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How can we increase adoption of open research practices?

This blog was written by Iain Hrynaszkiewicz, Director of Open Research Solutions for PLOS.

Researchers are satisfied with their ability to share their own research data but may struggle with accessing other researchers’ data – according to PLOS research released as a preprint this week. Therefore, to increase data sharing in a findable and accessible way, PLOS will focus on better integrating existing data repositories and promoting their benefits rather than creating new solutions. We also call on the scholarly publishing industry to improve journal data sharing policies to better support researchers’ needs.

PLOS has long supported Open Science with our data sharing policy. Our authors are far more likely to provide information about publicly available data compared to journals with less stringent policies. But best practice for data sharing – use of data repositories – is observed in less than 30% of PLOS publications. To help us understand if there are opportunities for new solutions to help improve adoption of best practice, we built on previous research into the frequency of problems associated with sharing research data. We investigated the importance researchers attach to different tasks associated with data sharing, and researchers’ satisfaction with their ability to complete these tasks.

Through a survey conducted in 2020, which received 728 completed responses, we found that tasks relating to research impact, funder policy compliance, and credit had the highest importance scores. Tasks associated with funder, journal, and institutional policy compliance – including preparation of Data Management Plans (DMPs) – received high satisfaction scores from researchers, on average.

52% of respondents reuse research data but the average satisfaction score for obtaining data for reuse – such as accessing data from journal articles or making requests for data from other individuals – was relatively low. Tasks associated with sharing data were rated somewhat important and respondents were reasonably well satisfied with their ability to accomplish them.

Figure: When we plot mean importance and satisfaction score, respondents were on average satisfied with their ability to complete the majority of tasks associated with Data Preparation, Data Publishing and Reuse of their own data but dissatisfied with their ability to complete tasks associated with Reuse of other researchers’ data. Tasks associated with meeting policy requirements are both important and well satisfied.

What are the implications?

We presume that researchers are unlikely to seek new solutions to a problem or task that they are satisfied in their ability to accomplish. This implies there are few opportunities for new solutions to meet researcher needs for data sharing – at least in our cohort, which consisted mostly of PLOS authors. PLOS – and other publishers – can likely meet these needs for data sharing by working to seamlessly integrate existing solutions that reduce the effort involved in some tasks, and focusing on advocacy and education around the benefits of sharing data in a Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR) manner. 

The challenges that researchers have reusing data could be addressed in part by strengthening journal data sharing policies – such as only permitting “data available on request” when there are legal or ethical restrictions on sharing, and improving the links between articles and supporting datasets. Generic “data available on request” statements in publications, which are not permitted under PLOS’s policies, usually mean data will not be available.

While our research revealed a “negative result” with respect to new solution opportunities, the results are informative for how PLOS can best meet known researcher needs. This includes more closely partnering with established data repositories and improving the linking of research data and publications. These are important parts of our plans to support adoption of Open Science in 2021 and beyond.

Read the preprint here and access the survey dataset and survey instrument here.

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