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Open research communities of practice

Four hands of different skin tones on a wooden surface

Perhaps the trickiest part of engaging with open research is knowing where to start. There are a lot of different ways to engage with open research. Some practices are suited to specific disciplines and won’t be of use to all. As such it can be useful for researchers to share practice with other people working in their field and to pool knowledge to overcome problems. Early Career Researchers often rely on more experienced colleagues to help them find pathways to new skills. This aligns with the goals of open research that knowledge should be shared widely to speed up the generation of knowledge to maximum benefit.

One of the most effective ways to share information about new open research practices could be via a community of practice . Communities of practice are employed in many different sectors. While communities of practice can be established in many ways, the most successful tend to be those that are driven by needs amongst the community, rather than being imposed from above, although it is useful to have infrastructure in place that enables the community of practice to come together. Some key steps to setting up a community of practice include:

1.)    Define your goals – This can be time-limited or open-ended. It might be about skills needed for a particular research project or identifying skills gaps to be addressed.

2.)    Set up terms of reference and rules of conduct – Related to the goals, who should be able to join the community? Do you need to observe standards of behaviour? How often will you meet and how will you communicate?

3.)    Make a space to meet in – Do you want to meet in person, online or a mixture of both? Make sure that your community feels safe, and gives anyone who might be interested the means to take part. Also consider where you will store resources, and who will administrate the space.

4.)    Curate the knowledge you create – Make sure that people can access the information you come up with for as long as you need them to. Do you need to keep any of the information private or can it be shared more widely? Should you licence the work for reuse as open educational resources (OERs)?

Communities of practice don’t need to last forever, once the goals of the community are achieved, it may choose to disband. It may also discover that there are new goals to focus on. Some goals may be more open-ended and it is the people taking part that change as they gather the skills needed to meet their goals.

An example of a successful community of practice with an open research connection is UKRN. While a national initiative on research integrity, particularly in psychology and associated fields, it works by building local networks that promote practices, including open research practices that support research integrity, in institutions. The local network lead for UKRN is Ian Lahart.  Another community of practice is Riot Science Club, again a national movement with local communities, including one here at the university, that shares practice through webinars and videos.

Other communities of practice around research at the university include the community for Post Graduate Researchers set up by the Doctoral College, which regularly meets to share experience of undertaking research degrees. There are also many communities of practice at other organisations, so it may be possible to ask colleagues in the same field their top tips for getting started.

At the University of Wolverhampton, we have an open research group that anyone can join to discuss open research. If you’d like to join, contact for more information. If you’re setting up or have set up a community of practice that deals with open research issues, let us know, we’d  love to hear about it and provide support where we can.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash, Shared under License | Unsplash

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