In any social science or policy research project, a lot of data is collected and produced by researchers and their team to include publications, databases, workflows, slides, metadata, logs, interview transcriptions, legislation, among others. These are research objects that will be analysed and findings and reports will be substantiated. However, most of the thesis will never be published or shared with anyone outside the research team.
To use a metaphor, if all these objects formed a research map, what researchers make public is just a path through the map – a paper, a presentation, a talk – but never the entire map. Readers cannot navigate the map on their own and are forced to follow linear paths set by the researcher.
In Onda, we believe that sharing the complete research map (or a great part of it) can bring different benefits not only for researchers but for the whole society. Why? Because by doing this it has the potential to increase the impact of research projects by:
- Giving more transparency and allowing better replicability: when readers have easy access to objects upon which a research analysis was based (the “raw” data), they can better evaluate the reliability of the information, assess if the analysis and findings are accurate, replicate results and even contact authors for suggestions, corrections and improvements for future versions.
- Broadening a potential audience: many times, one is looking for information about a given topic (the history of a policy, for instance) and finds a paper about it, but with a different approach (a study of its effectiveness). However, in that paper, one sees a superficial (secondary/background) chapter about its history, even citing an interview made or a document collected but not available on the Internet. In that case, if one had access to the research map, one could obtain the relevant (secondary) objects, re-focus on it and still give credit to the author/s by citing the research project from where the data was obtained.
- Saving time and resources from others: in many projects, collecting and preparing data is the most time and resource consuming step: compiling or transcribing quantitative data from different sources can take much longer than running a regression and analysing its results; conducting an interview with a key-actor usually implies, in travelling and opportunity, costs that some can’t afford. By sharing the map with others, one can reduce costs and save other’s time by allowing them to re-use and recycle one’s previous efforts.
In Onda, we have been experimenting with different ways of opening up the research map for others: from sharing the research main folder with others using Dropbox or Google Drive to creating multimedia and interactive reports using software like Scalar. All attempts are analysed and obstacles faced, skills required and desirable incentives are identified and shared.
So far we have identified three missing elements that would have potential to change the situation:
- Missing incentives: stakeholders who could more easily inspire this change – journals and funders – hardly ever require researchers to share their research objects (especially in the qualitative sciences).
- Missing tools: although there are a growing number of online data repositories (theoretically the place to share the data), they are nothing more than a storage space and do not allow easy and linked access to data by users.
- Missing community: currently, there are very few people working on this issue and there is no community using and adapting existing tools, sharing their lessons and knowledge on how to share data (like in an open-source software movement).
To sum up, if we are to see more research maps available online, we need to start conducting experiments and prove to others the benefits of sharing. Nothing better than the power of example to inspire change, start out a movement and a community with enough power to influence the right stakeholders and change the status quo. Let’s be the change we want to see in the world; in Onda, we have already taken our initial step. Check out our latest project and send us your feedback.