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Open science practices in different disciplines (3) - An interview with Prof Robert Lensink and Dr Marijke Leliveld, Faculty of Economics and Business

Date:31 March 2022
Author:Vera Heininga & Marjan van Ittersum
©UG, photo: Merel Weijer
©UG, photo: Merel Weijer

The University of Groningen (UG) sees the development of open science as one of its priorities for the next 5 years. In this series of interviews, we explore the status of open science at the different UG faculties. This time: the Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB).

Robert Lensink (RL) is Professor of Economics, Econometrics & Finance, Vice Dean Research and Director of the research institute SOM of the Faculty of Economics and Business. His research revolves around finance, development and transition economy in third world countries and women studies.

Marijke Leliveld (ML) is Associate Professor at the Department of Marketing at the Faculty of Economics and Business, and one of the faculty’s Open Science Ambassadors. Her research focuses on consumer ethics, and behavioural decision-making. 

Why is open science important in Economics and Business?

RL: Open science improves the integrity and efficiency of research, it allows verification, reproduction and reuse of research and data which is relevant for research done in Economics and Business. In our field we conduct a lot of empirical research with big datasets which need to be available for researchers to work with. Working according to the open science principles makes research verifiable, transparent and accessible.

ML: Besides research with big datasets, we also do research using experimental design. In the past, experimental research has not always been reproducible and researchers struggled with this. Transparency is one of the reasons why open science is so important. Moreover, when research and data are easily accessible, they can provide input for your own research and this accelerates scientific knowledge in general. We saw this happen with research revolving around Covid-19. Ever since the Open Science movement started, I thus have been interested in this and I include the practices as much as possible in my own research. My role as open science ambassador allows me to reach out to others who would like to give it a try as well.

What is the current state of affairs in terms of open science at the Faculty of Economics and Business?

RL: In our faculty strategic plan (2021-2026), open science is listed as a focal point. We implement open science principles by e.g., encouraging researchers to publish open access, and with success. The number of open access publications of our faculty have increased to 55% open access publication total in 2020, see here for more detailed information.

Next to that, quite a few researchers in our faculty work with big datasets that are made FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable). These datasets are also used for educational purposes. The Groningen Growth and Development Centre is world-renowned for its unique information on comparative trends in the world economy in the form of easily accessible datasets, along with comprehensive documentation and is a textbook example of open science.

We also conduct research in the field of healthcare (e.g. through the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health). The platform Population Health Data NL makes data in the field of healthcare widely accessible. FEB professor Jochen Mierau, scientific director of the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health, is one of the initiators of this platform.

ML: Within FEB we work with research data management plans (RDMPs) and a tool to register and review plans. We have an Institutional Review Board (IRB, comparable to an ethical committee). The IRB for instance reviews research proposals where human subjects are involved. These are great mechanisms to have in place as the open science movement progresses. It is not always easy for researchers to comply with regulations like the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), so these support systems help to move toward open science.

Which objectives do you want to achieve in the upcoming two years with regards to the implementation of open science?

RL: One of the most important goals is to clarify how to deal with open data, and proper data management. How can we make our datasets usable for others, without compromising the agreements we have with our stakeholders and funders for example on the confidentiality of data, or competition consideration when data is made available through businesses.

Besides that, we would like to continue to stimulate open access publishing. Publishing in top journals is still our goal, yet these do not always offer OA publishing options. When we aim for a top journal which does not offer OA options, I may not recommend looking for a lower-ranked open access journal. We would like to have more top journals included in the OA deals that the VSNU makes with publishers, but that lies beyond the control of the faculty.

ML: In addition, I also encourage our researchers to get better acquainted with the available support around using RDMPs, OA publishing or dealing with privacy issues when moving to open science. Juniors and seniors alike are willing to comply, but are not always fully aware of all the help they can get within the university. We would like to intensify collaboration with UG support initiatives to lower the hurdle even more.

What obstacles and challenges do you observe in achieving the objectives discussed in the previous question, and how will you overcome them?

ML: Within our field a lot of research is done with data obtained from companies and institutions. In terms of open science, we deal with a few bottlenecks, such as privacy issues and pseudo-anonymisation.

RL: Yes, a problem is that, for privacy issues, sometimes data cannot be shared with others. In order to safely share and analyse data with collaborators we can use the virtual research workspace, but that is not working optimally yet.

ML: With regard to OA publishing, deals with publishers are usually of national character. A lot of our researchers work together with international researchers and international universities that do not have the same deals with publishers as we have in the Netherlands. Depending on who is the primary investigator (PI) or corresponding author, this can make it difficult to use these deals. 

RL: Our policy is as follows: we pay the Article Processing Charge (APC) for fully open access  journals. If there are co-authors from abroad, each co-authors pays his/her part. 

ML: An example here is my paper in Science Advances. This is Open Access only, but the journal is not part of a deal. Our research institute SOM picked up the costs to make it possible.

FEB has a committee on recognition and rewards. How do you want to change recognition and rewards with regards to open science practices at FEB?

RL: In May 2021 a committee was installed at FEB to investigate whether and if so how, we need to change our system of rewarding research, in view of recent national and international discussions on modern assessment criteria. The committee specifically aims to develop criteria regarding rewarding societal relevance. At the moment we still recognize and reward researchers based on journal-based metrics (e.g. impact factors, etc.), among other things, such as book chapters and PhD supervision.

Within FEB we would like to move to an R&R-system focusing more on societal impact. This idea is still very much being developed, we are now at the stage where we created a framework in which we can include societal impact in R&R. I can see that OA of the related research outputs and data will become part of this framework. Our Dean is part of the UG-wide R&R committee. We also, of course, keep an eye on the developments there.

ML: Societal impact is broad. Sharing knowledge with the world. Through OA of course, but also for instance through presentations at schools and other ways of translating science to the broader public. These types of activities have been included in the last update of our tenure track document. A big challenge though is that because we are very much internationally-oriented when it comes to research, focusing exclusively on OS practices for rewards and recognition purposes also risks becoming less competitive in the short run. But you see similar discussions in other countries, so I am positive about the future.

FEB recently launched the educational track, moving towards diversification in academic career paths, in this track with a focus on teaching. How is open science included in the development of the educational track at FEB? For example, open education or FAIR data management.

RL: We are still shaping the educational track. We will include teachers and professionals that will start in the educational track into this discussion (the first vacancy has recently been posted). The discussion may include themes like the benefits of including open education (OE) and open educational resources (OER) in the educational track. Or how do we deal with business cases that we want to include in education (with respect to e.g. privacy issues) etc.

ML: The educational track mainly focuses on the recognition of education (instead of research as it is in the research-focused tenure track). As Robert mentions, it is still being discussed what part open science will or can play here. Another example (besides OE and OER) is whether we want Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to be part of a teacher portfolio. What is the added value and how to best incorporate them? It might also be relevant to include open science and open education or open educational resources in our Senior Teaching Qualifications (STQ) programme. But this is still very much a discussion point, not only at FEB but also on (inter)national level.

About the author

Vera Heininga & Marjan van Ittersum

Vera Heininga is Open Science programme leader of the UG/UMCG and postdoctoral researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre Psychopathology and Emotion regulation (ICPE) of the UMCG.

Marjan van Ittersum is assistant programme leader of the Open Science Programme of the UG/UMCG.