee to support its “commitment of ensuring a vibrant, healthy and responsible research climate” (Universities UK 2019; House of Commons 2018; UK Research and Innovation 2019), and in mid-2021, the UK Parliament announced an enquiry into research reproducibility (UK Parliament 2021).
One of the approaches to increase research integrity, reproducibility, and address many issues of poor research practice is to adopt open science practices (Kingsley 2016). For example, a 2020 survey of Research Integrity Officers published in Research Integrity and Peer Review noted that: “It may be worth considering the possibility that simply engaging in good practices of research would be a strong protection from research misconduct occurring – independent of the factors contributing to the misconduct” (Kalichman 2020).
Massachusetts Institute of Technology has launched research into the topic with its Center for Research on Equitable and Open Scholarship (MIT 2018).
As this shift occurs in the sector there is an increased focus on open science in hiring for research positions, inspiring a dynamic list of job advertisements from multiple countries dating back to 2018 that mention open science as a criterion. The advertisements generally indicate an expectation for evidence of a commitment to openness, stating variously: “We expect applicants to have strong data skills and a clear commitment to open and reproducible science, and to education and training” and asking applicants to “discuss their past and/or planned research approach in the context of ongoing discussion in the sciences about research practices, replicability and open science” (Community created n.d.). Some countries have taken a proactive stance of recognising this shift amongst their research community—for example, the Dutch Room for everyone’s talent has a “Focus on quality” and focuses on “Stimulating open science” amongst other goals (VSNU, NFU, KNAW, NWO and ZonMw. 2019).
Defining the Skills Required for Open Science Practices
Beyond a commitment to open research, there is a need to consider what actual skills and training might be required of researchers in the future to ensure research is open, transparent, and reproducible. The European Commission identified “Open Science Skills” as part of its Digital Education Action Plan (European Commission 2018b). In July 2020, the OECD published a report Building Digital Workforce Capacity and Skills for Data Intensive Science which provides a comprehensive analysis of the global requirements of the digital workforce in relation to data intensive science. One of the “five key action areas and goals for digital research workforce capacity development” is to “identify the key competencies, skills and roles required for data-intensive science in different contexts” (OECD 2020). There have been some attempts to identify the generic skills and knowledge that researchers require beyond their disciplinary specific areas, including the comprehensive 2011 Researcher Development Framework (Vitae 2011). It contains very little in the area of research practice, only mentioning “Communication methods,” “Publication,” “Public engagement,” “IPR and copyright,” and “research strategy.” There is no mention of research data management, open principles, or other aspects of open research. In contrast, the LIBER Open Science Skills Visualisation offers a comprehensive overview of the open area and could be used as a basis for developing a skills matrix (McCaffrey et al. 2020).
Provision of Training in Open Science Skills
The follow-on from identifying research practice skills is providing training in them. In Australia discussions relating to research integrity and reproducibility are expressed within the framework of “quality” (National Health & Medical Research Council 2019). A 2019 survey by the NHMRC’s Research Quality Strategy asked: “What effect do you think the following features of the Australian research environment have on researchers in terms of encouraging the production of high-quality research?” to which 72% responded “provision of professional education, training and supervision” (Rolf 2020). But despite this need for skills development for the research sector, a European Commission’s 2018 report included the finding that three out of four researchers have no training in open access or open data management (European Commission 2018a).
It is instructive to note that over the past couple of decades there has been a focus on the professionalization of teaching within the higher education sector, leading to departments within institutions such as the Centre for Teaching and Learning at the Australian National University and the Institute for Teaching and Learning Innovation at the University of Queensland (University of Queensland n.d.; Australian National University n.d.). In contrast, despite the clear global direction towards open science, there has not been a parallel systematic approach to meeting resultant emerging training needs across the sector. The imbalance between the focus on these aspects of academic life was identified in a 2020 OCLC report Social Interoperability in Research Support with the observation:
In focusing on research support, we see an opportunity to address a gap in existing literature, which extensively documents educational support services but is less rich in addressing research support services and intra-institutional research support challenges. (Bryant, Dortmund, and Lavoie 2020)
Training of emerging researchers in academia remains heavily reliant on the Master–Apprentice model embedded in the PhD process. However, the very fast changing nature of the scholarly communication policy and funder environment means there are major inconsistencies in the abilities of supervisors to provide instruction and advice in this area. This is recognized in the European Commission Open Science Skills Working Group recommendation that: “In the case of R1 and R2 researchers it should be mandatory for universities and research organisations to offer [both traditional and/or online career-level appropriate Open Science training courses] as part of their training”. The report defines R1 and R2 as: “First Stage Researchers” and “Recognised Researchers” which in UK and Australia would be described as “Higher Degree Research students” (HDR) and “early career researchers” (ECR) (Open Science Skills Working Group 2017). There are some examples of this type of offering being developed, such as the Graduate Certificate in Research & Innovation Management offered at Swinburne University (2021), but this is far from widespread practice. Internationally, grassroots, peer-led, and community groups are working to try and address the gap (ORCC 2021; Hagstrom 2019; Research Data Alliance 2013; UKRN 2019; AIMOS 2019; CAPOS 2019).
Professional Staff Supporting Open Research Training
This then brings the focus to those who are otherwise providing research practice training. An angle that is not always appreciated in discussions about open science is that this type of professional development and training within higher education institutions is primarily provided by professional staff, usually based in the library with an increasing number of institutions establishing an area specifically focused on scholarly communication and open practices (Kingsley 2020).
However, if library staff are the primary cohort delivering training in these emerging areas, the question then arises whether they are currently equipped to do so. A 2020 Finnish study noted:
It soon became evident that open science would require an expansion of traditional library services and the adoption of new roles. The development of new open science and research support services, infrastructures and tools would also require qualifications beyond those of traditional library skills. (Saarti, Rosti, and Silvennoinen-Kuikka 2020)
There have been multiple attempts to identify the competency skills required of people working in scholarly communication, which generally encompass tasks (Pontika 2019) associated with: institutional repository management, publishing services, research practice, copyright services, open access policies and the scholarly communication landscape, data management services, assessment & impact metrics and sometimes “Personal Strengths” (NASIG Executive Board 2017; Calarco et al. 2016). Increasingly, these staff have been described as “para-academics” or “Third Space” practitioners in scholarly communication (Pardoe 2014; Whitchurch 2015).
Multiple studies have demonstrated there is a lack of focus on these skills in the curriculum of library degrees. There is a “low level of formal pedagogy on scholarly communication topics” in library training across the globe that indicates there is a need that offers great opportunity (Bonn, Cross, and Bolick 2020). As an example, until extremely recently scholarly communication tasks, such as data management, scholarly communication, open science, and open access were entirely absent from the set of skills identified by ALIA, which are used as the basis for the curricula of library courses in Australia (Australian Library and Information Association 2020). These skills were updated in December 2020 which suggests LIS courses in Australia need to update their programs (Australian Library and Information Association 2020). It is therefore unsurprising that a 2020 US study found that “scholarly communications librarians experience impostor phenomenon more frequently and intensely than academic librarians more broadly”(Owens 2021). Possibly because of this lack of direct education in the area of scholarly communication for library qualified staff, many people working in this area are not library trained but coming from other educational backgrounds (Sewell 2017).
There is clearly a need for training in scholarly communication for staff moving into these roles, and for other people employed in the area of scholarly communication. Early findings from a study into confidence into skills in scholarly communication in Australasia have shown that there is very little formal training for people working in this profession and most learning is occurring on the job or is self-directed (Kingsley, Richardson, and Kennan 2020). This reflects experiences elsewhere in the world (Sewell 2018).
This paper has considered the changing nature of expectations of researchers to make their research more open, transparent, and reproducible. There has been an identified need to articulate the specific research practice skills that researchers need to gain during their training to allow them to meet these new requirements. Such a skills framework would not only provide a basis for training programs or the research community, but would also allow for the professionalization of the training of research skills. A clear framework would assist research support services identify what skills they need to provide training in, and indeed what skills their own staff should possess in order to provide this training.
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