Open Science Award Winners: Insights and Findings From a Pioneering Practice

Interview with Ronny Röwert

In his doctoral project, Ronny Röwert (TU Hamburg) investigated why researchers practice Open Science. To do this, he focused on those researchers who have been practising Open Science for a relatively long time and to a very extensive extent, namely Open Science award winners from the German science system. In this interview, he reveals what we can learn from these pioneers in the field of Open Science and why we should all dare to be more courageous.

What did you find out in your doctoral thesis? What motivates scientists to do Open Science?

I was surprised myself at how many reasons there actually are for practising Open Science. I was able to crystallise 14 motives in total as reasons. In addition to the familiar personal reasons, such as citation advantages or the desire for recognition for one’s own work, there are also reasons that are relevant to the research community, such as that one’s own research is used and striving for efficient work or new collaborations. However, I was also able to find a few reasons that had not yet been discussed in the literature, for example, a sense of belonging to a pioneering community, like being anti-mainstream, or sense and impact orientation are also part of it. Therefore, if I spend so much time on it, and in science this is often also leisure time, then it really has to make sense, and that is why many people say that it has to be open.

The exciting thing is that they all gave at least three or four reasons, and always altruistic as well as careerist reasons in equal measure. Thus, you cannot say that these are the do-gooders and these are the ones who do it selfishly. Rather, it is always an interplay of very personal and social reasons, and perhaps also a few altruistic reasons. There are many reasons, and perhaps we need to take more account of this if we want to support researchers in establishing Open Science.

Could you identify different types in terms of motives?

I thought there were types like the egoist or the do-gooder. But in the end, I had to realise at some point that the exact opposite is true. The core result for me is that there are no types. Even with a scientist who says she only does it to make science better, you can find relatively valid personal reasons such as citation advantages. And at the other extreme, a scientist who said he was totally egoistically driven, showed convictions about what the science system and society should look like and his own part in it, which are quasi selfless reasons. Exactly these two extremes, which at the same time also unite the other extreme, that is the core result.

What conclusions do you draw from this for communication with researchers about Open Science?

The existence of several reasons for Open Science must also be in the back of our minds if we want to address researchers and bring them along. Then we have to argue in a diverse, multifaceted way, on different levels, and not just cite one or two social reasons for Open Science.

How do you explain these results?

All of them emphasise the enormous effort involved in Open Science and that it is also a big resource issue, even if they themselves do not practice it in quite such a pioneering way. It is, in the words of the Open Science laureates interviewed, like “an extra steep hill” or “the extra 20 percent of the mile they have to go”. If it is that much effort, then there must be several reasons for it. Actually, they all give many reasons for doing it anyway. For me, this is also the key to understanding why it is so complex, why so many motives are at work.

Are there differences in motivations, for example in career stages?

You can see that those who feel a strong sense of belonging to a pioneer community are particularly convinced and implement Open Science very consistently, for instance they insist on it in all projects. Especially when you do cooperative research, it is also a negotiation process.

The other aspect is career advancement. The desire to re-use one’s own methods and results and to prepare them in a way that makes it easier for others to continue working with them increases when one has actually been in the science system longer. Because some reasons are not yet comprehensible at the beginning of a research career. Nevertheless, there are no such strong patterns and at some point, I had to say goodbye again to this type thinking and acknowledge that the result is so multi-layered.

What differences could you observe between the various disciplines?

Through its influence on socialisation, the discipline has a decisive influence on the formation of identity and the understanding of one’s profession as a scientist. In awarding the prizes and awards for Open Science, the juries paid great attention to a balanced distribution of disciplines, so that despite my small sample, it represents many disciplinary contexts, from computer science and psychology to sports science, history and literary studies. In data-driven disciplinary contexts such as economics or quantitative sociology, Open Science understandings and practices are catching on more quickly, while in disciplines, which previously had less Open Science affinity, such as architecture or history, the idea of Open Science is being lived out in more diverse ways, for example through increased Citizen Science approaches. Ultimately, each discipline, must define for itself how Open Science can concretely enrich research practice, including the professional societies.

Motives for Open Science practices

What are the strongest drivers?

The top one is definitely re-use. The second motive is to gain citation advantages. The third is the public interest, as I mentioned. That means, for example, that in publicly tax-funded research projects, one aims to justice to satisfy society and make the results accessible. After that, there are soft drivers such as an orientation towards impact and meaning, for instance that everyone says, “I’m not going to make all these efforts just to end up being one among many. That is why they position themselves in this pioneering role.

Have you also identified factors that inhibit researchers’ motivation for Open Science?

Yes, everyone mentioned very similar reasons. On the one hand, it is the whole career logic in science. On the other hand, there are general conditions, such as the fact that publishing in Open Access is sometimes simply too expensive, and other understandable reasons. These include research ethics issues, that if sensitive data is collected, it cannot be made openly available straight away.

You said in your talk at the tenth Open Science Conference: “Research Culture eats Open Science Strategy for Breakfast”. What did you mean by that?

I wanted to say a bit more pointedly, following Peter Drucker, that the most beautiful strategies are probably of no use because Open Science is about the core of the research culture. That means that the whole socialisation, how I present myself, how I move in everyday life, how I talk about my own research, how I act tactically, usually follows unwritten laws. If we really want to change something in the research culture, then we have to go to the core of socialisation and perhaps also start very early with young researchers, when they first really come into contact with research, for example when they produce their first data set. I think we also have to tackle other fields, such as lobbying more in professional societies, approaching the research training groups, the junior research groups, precisely where researchers are formed. Otherwise, the best Open Science strategy will be eaten for breakfast.

What advice would you give to Open Science avant-gardists to inspire their colleagues?

First of all, they don’t usually see themselves as Open Science avant-gardists. All the people I interviewed had this in common: although they had received an award for it, at the beginning of the interview they all said quasi shyly: “I think you’re interviewing the wrong person. I don’t actually do Open Science that much.” The bottom line is that it is unrealistic to completely open up your entire research practice. You won’t find that with anyone. I would advise describing as concretely as possible how you do it in order to convince colleagues. In other words, a literary scholar who discloses the negotiations with publishers, who shares sample emails about it, who says where it did not work out sometimes. What they learn from this for the next time, for the next application for a research project. In exactly this concreteness. We need to convey this more strongly, and we really need to awaken this realistic picture plus this spirit of research. Perhaps these different motives could also be a support. Talking about them and accepting that everyone has different reasons. What drives you, why could you imagine making an effort towards Open Access or open research data management in your next research project?

What tips do you have for early career researchers who are asking how they can best implement Open Science?

To put it bluntly, I would dare something like courage outbursts. In practical terms: maybe once a year, set yourself a reminder and go on a two- or three-hour retreat with yourself, perhaps also with colleagues. Why do I want to implement Open Science? How can I make my own research practice more open and transparent? Because I think there is such a force of normality that overwhelms you, and then you just rush after the next funding application or write the next grant application and so on, and actually forget what possibilities there are, even obvious ones. Then you simply exchange more information with the research data, repositories for the disciplines or your own university library about how it is actually possible to make publications openly accessible. I think at least once a year is a good time to talk about it. That would be my personal tip.

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Our questions were answered by Ronny Röwert.

Ronny Röwert (German) is a research associate at the Institute for Technical Education and Higher Education Didactics at TU Hamburg (TUHH). After studying economics and working at CHE Consult, Kiron Open Higher Education and the Stifterverband, he researches and teaches on digital and openness practices in educational and academic contexts. He shapes these topics, among other things, by coordinating the joint project “Open T-Shape for Sustainable Development”, within the framework of which the SDG Campus is being developed.
Portrait: Ronny Röwert©

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EconStor Survey 2022: Repository Registers Satisfied Users, but More Marketing Efforts Needed

Guest article by Ralf Toepfer, Lisa Schäfer and Olaf Siegert

Back in 2009, the ZBW launched its disciplinary Open Access repository EconStor. Now in 2022, it provides more than 240,000 academic papers from the economics and business studies disciplines, coming from over 600 institutions and about 1000 single authors worldwide. All papers are available in Open Access. After thirteen years of developing and connecting EconStor we thought, it was high time to hear from our research community, what they think about the repository and its services.

In this short report, we would like to present the results of a user survey we conducted this year. First, we will give some background information about the survey and how it was conducted. Then we describe who the actual respondents were. Last but not least, we present some results on specific aspects of the survey.

Background information

The idea to conduct a survey came up in a brainstorm meeting of the EconStor team in 2020. Our aim was to address the following topics:

  • Satisfaction of the research community with EconStor,
  • Environment analysis (which other tools are used in economic research?),
  • Special look at our authors (who is uploading papers on EconStor?),
  • Suggestions for further development.

Since we are no survey experts, we knew, we would have to rely on some external assistance. This was provided from two sides: First, our ZBW marketing team, who had conducted surveys on other issues before. And second, from a course of students in library and information science at the HAW -Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (German). Their professor, Petra Düren, contacted us in spring 2021 to ask for practical examples regarding user surveys. We decided to organise an international EconStor user survey together at the start of 2022. We developed the questionnaire and used Limesurvey as our tool for the survey. After some pretesting, we were ready to start.

The survey was conducted between the 10th and the 24th of January 2022. We promoted it via the EconStor website and through mailings among researchers in Germany and abroad. Overall, we received 756 responses, of which 441 were fully completed questionnaires.

Profile of respondents

Most of the respondents came from Europe (87%): Half of them (45%) was based in Germany, other major European countries were Italy (16%), Spain (5%) and France (4%). From the rest of the world about 3% overall came from the United States and 3% from Australia.

Regarding their affiliations, most respondents were coming from universities (78%), another 10% were from universities of applied sciences and 6% from non-university research organisations. The rest mainly came from central banks or the private sector.

With regard to the age of the participants, we received fairly even answers from different age groups according to the academic career span: i.e. 9% were younger than 30 years, 45% were between 30 and 49 years and 56% were 50 years or older. Looking at their academic status, 58% were professors, 20% were researchers or postdocs and 18% were PhD Students (see illustration 1).

Illustration 1: EconStor User Survey 2022: Participants by academic status

Regarding the scientific disciplines, most of the respondents came from the field of economics (65%) or business studies (25%), the remaining 10 % were allocated to neighbouring disciplines such as sociology, political studies, statistics or geography.

Results of the EconStor survey

The survey addressed various aspects of the use of EconStor such as awareness and familiarity of the services, usage of searching and browsing options, evaluation of the services and suggestions for improvement. In the following, we briefly present some key results.

Usage & environment analysis

The majority of respondents have known EconStor for more than three years, but there are differences by discipline, as researchers in economics are aware of EconStor longer than their colleagues in business studies (see Illustration 2).

Illustration 2: EconStor User Survey 2022: Awareness of EconStor

In terms of usage, almost half of the respondents use EconStor at least once a month and about 14% even weekly, indicating that the majority of respondents are quite familiar with the platform.

Illustration 3: EconStor User Survey 2022: Usage of EconStor

About one third of the respondents from the field of economics first discovered EconStor via RePEc, while most researchers from business studies became aware of EconStor via Google Scholar. This is in line with the answers given concerning the use of other platforms the researchers use to access economic papers, where besides ResearchGate, Google Scholar, RePEc and SSRN are mentioned.

Illustration 4: EconStor User Survey 2022: Usage of other platforms than EconStor to access economic papers

Coincidently ResearchGate and to a lesser extent RePEc and SSRN are the most used platforms to distribute research papers in economics and business studies. Researchers also consider their own research institution important for disseminating their papers. This suggests that institutional repositories are still relevant even if large disciplinary and interdisciplinary platforms exist.

Illustration 5: EconStor User Survey 2022: Platforms to distribute research papers

Searching & browsing

EconStor provides several options to navigate through the website. Users can find papers by searching specifically for individual titles or by using the browsing function to view documents sorted by institution, type of document, author, etc. Considering the answers given, searching and browsing options are not very important. Only about 50% of respondents even use the options provided by EconStor. One of the respondents wrote, “I search for papers mostly via Google or Google Scholar, where I may find EconStor papers. It did not occur to me to search on EconStor itself, or to explore its functionality.” This answer seems to describe the typical use case of EconStor accurately. Our monthly usage statistics tell the same story: Researchers use EconStor primarily as a source to get the full text after searching databases or using search engines.

Illustration 6: EconStor User Survey 2022: Usage of browsing and searching functions

Self-upload & quality management

More than 600 institutions use EconStor to disseminate their publications. Authors can also upload their papers themselves, although this feature is reserved for Ph.D. researchers in economics and business studies at academic institutions. After registering, authors can upload working papers as well as journal articles, book chapters, conference proceedings, etc. The majority of about 55% of the respondents did not know about this option. However, of the authors who actively use the self-upload feature, more than 95% are satisfied or even very satisfied with the self-upload process.

Illustration 7: EconStor User Survey 2022: Satisfaction with the self-upload process

Once a paper is uploaded, the EconStor team checks several points for quality assurance: namely plagiarism check, personal requirements for registration, document type, journal listing in Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and formal checks of the paper. About two thirds of the authors appreciate this quality assurance measures. The plagiarism check and formal check are most important to them.

Illustration 8: EconStor User Survey 2022: Importance of quality assurance checks

Evaluation of other EconStor services

EconStor provides some more services than the self-upload feature or the searching and browsing options. To the EconStor users the most important other services are the distribution service and the provision of download statistics. The distribution service includes distribution to search engines like Google, Google Scholar or BASE (Bielefeld Academic Search Engine) and to academic databases like WorldCat, OpenAire and EconBiz . More than 90 % of the respondents agree that these two services are important for their work. The possibility to export metadata and to link papers with their underlying research data are relevant too, but to a lesser extent.

Illustration 9: EconStor User Survey 2022: Importance of different services in EconStor

Overall evaluation of EconStor

More than 95% of the respondents are satisfied or very satisfied with EconStor and its services overall. This applies to the two research areas of economics and business studies.

Illustration 10: EconStor User Survey 2022: Evaluation of EconStor and its services overall

About 67% of the respondents feel sufficiently informed about the services on the EconStor website. While this is by no means a bad result, there is room for improvement. Some respondents for example suggest providing a newsletter informing about new content indexed in EconStor.

Suggestions for improving EconStor

54 respondents were kind enough to share their views on possible improvements to EconStor. The suggestions ranged from the desire for higher visibility or awareness of EconStor and the desire for more information about the product to suggestions for improving individual functions.

Illustration 11: EconStor User Survey 2022: Suggestions for improving EconStor

Conclusions on the 2022 EconStor survey

Overall, the researchers evaluated EconStor very positively. In particular, users who have known the service for several years and those who actively use the self-upload feature are very satisfied with it. Its users perceive EconStor primarily as a full-text source that can discovered via search engines, while its own search and browsing functions are less well known. The environment analysis shows differences between researchers from economics on the one side and business studies on the other, e.g. regarding the relevance of RePEc or ResearchGate. The potential for greater use could be tapped through stronger marketing (including promotion of the self-upload service) and through supplementary services.

The EconStor team very much appreciates the answers and opinions provided. This will help us to make EconStor even better. As a first response, we have created two promotional videos, one regarding EconStor in general, and the other one regarding the self-uploading process in particular. Other improvements will follow soon.

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About the authors:

Ralf Toepfer works in the Publication Services Department of the ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics, where he is responsible for discipline-specific services for the management of economic research data, among other things. You can also find him on Mastodon.
Portrait: ZBW©, photographer: Sven Wied

Lisa Schäfer has been supporting various Open Access transformation projects at the ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics since 2020.
Portrait: Lisa Schäfer©

Olaf Siegert is head of the Publication Services department and Open Access Representative of the ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics. He is involved with open access as part of his work at the ZBW and is also active for the Leibniz Association, where he represents the Leibniz Open Access working group in external committees. He is involved in the Alliance of Science Organisations in the working group Scientific Publication System and at Science Europe for the Leibniz Association.
Portrait: ZBW©

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The Openness Profile of Knowledge Exchange: What can infrastructure providers do?

by Claudia Sittner

Knowledge Exchange (KE), a cooperative partnership of six national research-supporting organisations in Europe, has explored the development of an Openness Profile during an 18-month research evaluation of Open Science. In the report, instead of Open Science, the term “open scholarship” is used with a broader understanding. The final project report “Openness Profile: Modelling research evaluation for open scholarship” has recently been published. During the process, 80 people from 48 organisations at all levels of the “open scholarship ecosystem” were involved and surveyed.

In January 2020, the group already published preliminary results on the concept of the Openness Profile. In the blogpost Openness Profile Interim Report: What Libraries Could Take Away” we explored what libraries and infrastructure providers could learn from it.

We will briefly introduce the concept of the Openness Profile and take a look at which recommendations could be interesting for libraries and information infrastructures to promote open research practices and their acknowledgement, thereby supporting the Open Science community.

Why a global Openness Profile is a good idea

The concluding report ultimately concerns a well-known problem of Open Science: open activities are often invisible and unacknowledged. For researchers, therefore, they basically play hardly any role in career planning. This also applies to activities of partly non-scientific staff that are important for Open Science but are not even considered in the scientific evaluation system. Those activities include, for example, curating research data, developing infrastructures or conducting training for open practices. It also means that these kinds of qualified specialists tend to migrate from science to industry or commercial sectors, owing to lack of recognition and incentives.

Science is increasingly taking place at a global and interconnected level. A comprehensive global reform of the scientific incentive system, in which more stakeholders and open activities play a (larger) role, is required so that Open Science can ultimately gain acceptance.

Making open activities and stakeholders visible: the Openness Profile

This is where the Openness Profile comes into play. The Openness Profile is a kind of portfolio that makes activities in the field of Open Science visible, thereby increasing the awareness of the scientific community and all participants about the current lack of recognition for Open Science activities and stakeholders in the scientific evaluation system. In a first step, the Openness Profile should build upon existing persistent identifiers (PIDs), initially ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID). The advantage is that many scientists already have an ORCID ID anyway.

An ORCID record would then also be supplemented by the Openness Profile; and open activities and further stakeholders such as data stewards or project managers, who remain unacknowledged and therefore not remunerated for open activities in the current scientific system, can be made visible. This thereby simultaneously creates an incentive for open activities. The Openness Profile is therefore not only useful for individuals, who would need to maintain it themselves – but can also be taken up by funders who have grants to award or institutes who have vacancies to fill.

Open activities can be recorded and linked in a structured way in the Openness Profile by existing identifiers such as DOI, ORG ID or Grant ID, but manual entries with URLs and descriptive text are also possible. The Openness Profile is thus intended to become the central hub for collecting and linking of Open Science activities and results.

General recommendations on realising the Openness Profile

At the end of the report, KE provides recommendations for joint activities that are required to actually implement the Openness Profile, for four different groups of stakeholders:

  1. Research funders,
  2. national research organisations,
  3. institutes and
  4. infrastructure providers.

Below we take a closer look at the general recommendations as well as those for the infrastructure providers.

The general recommendations are:

  1. All pull in the same direction: Diverse stakeholders are involved at all levels of the scientific system. They often pursue their own goals and interests. In order to implement the Openness Profile, it is often necessary to subordinate individual interests to the common goal. All those involved have to declare their willingness to do this. The aim is to make open projects interoperable and sustainable, leading to increased transparency, reproducibility and ultimately, a higher research quality.
  2. Bring all participants together (stakeholder summit): to keep an eye on the interest and experience of all involved, KE suggests a summit of all stakeholders for the purpose of productive exchange and collaboration. The term ‘all participants’ refers to, for example: science policy-makers, institute managements, technologists, providers of research information systems, researchers at all career levels and infrastructure experts.
  3. Establish a permanent working group: This working group (WG) should be made up of all stakeholders and deal with five topic areas:
    1. community governance model,
    2. validation of the OP reference model,
    3. taxonomy for contributors and contributions,
    4. technical facilitation of research management workflows,
    5. infrastructures survey and gap analysis.

    The integration of persistent identifiers and the interoperability of the systems through the use of APIs is emphasised in the technical implementation. In terms of the analysis of the infrastructure landscape, KE finds that much is already in place that could support the Openness Profile. It would be a good idea if employees from libraries or other infrastructure providers became part of this permanent working group.

  4. Finding sponsors: To implement the Openness Profile, it is necessary to find one or more sponsors who can guarantee long-term financing and thereby the sustainability of the project. In addition to the financial support, these would have a variety of tasks such as the development of software to connect information systems using PID metadata or the coordination of training programmes for Open Science communities. This role would certainly be well suited to infrastructure providers, who could integrate persistent identifiers into their systems themselves (in-house Open Access repositories, for example) or expand and share their often already existing training programmes.

Recommendations for infrastructure providers

KE sees the role of infrastructure providers in relation to the Openness Profile primarily in increasing and ensuring interoperability between research systems, which can be achieved through persistent identifiers. This would be more sustainable anyway and would lead to a further development of the Openness Profile. In the most recent JISC report on persistent identifiers (PIDs), five major players were identified: ORCID, Crossref, Datacite, ARDC (RAiD) and RoR. Libraries and infrastructure providers could therefore focus on taking care of the interoperability of their existing systems through PIDs.

Furthermore, the following recommendations are made expressly for infrastructure providers in the concluding report:

  • They should assume an active role in the development of research infrastructure and corresponding workflows, while closely collaborating with other stakeholders on a national level – such as research organisations, publishers or funders.
  • As the Openness Profile is integrated via ORCID, its use must be focussed more sharply. To encourage the use of ORCID records and application programming interfaces (APIs), it is recommended that they be more closely integrated into institutional research information and funding systems, and that capacities be increased where necessary
  • Another recommendation is to review governance structures to ensure that they are genuinely primarily responsive to community needs and not to individual interests

The report also proposes expanding and intensifying collaborations between national research organisations and infrastructure providers, thereby driving Open Science forward.

Conclusion: Openness Profile and libraries – will it be a match?

The Openness Profile is an ambitious project to make Open Science and all its participating stakeholders visible. A far-reaching reform of the monoculturally oriented scientific incentive system is long overdue. Whether the Openness Profile will actually be realised depends heavily on whether there are enough sponsors among the stakeholders who are willing to invest in the project – both financially and in terms of personnel.

Libraries and infrastructure providers would be important stakeholders here owing to their expertise; and their own (open) activities and contributions could also be better captured and recognised by inclusion in an Openness Profile. They should also ensure that they are represented when the stakeholders summit and send committed Open Science enthusiasts to the working group to be established in the long-term – so that their interests are represented and their comprehensive know-how can be used. On a practical level, they can already ensure the integration of persistent identifiers in their systems, thereby making them interoperable and sustainable.

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This text has been translated from German.

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