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Breaking Boundaries: Supporting the future of open science and data

5 February 2021

3 minutes to read

Breaking Boundaries: Supporting the future of open science and data

Researchers at the University of Exeter have helped pave the way for more open and transparent access to scientific research.

Credit: Gabe Simon / SOULGROWL

For many years, scientific research has been hidden behind expensive paywalls, leaving access to new and exciting scientific research inaccessible to the general public. ‘Open science’ is research that is collaborative, transparent and reproducible and whose outputs are publicly available.

Since 2006, Professor Sabina Leonelli became one of the first researchers to document the effect of the digitalisation of research and the introduction of ‘big data’ on scientific knowledge development, research infrastructures and skills, and the organisation of funding. She also expressed the need to integrate philosophical, sociological and historical research to study the role and impact of large and complex data on research.

This research was extended through a five-year project funded by the European Research Council in 2013. The team explored the assumptions behind the choice and use of theories, models and methods in data-centric biology and biomedicine. It also looked at the collective modes of enquiry in these fields, including the crucial role played by data infrastructures and their developers.

The research team at the university identified conditions to store, circulate and re-use research data effectively to support artificial intelligence. Bad data management can undermine the production of knowledge and the team examined examples of good practice to point towards practical solutions. They also documented how researchers perceive and manage open science in their everyday practice, and how this may affect innovation in both the public and the private sector.

Leonelli presented work on open science at academic and policy events with the following advice:

  • It is an opportunity for stakeholders in research to rethink how science is conducted, aims and effects, and most importantly how results are disseminated.
  • It has major effects on research and requires cultural change within all institutions and stakeholders in academia.
  • Rewards are key to change and without it, open science will not be successful
  • One size doesn’t fit all – Implementation is expensive and requires labour-intensive infrastructure, particularly catering for diverse requirements of disciplines and research systems around the world
  • It requires both technical and human skills and labour – in turn involving all the following components: interoperable systems such as the European Open Science Cloud; new skills in data curation; and governance changes in rewards and incentives.

Supporting the future of open science and data will help advance the wide-ranging benefits it brings to researchers, organisations, decision makers and the general public, both nationally and internationally. It will bring better quality, more efficient research whilst also providing more economic benefits and better decision-making processes.

The research at the University of Exeter has underpinned advice on how to structure open science and support its implementation. It has informed debates around policy and communicating with the public. The work has also supported national adoption of open science in the UK and shaped European Union policy on open data.


Breaking boundaries provides a bitesize look into the variety of leading research that has, and still is changing the world from the University of Exeter.

For more information please contact:

Professor Sabina Leonelli talking about using and reusing big data at a public lecture organised by the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge.


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