Raising research quality will require collective action

” Institutions are committing to working together to determine how their cultural practices, such as emphasizing the importance of novelty, discovery and priority, undermine the value of replication, verification and transparency. That is the goal of the UK Reproducibility Network, which I co-founded earlier this year. It started as informal groups of researchers at individual institutions that met with representatives from funders and publishers (including Nature) who were open to discussions about how best to align open-science initiatives — reproducibility sections in grant applications and reporting checklists in article submissions, for example. Now institutions themselves are cooperating to consider larger changes, from training to hiring and promotion practices….

Our ten university members span the United Kingdom from Aberdeen to Surrey, and we expect that list to grow. Each will appoint a senior academic to focus on research quality and improvement. Figuring out which system-level changes are needed and how to make them happen will now be someone’s primary responsibility, not a volunteer activity. What changes might ensue? Earlier this year, the University of Bristol, where I work, made the use of data sharing and other open-research practices an explicit criterion for promotion….

But these cultural changes might falter. Culture eats strategy for breakfast — grand plans founder on the rocks of implicit values, beliefs and ways of working. Top-down initiatives from funders and publishers will fizzle out if they are not implemented by researchers, who review papers and grant proposals. Grass-roots efforts will flourish only if institutions recognize and reward researchers’ efforts.

Funders, publishers and bottom-up networks of researchers have all made strides. Institutions are, in many ways, the final piece of the jigsaw. Universities are already investing in cutting-edge technology and embarking on ambitious infrastructure programmes. Cultural change is just as essential to long-term success.”