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Open Science Case Studies 4 UCL

Case studies showing how open science can support career development and progression.


The purpose of this collection of Case Studies is:

  • To inform an individual’s adoption of/practice in Open Science activities.
  • Support appointment/promotion/appraisal applications by demonstrating an individual’s institutional citizenship through sharing their work openly, thus supporting faster global discovery of new ideas/developments in their chosen field of study.
  • Through short Case Studies, to illustrate how (once adopted) Open Science principles and practices can support career development and progression.
Reward for Open Science Practices

In an Open Science environment, both teachers and researchers can expect to be rewarded for adopting Open Science practices. These can be any of the following:

  • Publishing outputs as Open Access outputs
  • Sharing research data which is used as the building block of academic books and papers
  • Creating open source software which is then available for others to re-use and develop
  • Adopting practices allied to Reproducibility and Research Integrity
  • The responsible use of Bibliometrics
  • Public Engagement: Citizen Science and Co-Production as mechanisms to deliver results

The full range of Open Science activities can be portrayed as:

  • Future of Scholarly Communication deals with publishing books and papers in Open Access.
  • EOSC and FAIR data refer to research data – their condition of being FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Re-usable) and made available to other systems for more general use. EOSC (European Open Science Cloud) is one such pan-European platform.
  • Skills refers to relevant training undertaken to acquire the requisite knowledge and skills to adopt open practices. Education here refers to the educational outputs of Open Science activity, such as textbooks.
  • Research Integrity refers to underlying themes in research culture such as Transparency and Reproducibility.
  • Rewards, the subject of this chapter, refers to the recognition an individual may receive for adopting Open practices.
  • Next Generation Metrics refers to new forms of evaluation, which are not solely based on numerical surrogates for quality and, in particular in STEM subjects, no longer use Journal Impact Factors.
  • Citizen science and co-production are two public engagement methodologies. Both are forms of participatory research.

For more information on any of these topics, please consult the UCL Open Science Office’s overview of Open Science.


When UCL academics and researchers use Open Science practices, it is only fair that they should be rewarded for their efforts. This principle is laid down in the UCL Academic Careers Framework.  

This document provides an overarching vision for embedding Open Science practice in UCL. It refers to publications and lays down that for every UCL academic, from Grade 7 to Grade 10, it is expected that their published outputs should be available in Open Access. The purpose of Open Science Case Studies4UCL is to extend that principle to all 8 areas of Open Science.

This can be done in a number of ways:

  • When applying for a post in UCL.
  • In the annual evaluation exercise which all academics and Professional Service staff undergo.
  • When applying for promotion within UCL.

In such processes, what is required is a concise statement of an individual’s adoption of Open Science practice. Open Science does not just embrace STEM disciplines. It uses the word ‘Science’ in the European sense of the Latin word scientia, meaning knowledge or understanding. It thus embraces all academic disciplines.
The inserted statements in applications or appraisal documents can cover any of the following:

  • The number of publications made available as open access outputs.
  • Where research data or raw materials (such as photographs, archival materials) have been made freely available to support published findings.
  • Training courses in Open Science attended; educational outputs such as learning resources that are made available in Open Access.
  • Adoption of sound research techniques, which allow the final results to be interrogated and, where necessary, reproduced to verify findings.
  • Use of qualitative as well as quantitative metrics, such as field-weighted citations, to demonstrate impact.
  • The adoption of collaborative research activity which is based on public engagement/co-production, which engages with lay citizens to achieve results.

Open Science is a new emphasis in UCL’s emerging research culture. All those who adopt Open Science practices are entitled to be rewarded by recognition for doing so. Expressions of Open Science activity should be clearly and concisely made in all relevant applications and requests for reward. They form an important evidence base on which decisions can then be made.

Key message

Activity following Open Science & Scholarship principles deserves to be rewarded.

Case Study: Open Access Publishing

Open access means making research publications freely available online. It ensures that UCL research reaches the widest possible audience, and that it can be used, shared and built upon easily.

Open access makes scholarly material openly available online without restriction to all readers, free from the barriers imposed by subscription access. Open access is now required by many research funders and for the post-2021 REF. UCL's Open Access Team supports authors with achieving open access for their research publications.

There are two routes to open access: Green and Gold. Green open access (or self-archiving) means making research freely available through an open access repository such as UCL Discovery, usually after an embargo (6-24 months). Most traditional subscription journals permit Green open access, at no cost to the author.

Gold open access means making research freely available and reusable on the journal’s website, immediately on publication. This means either publishing with a fully open access publisher (e.g. PLOS, UCL Press), usually for a fee, or paying to make research open access with a subscription journal/traditional book publisher. UCL provides funds for Gold open access through transformative agreements with publishers, as well as funding Gold open access for monographs and research articles in fully open access journals.

At UCL, doctoral and research master’s students are also required to submit their theses in electronic form to the Library, and encouraged to make them open access where possible.

There are numerous benefits, in all disciplines, from making research open access. Aside from fulfilling institutional and funder mandates, the open availability of research outputs results in more exposure, which is borne out in higher views, downloads and citations of open access material. The fact that the research is not limited to those with subscription access only means that a more diverse readership beyond academia can result, including practitioners, policymakers, researchers and others from the Global South, and the public in general. Open access is also a key component of the wider Open Science movement.

Case study #1: Public accessibility of research on COVID vaccines via Gold open access

UCL is London’s research powerhouse, with a commitment to enhancing the lives of people in the capital, the UK and around the world. UCL academics and students conduct research into many areas of profound public interest and importance, none more so in recent years than the COVID pandemic. The demand for safe, effective vaccines to be produced at unprecedented speed required supporting research to be carried out in order to limit the casualties of the disease and ensure public confidence in the remedies. One of UCL’s most high-impact (according to Altmetric, with a score of 13267 placing it in the top 5% of all outputs) pieces of research on this is the article “Safety and efficacy of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine (AZD1222) against SARS-CoV-2: an interim analysis of four randomised controlled trials in Brazil, South Africa, and the UK” in The Lancet, with several UCL co-authors, which was published with Gold open access and therefore accessible to everyone, from health authorities devising plans for vaccinations, to ordinary people receiving them.

Case study #2: Public accessibility of research on the Russia-Ukraine conflict via Green open access

Moving away from medicine and public health, one of the most significant world events in recent years has been the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and the broader relations between the two countries; a topic of keen global interest which UCL researchers have also been investigating. An example of a research output on the subject which has been made open access via the Green route is a 2022 thesis by Dr Jakob Hauter in UCL Discovery titled “A digital open source investigation of how war begins: Ukraine’s Donbas in 2014”. The download figures in the UCL Discovery record indicate a high level of interest, and the country-specific information furthermore confirms that downloads have been made by both the nations in question, illustrating the geographical reach of making research open access. Evidence of interest in an openly-accessible thesis can also be beneficial for an early-career researcher seeking to establish their career.

UCL researchers should consider their institutional and funder requirements, and the wider benefits of making their work open access, during all stages of publication. UCL has a dedicated team to support and provide advice on all aspects of open access publishing. The Green route to open access is fulfilled by uploading research outputs in RPS. The Open Access Team checks all uploads and apply the necessary conditions before making them publicly available in UCL Discovery; moreover, the team can also offer advice on whether Gold funds are available for publications, and arrange for payment to be made.

Key message

Open access means making research publications freely available online. It ensures that UCL research reaches the widest possible audience, and that it can be used, shared and built upon easily.

Case study: UCL Press outputs

This case study focuses on UCL Press’s open access publishing, which offers high-quality, peer reviewed OA monograph and journal publishing that is disseminated globally. UCL academics who publish monographs or journal articles with UCL Press demonstrate institutional citizenship by sharing their work openly, thus supporting faster global discovery of new ideas/developments in their chosen field. UCL Press has grown quickly since it launched in 2015, and it now publishes 60 scholarly monographs each year, and has a portfolio of 15 OA journals. For UCL academics, there is no cost to publish with UCL Press and this reflects the university’s commitment to supporting open access publishing opportunities for its academic staff, in order to comply with mandates, meet the institution’s Open Science ambitions, and deliver global impact and visibility.

UCL Press has robust governance, quality assurance, peer review and editorial processes in place. The work of the Press is overseen by the UCL Press and Publications Board, as well as by dedicated boards for monographs, textbooks and journals. All works published by UCL Press are peer reviewed by at least two independent expert reviewers prior to acceptance for publication, and agreement to publish monographs and textbooks is approved by the relevant board. All UCL Press journals have a UCL Editor-in-Chief to oversee the journal’s activities. UCL Press also offers a full editorial and marketing service to authors for all its publications. This makes UCL Press a strong choice for authors considering open access publishing venues for their work.

Case Study

UCL Press has achieved well over 8 million downloads of its outputs globally, and its books are widely reviewed and featured in both national and specialist media outlets around the world. Download data for all the books the Press has published can be found on the statistics dashboard on the UCL Press website, so colleagues can readily see the global readership that can be achieved when a book is made available open access. Publishing with UCL Press therefore not only offers authors a high-quality publishing service with global visibility, but also shows a commitment to Open Science practices and demonstrates an author’s institutional citizenship by openly sharing their work, which is recognised at UCL as part of the appraisal and promotion system.

Another clear measure of the way in which UCL Press supports UCL academics in career progression and evaluation can be seen in the submissions to the last REF. Books published by UCL Press accounted for 34 of UCL’s REF monograph submissions, putting it in the top 10 publishers chosen by UCL academics for books submitted to REF. So as well as securing visibility and impact for their works via OA publishing, UCL academics publishing with UCL Press are also assured of strong support from this critical academic evaluation exercise. The most recent UKRI OA policy now mandates OA for monographs that are published as a result of research funded by UKRI, and UCL Press is also compliant with the requirements of this and other funder mandates for open access.

Key message

UCL academics who publish monographs or journal articles with UCL Press demonstrate institutional citizenship by sharing their work openly, thus supporting faster global discovery of new ideas/developments in their chosen field.

Case Study: Open and FAIR Research Data

Research data is the term used for any evidence that you have generated throughout the course of your research that supports the assertions you make. This data could take the form of surveys and interview data, photographs, scans or images of documents, software or code, graphs and charts, historical records, the possibilities are endless.

Making your data completely open may not always be possible for reasons of privacy and confidentiality, but the FAIR principles can always apply. Keeping them in mind throughout your research can help you understand what you are able to make open, and how to do it in a way that creates the best value for your research.


The FAIR principles are the gold standard in working with and sharing the outputs of your research.

Findable – making outputs discoverable by the academic community and the public.

This is most often achieved by uploading to a repository and linking to your data from publications, but can also be facilitated by communicating about your research outputs and undertaking public engagement activities. It also relates to the ability of people to find the data; this can be achieved by ensuring your data has a DOI and sufficient quality metadata to be searchable.

Accessible – using unique identifiers, metadata, clear language and access protocols.

This element is all about ensuring the data that is shared can be accessed. This means removing as many barriers to use as possible, this could include use of open file formats as well as thinking about the longevity of data storage, ensuring that it persists in metadata even if it one day is removed from public view.

Interoperable – applying standards to encode and exchange data and metadata

This facet in most cases is related to the repository you choose and the technology it has, but it also requires the data you upload to be well described using standard vocabularies as and when appropriate.

Reusable – enabling the repurposing of research outputs to maximise their potential

This is the principle under which most value from your data can be created. Data should be accompanied by enough information for it to be understood and reused effectively. It is also important to choose an appropriate license.

Case study

Maria is a PhD student at UCL. She is working on a project about Roman wall inscriptions in the archaeological site of Pompeii, Italy. She wants to publish her research outputs and ensure that her data are FAIR.

Maria consulted with her supervisor, who is the principal investigator (PI) of the project, and was advised to draw up a data management plan (DMP) to help her achieve this.

Maria searched the UCL’s Research Data Management website and downloaded the UCL DMP template. Using UCL’s DMP template helped Maria to address key aspects of open research data, understand best practice and meet FAIR principles of data management.

For example, Maria provided a description of the data collected and analysed (e.g. digital photographs of Pompeii’s wall inscriptions), which format was used (.jpeg), expected volume of data (>1 TB), when the data will be available (e.g. after publication), and how the data can be accessed and reused by providing additional information in the form of a readme file.

Maria checked the Re3data website to look at a list of subject-specific repositories but eventually decided to upload her data in UCL’s own Research Data Repository (RDR). Her most important considerations were; ensuring the data was assigned a DOI, that appropriate measures were being taken for any personal data, the ability to assign a licence for people wishing to reuse her data and that it can archive data for at least 10 years in line with UCL’s Research Data policy.

Maria contacted the Research Data Management (RDM) team to request feedback on her DMP. A member of the team reviewed her DMP and organised a quick meeting. One of the suggestions was to add a data access statement in her publication to enhance the discoverability of her data.

As a result, Maria was able to publish her research outputs and ensured that her data were FAIR.


Key message

Following good data management practice enhances the value of research outputs.

Case Study: Openness in Education

Open Education is a broad term that covers the creation, sharing and reuse of educational outputs – ranging from complete textbooks to single diagrams created to support learners – by teachers, students and members of the wider community. Like other Open Science practices, the intention is to remove barriers to access and make education more inclusive:

"Open Education encompasses resources, tools and practices that are free of legal, financial, and technical barriers and can be fully used, shared, and adapted in the digital environment. Open Education maximizes the power of the Internet to make education more affordable, accessible, and effective"

(Sparc Open)

At UCL, we believe there are many benefits to adopting Open Education practices, including raising your profile and making a contribution to your discipline by enabling sharing and collaboration. These benefits extend to students who often generate excellent outputs that can contribute to the understanding of a particular topic. Engaging with Open Education may involve encouraging your students to create educational outputs that are published to a wider audience.

In practical terms we provide practical information on how our staff and students can engage in Open Education by finding and re-using Open Education materials, taking steps to create and share their own materials, and other activities. A proof of concept Open Education Repository to store and disseminate education outputs was created some years ago, which acts as an example of how UCL colleagues can engage with Open Education. Our current focus of activity, though, is in publishing open access textbooks via UCL Press. This successful programme enables UCL colleagues to publish textbooks that directly support local teaching or have potential to contribute to education nationally or internationally in a given subject-area.

Case Study: New UCL Press e-textbook for UCL Engineering Sciences

UCL’s Engineering Science faculty offers world-leading and innovative modules at undergraduate and postgraduate level. Many of these provide context to global issues and challenges and present students with a solutions-focused curriculum, an approach which is not always replicated or accessible in commercial textbook provision. Waste Management and Circular Economy is an example of an e-textbook published by UCL Press to provide more suitable student-centred resource for teaching this approach. The e-textbook includes full-colour diagrams and each chapter provides learning objectives, an introduction to key themes and concepts, summary, and review sections, to guide students through each topic.

This e-textbook is published under an open, creative commons licence, ensuring that it is free to access and provides other academics with the ability to modify or reuse the material in their teaching. In its first month of publication, the e-textbook was accessed over 1,000 times, across 78 countries and territories. It has also received endorsements from global scholars in the field, praising “the accessible, student-focused approach” and offering strong recommendations for use of the e-textbook on similar modules and courses.

Key message

Sharing educational outputs is of immense value to your students; such work can also be used to illustrate your contribution to your subject on a global level.

Case Study: Software

The use and development of novel computer software is increasingly of critical importance to every field of research, as indicated in a 2014 UK survey by the Software Sustainability Institute and a range of studies since. Whether for research, administration, learning or teaching, software is an increasingly valuable tool and output, and needs to be managed as such. This case study gives examples of how Open Science principles could be applied to software you generate, and how to maximise the benefits of this for you and the wider world.

There are good reasons for making your software open source:

  • If the software was used to publish a research article, accompanying open source software lets others replicate the results (if data is also accessible) and check for correctness of the analysis, besides what is written in the article.
  • When version control is used, it is easier to get credit for the contribution.
  • When software is open source, it creates opportunities for collaborations.
  • In general, open source software lets others build on your work.

Software development, both within academia and beyond, has a long history of openness through the open source movement. The open science principles are closely entwined with best practices for both reproducible research and software development in general. The FAIR principles for research data have also been applied to research software. Here we build on the analysis of a 2020 survey of UCL researchers to highlight key tips and give pointers to further reading.

At a most basic level, publish all the code underpinning any published research result to support others trying to replicate your results. Often this is a funder or publisher requirement. This might just be providing the analysis script you ran as supplemental information with your paper, including any configuration settings and the versions of other software used. Resist the temptation to tidy the script before publishing – this can introduce changes in behaviour which harm reproducibility.

Much better forms of publishing exist which increase the credit you can get from your work and enable others to build on it more easily. The starting point is to store your code within a version controlled repository, for example on GitHub, from the moment you start developing. When ready to publish, make a ‘release’ of the software and publish that on Zenodo to get a DOI for the software version which you may cite. Use a citation file to simplify this process and encourage others to cite your software too. Choose an open source licence to enable others to reuse your software in their research. The automatic log that version control provides of who has contributed what to the code ensures all can receive credit for their contributions.

Your software, even in a version controlled repository, may be kept as private to you (or shared only with close collaborators) until you are ready to publish. If specific to a single publication (which is perhaps the case for most research software) this may be appropriate. However for software that has the potential to be reused or built upon, we recommend open development from the start. This makes collaboration easier, maximises the likelihood of your software living beyond first release, and increases the potential pool of both users and other contributors. Read Top tips on managing your open source project community effectively to find out more. A key benefit of this approach is that the community you build will help to grow and support your software.

Implementing automated/unit tests for your software can significantly boost reproducibility. These help ensure that it continues to function as expected as improvements are made. Base tests on your research use cases following a “tutorial-driven development” approach, and make it easier for new users to get started in the process.

There are many ways to disseminate your software. Write a short software paper describing each major new release of your software, and publish this in the Journal of Open Source Software or a similar journal. Run training workshops attached to significant conferences in your field. Include use of your software in teaching activities where relevant.

Above all, get started! With each new project that you begin, pick one more open practice that you could adopt and try it out. The UCL Advanced Research Computing Centre can provide further advice and support.


Key message

Releasing open source software enables the author to gain credit for their work, and allows other researchers (as good practice) to replicate your results and outcomes.

Case Study: Use of Metrics and evaluation

Citation-based bibliometrics are widely used for a range of evaluation purposes, both to assess the impact of individual papers and to look at the overall output of a researcher or institution. They can be helpful particularly when looking at a large number of papers.

However, they do not tell us everything about a paper, and there may be better approaches available. Where metrics are used, they should be considered carefully to ensure meaningful results.

Statement of principles

The best way to apply metrics is by considering some key principles:

  • Metrics are not always appropriate – and in some fields, they are of no use at all. It may be better to read the work and reach your own informed judgement of its quality. When metrics are used, they should be considered carefully, as they can be misleading if not well understood.
  • Some metrics are almost always inappropriate – the most common of these is the journal impact factor (JIF), which should always be avoided for assessing papers or people. The h-index for people should also be treated with caution.
  • Metrics can be informative – but they should not be targets, and a low-ranked paper can still be valuable for other reasons.

Case study

Metrics are most useful for large-scale analysis such as looking at the overall output of a department or institution. Here, the best approach is to use a normalised metric – one that takes account of the age and discipline of papers – and use it to look at average citation rates over a large group of papers. Using a simplified metric such as the journal impact factor should be avoided – it describes the journal they were published in, not the papers themselves – and potentially can give very misleading results.

Metrics can also be useful for identifying particularly high impact papers from a large group. Again, normalised metrics are important to ensure that papers are highly cited, and not simply older or in a more active field. Metrics can be particularly valuable as a backstop approach, looking for highly cited papers that might have been missed in a manual selection and highlighting them for re-review.

When assessing work on an individual basis, it is almost always best to avoid metrics and instead look at the individual paper. Citation numbers can be informative here to indicate whether something has had wide attention, but they are not a perfect measure and some papers will not be adequately described by them.


Key message

Where metrics are used, they should be considered carefully to ensure meaningful results; and if used, used responsibly.

Case Study: Reproducibility and Transparency

What is transparency in research?

Research is transparent if the methods, analysis, data and funding are reported and disseminated openly, clearly and comprehensively. Transparency ensures that all research findings on a topic, and information on the methods and analysis used, can be accessed by researchers, research users and the public. This helps to provide, as far as possible, an unbiased, comprehensive picture of the state of knowledge on a topic.

What is reproducibility in research?

The findings of a research study are reproducible if they can be obtained in an independent study using the same methods as those used in the original study. Reproducibility of results acts as a stamp of credibility, ensuring that research findings can be trusted. This is essential in certain research contexts, including experimental sciences with a quantitative focus, where findings must be robust and reliable in order to form a solid foundation on which to build further knowledge.

Reproducibility can also be used to describe the methods of a study. A research investigation is reproducible if sufficient detail about the methods and data used is provided, so that the study can be independently repeated as it was originally conducted. In this sense, reproducibility and the soundness of research methods are applicable to all subjects in Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences (AHSS), Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine (STEM).

Sometimes the nature of a study means it cannot be repeated but reproducibility can still apply to its data analyses (including in studies involving qualitative data). To the extent that sufficient details about the data and analysis code are available to allow recreation of the inferential statistics, figures, tables and so on, the data analysis is reproducible.

Case study 1: Quantitative Methods

Context: Sam is conducting a meta-analysis to understand the role of social media in mental health problems. He plans to test whether greater use of social media is associated with greater levels of mental health problems in young people, using data from observational studies.

Before starting the study, Sam pre-registers the protocol for the meta-analysis on Prospero (Pre-registration). This involves providing details on the systematic search strategy, inclusion and exclusion criteria, and proposed analyses.

Sam then conducts the meta-analysis using R Markdown (Open software), which enables him to clearly annotate his code to share publicly. When the analysis is finished, he shares his R Markdown code on Github, a publicly available repository (Open code). He also shares his dataset publicly on Github (Open data) to ensure the computational reproducibility of his findings. His dataset includes metadata which provide details about each of the variables and how they were derived.

While writing up the study, Sam uses a transparency checklist (PRISMA) to ensure that he reports the study methods and results transparently (Reporting guideline). This includes reporting the link to the study pre-registration, so readers can evaluate whether Sam followed his original protocol. To ensure that the study can be accessed openly, Sam posts the article as a pre-print upon submission to the journal (Pre-print). When the article has been accepted at a journal, he ensures that it is published fully open-access (Open access).

Case study 2: Qualitative Methods

Context: Aisha is conducting a study that examines how a national programme to prevent radicalisation is implemented in a specific town in the North of England. Her research methods are qualitative and include the thematic analysis of interviews with 20 participants that represent local residents, staff of two grass-roots organisations, and council staff.

Before starting her data collection, Aisha pre-registers the study on the Open Science Framework. This involves, firstly, writing a protocol, based on a recommended template, which includes the following information: the target sample size and population as well as sampling strategy; the procedure for contacting participants and conducting the interviews; the precise interview questions; the data de-identification strategy; how active citation will be used to illustrate themes; and the process by which data will be analysed, including the analytical tools and software. As this was a hypothesis-generating study, hypotheses are not pre-defined but potential outcome hypotheses are reflected on. Additionally, Aisha defines two stages at which the pre-registration will be updated.

When designing the informed consent form, Aisha includes a statement that asks participants to consent to sharing de-identified data with other researchers through controlled access (Open data). The same question is asked again after interviews when participants know better what kind of data they have shared (i.e., their answers). After interview recordings are transcribed, the open-source software QualCoder is used to conduct the thematic analysis (Open software).

Aisha decides to share the interview transcripts (not the audio recordings) with other researchers through the Qualitative Data Repository; this platform has the CoreTrustSeal of approval and facilitates the implementation of depositor-approved access restrictions/data sharing agreements (Open data). The latter is important because indirect identifiers cannot be fully removed from the data, which also includes sensitive information. To enable the proper re-use of the shared data and acknowledging that re-contextualisation might be difficult, Aisha provides meta-data about the context of data collection in a supplementary file (Open data). Moreover, and to facilitate access and usability, all files are .csv and .txt files (Open data).

Aisha then publishes a pre-print of her work that is hosted on the Open Science Framework pre-print service, which offers the choice of several subject-specific pre-print servers. In the Methods section of the paper, she includes detailed descriptions of the coding and analysis decisions as well as changes in the analytical approach over time (Open materials). She also makes sure to credit the different people who supported her in the research, including the research assistants who transcribed the interviews. The full findings are later published in an open-access monograph (Open access).

Key message

Transparency, reproducibility and the use of sound research methods increase trust in research and its results.

Case Study: Citizen Science & Public Engagement

Public engagement is an umbrella term used in the higher education sector that encompasses a wide range of methods of collaborating and engaging with public groups and individuals. 

The nationally agreed definition developed by the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement says “Public Engagement describes the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public. Engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit.”

Citizen science and co-production are two public engagement methodologies. Both are forms of participatory research.

At its most inclusive and most innovative, participatory research involves members of the public as partners in the entire research process, including determining research themes, questions, methodologies and means of disseminating results. The involvement of people in research can range from short-term data collection to intensive involvement in the research process, from technical contribution to genuine research, and from open collaboration to co-creation of knowledge.

Citizen science is research undertaken by members of the public, often in collaboration with academic and research institutions. Citizen science is a very diverse practice, encompassing various forms, depths and aims of collaboration between academic and community researchers and a broad range of disciplines.

Co-production as defined by Co-Production Collective at UCL is about, “working in equal partnership for equal benefit” with public, policymakers, practitioners and researchers work in equal partnership to ensure research studies address the needs and problems of people most affected by the work.
UCL supports a broad approach to public engagement, recognizing different applications and functions of public engagement with research, whether they are community-driven research projects or global investigations, with large- or small-scale contributions.

The word cloud below demonstrates some of the different types of activities and practices falling under the “umbrella” of public engagement at UCL. It is possible to understand public engagement by considering the characteristics of these activities and practices. The intention is for UCL's diverse teams to work together to strengthen UCL’s activities in this area, fostering stronger connections, improving partnership working, and exploring more collaborative solutions.

Citizen science and co-production provide a mechanism for researchers to include the knowledge of public in their research, it provides unexpected insights that can develop into new research questions or applications. These approaches make research more accessible to a wider audience and increases its reach. On a practical level, involving members of the public in research can also benefit a project, for example through faster completion of labour-intensive tasks. Citizen science and co-production also enhances engagement with society, strengthening bonds with local communities, schools, and increasing public trust in research.

Principles of citizen science

Citizen science is a rapidly growing area of research and practice, with evolving standards on which different stakeholders are developing methodologies, theories, and techniques. It is a versatile concept that can be adapted and applied across any discipline. The European Citizen Science Association outlines some of the key principles which underlie good practice in citizen science - see ECSA’s ‘Ten Principles of Citizen Science’.

The diversity of activities and range of practices included within UCL’s definition of citizen science lends itself to the UCL Office of Open Science and Scholarship developing a set of principles to guide good practice in citizen science at UCL. This is an ongoing project, and the principles are likely to be based around participants, communication, and data quality in citizen science projects.

In general, members of the public involved in research should have meaningful roles in projects whatever their level of engagement and whether they are involved as contributors, collaborators, or project leaders. They should be given credit and be acknowledged appropriately in project results and publications. Depending on the nature of the project it may also be possible to offer other rewards to the participants involved. Projects should provide citizen scientists with feedback on the use of their data and the outcomes of the research.

There are various approaches to citizen science and different types of citizen science appeal to different people, whether they are expert volunteers, community stakeholders or members of the public. Projects can consist of crowdsourcing, citizen social science, environmental monitoring, or extreme citizen science, to name a few.

It is vital in citizen science or co-production projects to ensure that all contributors are well trained in methods, ethics, and research integrity, understand why it is important to pay attention to data quality, equity, and environmental impact.

For more information, examples of projects and to read more about the university’s approach to supporting citizen science, please see our UCL Citizen Science content.

For more information, examples of projects and to read more about the university’s approach to supporting public engagement and co-production, please visit UCL Engagement or the Co-Production Collective at UCL.


Key message

Public engagement allows researchers to include the knowledge of public in their research, making research more accessible to a wider audience and increases its reach and improves the research that we do.