1 Open Research

In this chapter we’ll be thinking about what open research is. In what ways does open research differ from traditional research? What kind of benefits could open research bring? What kind of challenges might an open researcher encounter? You’ll also have the option to explore open tools you could use to help conduct your research.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter you will be able to:

  1. Understand what it means, and how, you can conduct open research
  2. Be able to structure your own open research project
  3. Understand some of the challenges and benefits of different aspects of open research

1.1 What does openness mean to you? 

As we mentioned in the introduction, as researchers we are interested in the impact of open education resources (OERs) that are being used within an educational context. OER are resources which are often available online, can be remixed and repurposed, are available in the public domain and are usually openly licensed. The Hewlett Foundation describes OER as:

OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. Open Educational Resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge. (Source)

Activity 1: Openness (10 minutes)

Openness is not just applicable to research. You can practice openness in lots of different contexts. As you can imagine there are lots of different ways to define openness. Take a moment to think about what you think ‘openness’ means.

If you are interested in finding our more about debates around the meaning of openness, check out another School of Open course Why Open?

Rows of red covered books with "Open Educational Resources" written on them
Is Licensing really the most important question for OER?” (CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic, opensource.com)


There was a wide range of responses from course participants which reflected a range of interconnected ideas about the meaning of “open.”  In summary:

  • Sharing was highlighted as an important aspect of openness and can be linked to the idea of openness as a practice.  Releasing your material into the open, making it available for comment and reuse and letting people know how you would like it to be used and attributed (e.g. through open licensing)  were all highlighted as important aspects of this
  • Openness was associated with increased visibility and usability through there being “no barriers” to reuse and minimal or no technical barriers
  • There was some discussion around whether releasing material in the open entailed loss of ownership of that resource. A distinction between “authorship” and “ownership” was noted to highlight that open licensing requires you to attribute the creator of a resource, for example
  • Transparency and honesty. By sharing resources and material in the open you are enabling others to comment on your material and inviting feedback
  • Openness was also highlighted as a potential “social justice enabler” by removing the cost to access resources, for example
  • Openness was associated with a loss of control as the impact and reuse of materials cannot be controlled. However this was also viewed as exciting as it could lead to serendipitous outcomes and exchanges
  • Other types of open were also highlighted in discussion, e.g. open access or open licensing

Selected participant contributions which explore one or more of these ideas:

Openness, In the first instance, for me, is about ‘being open‘; that is, being open as opposed to simply making open resources …openness requires the ability to be vulnerable, indeed super-vulnerable; either learning or making, it is after all in the open. Cameron Neylon makes this point that it’s also about humility, in that the author of open resources, despite being supremely knowledgeable about their work or resource, can’t predict the use and application to which your work might be put (for better or worse)”

For me, openness means an honesty about the messiness of research and transparency in methods and process that helps both the researcher and the audience. It helps the researcher by allowing others to comment and get involved in the research earlier if they spot flaws in the methodology or process, and the audience by showing (especially junior or first-time researchers) that research is rarely a clean progression from simply-defined goals to a final research output, and instead involves reworking and change as certain aspects of the originally-scoped research may become untenable or new areas prove to be more interesting or researchable”

For me openness is a way if thinking and a way of being in one’s professional capacity. It has both ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ aspects – ‘negative’ in that it is about removing barriers to knowledge or resources e.g. removing paywalls thus giving access to research, knowledge, data, or ideas, while the ‘positive’ is that openness is an enabler and actively giving permission to be able to use, revise and repurpose through say CC licences – which is then remixed and reshared thus perpetuating a constant state of openness.”

 1.2 What is open research? 

Activity 2: Thinking about open research (15 minutes)

Let’s focus on the idea of openness in research. How is open research different from other kinds of research? What characteristics does it have? What tools and methods does it adopt? Explore the School of Open site, look at some of the resources below or think about your own experiences. When you are ready, develop a brief definition of open research.

We’ll be exploring openness in research in more detail as the course progresses, so don’t spend too long creating a definition, the aim is to just to get you considering open research.


Additional Questions to Consider

How do you think openness might change the way in which you research? Think about the kind of research interests you have and the research you conduct. When could open research be important in this context?


Openness in the research process can occur at any point and is often ongoing through the duration. Some thoughts and ideas about open research:

  • Open research is the sharing not just of outputs at the end of a project, but also throughout the duration of a piece of research. It can include the sharing of methodologies, data and other tools
  • By publishing methods, findings and other aspects of your research as you go along, there is the opportunity for others to comment, advise and engage with your research as you go along, and not just at the point of publication.  Open research could therefore be described as enabling collaboration
  • There is an ethical obligation to conduct open research, especially in instances where research has been publicly funded

There’s another aspect to Open Research, and that is the sharing of interim outputs in the case of long-term projects. Especially for those that deal with large amounts of statistical data and occur over several years, it’s possible to provide greater value to the public by releasing interim stats, figures of findings before the project has come to an end. This of course raises the importance of adequate and understandable metadata so that end-users of the research know exactly what time-periods those statistics refer to”

1.3 What does open research mean to others? 

Activity 3: What open research means to others (30 minutes)

Explore the three sets of short video clips below. Write down your thoughts and responses to the following questions:

  1. What do you think the key points are?
  2. Where do you think openness made a difference to the research process?
  3. Which examples (if any) seem most compelling to you? Why?


You can read more about the contributors and their work by clicking on their name.

These videos are subtitled and you can also download a transcript of all the videos in this section or find the transcriptions in the Appendix. 

Do you see a difference between open research and traditional research?

Chris Pegler

Patrick McAndrew

Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams

Martin Weller

Where do you think open has made a difference to your own research practice?

Patrick McAndrew

Chris Pegler

Martin Weller

In your experience, are there any disadvantages to embracing a more open approach to research?

Martin Weller


As you’ve moved through this section of the course, you’ve probably become aware that increasing transparency, sharing and collaboration (some of the key aspects of open practice) can impact on every stage of the research process.  Let’s take a look at participant responses to get a flavour of people’s thoughts on the academics and researchers interviewed:

The most compelling examples to me were from Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams and Martin Weller, about what ‘opening up the research process’ really means – it means having your proposal, your literature review, your conceptual frameworks and why you chose them, your methodologies, your research instruments and your data all fully (or partially?) available. Is this a bit risky / too time consuming for a newbie researcher or a perfectly achievable PhD goal, with the right planning? These are the thoughts that occupy me at this stage, learning from everyone else :-)”

… The ability to have feedback early on can really strengthen your research because you get the chance to see whether or not your research stands up to criticism early rather than later. If your statistical analysis methods aren’t good, someone may notice and tell you about it before you’ve sent it for publishing. Each person has biases and blind spots, and the ability to open the research allows others to point those out before you go down the wrong road.An additional point: open research has the ability to greatly transform what would be considered “negative” research: research where you don’t get the intended result or you get a bad result (for example, pharmaceutical tests). Without the requirement of publication in a journal, you can access what didn’t work.”

The importance of research ethics and the doubts about whether there is a danger of being plagiarised appears to be the main concern. At the same time, there are definite and measurable advantages to researching in the open. Mainly I picked up on three advantages: first the peer review that is ongoing during the research; second the additions to the project from other interested parties, notably the addition of unrecognised benefits to a project ; and finally the time saving ultimately due to the development of much larger networks that is not possible otherwise. It is important to note that open research does not preclude publishing if that is the final objective of the research project. The advantages of open research seem to outweigh the disadvantages.”

…Open research enables small-scale research, often with novice researchers, to happen more easily.” To find out more about Guerrilla Research (Weller, 2013) see: http://bit.ly/2eeVycK

1.4 Setting up a Research Project

Now that we’ve talked a bit about what open research means, let’s delve a little deeper and look at the research process itself. Here’s a list (by no means exhaustive!) of different things you need to consider when you’re setting up a research project:

Planning / Methodologies / Licensing / Ethics / Tools / Data / Evaluation / Dissemination & Communication

Activity 4: Advantages and Challenges of Open Research (20 minutes)

For each of the different activities/considerations you need to think about when conducting research, in what ways (if any) do you think you can be ‘open’?

For example, what will happen to the data you collect as part of your research? Will you release the data with any research papers you write? Or will you make the data available once it’s been collected and analysed?

Choose two stages in the research process and answer the following questions in relation to your chosen activity/consideration:

  • Do you think you can be ‘open’ at this stage in the research process?
  • In what ways do you think you can be ‘open’?
  • What are the advantages of being ‘open’ at this stage in the research process?
  • What are the challenges of being ‘open’ at this stage in the research process?
  • How could you resolve any challenges?
  • Any further thoughts/comments?

You can also review some of the responses to this activity from previous participants.

Graffiti with words "open" in different colours and "common good" in orange
“Common Good” on Graffiti Wall at OKFest14, Berlin (CC BY 4.0 International, Beck Pitt)

1.5 Why conduct research in the open?

Now that we’ve explored how openness might impact on different research processes and practices, let’s explore why you might consider incorporating open practices into your research. For example, if you publically report on the progress of your research and your findings as the work progresses, your research might be exposed to a wider audience than if you waited to publish a final paper after you had finished your research project. Your work could also receive useful feedback and comments from others that help you develop your ideas and research plan.

You might decide that you want to release your findings more formally, e.g. write a journal article. PhD Comics has produced a video (8-9 minutes) called “Open Access Explained!” which gives useful background information and explanation of why open matters even more than before (Clue: the Internet and the massive increase in the cost of research publications). The video is available here.

As EIFL, who work with librarians in the developing world to promote digital literacy and who have a sub-project that promotes open access, succinctly describes it:

For researchers, open access brings increased visibility, usage and impact for their work. A number of studies have now been carried out on the effect of open access on citations to articles, showing the increased citation impact that open access can bring. Open access repositories also provide an excellent means for researchers to boost their online presence and raise their profile. (Source)

EIFL have a full list of FAQ relating to open access available here.

Sharing and moving toward a more open model of research potentially has benefits for everyone. Open Economics have produced an article “The Benefits of Open Data…” which has wonderful examples of the way in which openness helps those in developing countries. In another article, which focuses on research in economics, Guo Xu presents “hard evidence” of the ways in which open research practices have helped those in developing countries, particularly in relation “…to reducing corruption and lowering the cost of information.”

Further Reading


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