Facilitating and Communicating Open Research

Forging Collaboration in Large Transdisciplinary Team

Four components are designed to facilitate, communicate, and credit collaboration (1) privately within and among multiple teams, assuming a shared discussion platform such as Google Docs, and (2) openly to the public as snapshots of early work and ideas:

  • Tracking tools such as the Research Output Management System (ROMS) to identify, curate and tag incremental and null results (described here)
  • Editorial facilitator (PhD-level subject expert) as team member to curate outputs, lead discussions and communicate findings (see Nature article)
  • Ongoing discussion among team members on shared platform (e.g., Google Docs) about their latest findings, contextualized in accordance with the field’s latest published evidence
  • Continually updated “Open Narrative” providing ongoing snapshots of the team’s early findings in preprint or other repository for open access and feedback from external peers

These are depicted in the following workflow:

Unified Vision for Open Collaborative Research

Editorial Facilitator

The traditional means of sharing project status, outputs and new ideas in large transdisciplinary projects — i.e., intra/inter-team meetings and messaging — are generally perceived as sticks rather than carrots to busy investigators. Because the ultimate “carrots” to researchers involve publication, and because of the inherent value of sharing early content with the widest possible audience, Editorial Facilitation offers the means to fulfill both exigencies.

The Editorial Facilitator is foundational in forging collaboration and establishing credits for all contributors. The EF is a peer of the project researchers, bringing both subject and editorial expertise to the project, akin to journal editors in today’s publishing environment and benefitting team members. Key tasks (see sample job description):

1. Keep abreast of teams’ methods and findings, aided by the ROMS, and ensure they are posted in open repositories (see Figure 2, Promote three pillars of sound science: replication, peer review, and data reuse

The time and energy required to prepare datasets, methods, and other incremental results are reasons that early findings rarely reach preprint repositories; EFs can help to remove this burden from the researchers.

2. Document the project’s incremental findings, contextualized by the latest information in journals, preprint repositories, and conferences. Organize “organic peer review” with subsets of team members on a shared workspace that permits commenting and tracking revisions (e.g., Google docs).

Collaborative Workspace

3. Generate and maintain a continually updated Open Narrative, i.e., a preprint with snapshots of the evolving workspace document, with links to data, code, and protocols. Encourage reviews and reuse from the wider community, and deliver useful feedback to team members for further discussion and revisioning.

The Open Narrative Credits All Contributors

The working version of the Narrative serves as a “conference venue” on the closed platform, where team investigators come together to discuss their findings as they support or challenge the latest published evidence. The document also serves as a catalyst and instrument for team members to cite their emerging null and incremental results for open review.

Authorship of the Open Narrative, which reaches the wider community as a snapshot of the initiative’s progress, is credited to the entire project cohort and the EF, conferring “publication” credentials and notations that substantiate each team member’s contribution. Citations of individuals’ and teams’ results and protocols serve as additional credit. Updates to the Narrative are posted periodically based on new team findings, revisions, and discussions, as well as the wider community’s broader perspectives and feedback.

Thus, the Open Narrative is an organizing force in the community whereby collaborators have a stake in the accuracy and interpretation of all project results, and receive credit for communicating their work. In this scenario review, replication, and revision are crucial and routine operations. This collaborative approach will convey an even broader benefit to the community at large, by offering, upon publication, innovative, well documented, timely and reproducible findings.

Open Narrative