Open Voices Interview with Daniel Bangert about Open Research in Ireland

In this edition of our Open Voices series, we are talking to Daniel Bangert. Daniel is Ireland’s National Open Research Coordinator, based at the Digital Repository of Ireland, Royal Irish Academy. In this role Daniel works with the National Open Research Forum (NORF) on the development and delivery of the National Action Plan for the implementation of Open Research across Ireland.


Hardy: Welcome, Daniel, and thanks for talking to us. First, I would like to ask you how you got interested into Open Scholarship and Open Research?

Daniel: Thanks for having me, Hardy, and great to talk about Open Research with you. As with many people, I think, it hasn't been a straightforward path to Open Research. My initial academic training was in music, firstly performance and then musicology, so I came to the area as a researcher. In that role I came across some of the issues related to Open Access, to managing research data, and Open Research generally. This was initially in Australia but at some stage I transitioned into a role within library and information science post my PhD. Working in that area, I became much more aware of the specific issues and how institutions tackled them. That was through roles in libraries, supporting research data management, repository services, metadata and scholarly communication; a mix of services, support and policy at the institutional level.

From there I decided to move to Germany, to gain broader experience in the same areas but working in the European context in Open Science projects. That was a shift of context but many of the issues and challenges remained the same. Then I brought that experience over to Ireland in my current role.

Hardy: For people who don't really know what NORF is, can you please summarise its purpose?

Daniel: NORF, the National Open Research Forum, exists in Ireland as a strategic forum for stakeholders involved in research to discuss topics related to Open Research, and to come to an agreement on national strategy and align on what should be done in terms of national actions. NORF started in 2017 and combines the expertise of stakeholder representatives from all types of organisations, for example, our Higher Education institutions, other research performing organisations, library groups, funders, community networks, enterprise, and others. It is an attempt to bring people together under a shared space so that we can move forward in a coordinated way.


Hardy: NORF has already completed some milestones. Your job title is “coordinator”. What does that mean on a day to day basis? What's your job like?

Daniel: I should point out some of those milestones first. Prior to my joining, one of the major ones was the publication of the National Framework on the Transition to an Open Research Environment in July 2019. That sets out our national ambitions and objectives in this area, very closely aligned to the European agenda for Open Research. This coordinator position was then put in place to facilitate the development of a National Action Plan that would follow on from the National Framework, and that has been the main objective of NORF from late 2020 until now. My work has been centred around delivering the National Action Plan which we launched in November 2022.

More generally, there are a few different aspects to my role. There is the facilitation element, which is working with the groups and bodies that have been established by NORF and coordinating the effort provided by its volunteer members, of which there have been many, over 90! To deliver the National Action Plan we have used local expertise from across the research system to develop consensus opinions and bring recommendations forward to strengthen Ireland’s position and progress in Open Research. That facilitation, consultation and engagement function is a very big part of my job and NORF’s mission in general. I also regularly present updates and briefings to national stakeholders, and I'm involved in international groups such as the Council for National Open Science Coordination where we share experiences with international peers. Then there is an advocacy and advisory element which again is working with stakeholders to understand their levels of readiness and keeping them up to date with what NORF sees as priorities for the Irish system.


Hardy: If I compare my role as Open Scholarship Librarian with yours, we both support Open Research but in many ways my work follows an academic calendar with repeat training and advocacy sessions etc. Your role is very different in that regard?

Daniel: Yes, I would say It is a mix of policy development, in the sense of guiding and bringing forward recommendations for which the community has a shared opinion or stance. Then there is the administrative side, which is also now linked to national funding as a financial instrument to progress actions within the National Action Plan. Finally, the advocacy part is really whatever is needed to progress the agenda and generate momentum, and this can include very varied requests from stakeholders as well as running events and reporting on Irish developments internationally.


Hardy: You mentioned the National Action Plan as a big milestone, but you also alluded to the funding element. Can you maybe summarise the thinking from moving from the Action Plan to these funded projects?

Daniel: During the process of developing the Action Plan another major milestones was early in 2022 with the establishment of NORF’s Open Research Fund, the first such earmarked funding. This fund is from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and has been allocated out in the first instance to priority actions within the plan; last year we funded six projects which we kicked off at the launch of the Action Plan in November. Those projects are really to get us started on delivering what's in the plan! Of course, that is just the start, and I hope we would be building on this and scaling up the sorts of projects that we see just starting now.

The Plan has a longer timeline, until 2030, which is aligned with Impact 2030: Ireland’s Research and Innovation Strategy, in which Open Research is a cross-cutting priority. There will also be opportunities to update the Plan at regular intervals.

The set of projects funded in 2022 are to deliver those actions in which we feel there's an urgency needed. The six projects cover the monitoring of Open Access at the national level, the strengthening of our network of repositories for Open Access publications, the piloting of a national Open Research training program, looking at pathways for Irish academic journals and publishers to transition to Open Access under a Diamond Open Access model, establishing a national network for data stewardship, and piloting a national shared service for active data storage.


Hardy: How was it like negotiating projects and budgets with stakeholders like government departments who would fund this phase?

Daniel: Part of my role and part of NORF more broadly, its members in the Steering Group and in the executive roles, is to help identify and advocate for resourcing. NORF’s Open Research Fund has been provided by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science  via the Higher Education Authority.

My role was to make sure we had the strongest possible case for Open Research and the actions identified by NORF. Funding at the national level makes sense because we can bring people together and have as broad an impact as possible. If we do it in a coordinated way, if all institutions, all stakeholders, can benefit in some way, then this is excellent return on investment.

The broader arguments for Open Research include supporting Ireland’s reputation and objectives for Research and Innovation, assisting the sector to remain competitive for funding, for example from Horizon Europe, and making sure that we are keeping pace with what is a very clear policy direction and an international movement.


Hardy: One of the things you have succeeded in, I think, is that NORF is now quite well known among library colleagues and senior researchers. This is great but also raises expectations. What can be achieved realistically by NORF in the coming years?

Daniel: That's good to hear, in terms of the awareness raising. But I think there's also much more to be done there around understanding Open Research and how it is practiced. Evidence of current engagement is that when we launched the Plan we had, over 50 stakeholder organisations endorsing it. I think that demonstrates a strong commitment from the community as a whole and across the entire research system.   

In terms of what can be achieved, in the National Action Plan we make a point that Open Research is very broad and requires collective implementation. It involves a significant culture shift, it is something that takes time and action needs to be taken at all levels (international, national and institutional). NORF helps to make sure that we are aligned as much as possible and connecting between those levels.

I see NORF and its work as just one layer of what needs to happen and I would encourage institutions, for example, to look at the Plan, to see where they see themselves as key stakeholders and identify where they can take action. For example, in strengthening policies, putting in place institutional services, in creating networks, institutional champions and the relevant support staff. Without local support, the policy ambitions can be very high, but we won't get the practice changing on the ground.

Institutions also have the ability to incentivise and to put in place assessment practices that will help to foster Open Research practices. Institutions, of course, are key! I’m very glad that all our universities have committed to the Plan and now it is a matter of seeing what we can implement through and with NORF.


Daniel Bangert

Hardy: Have you got an example on what you’d like to see happening at institutional level?

Daniel: On the policy side for example, a few months ago, we saw one of the SFI research centres, Lero, publish an Open Science Charter. That is at a cross-institutional research centre level. That kind of strategic ambition in this area is very encouraging to see andcould be done at all levels, whether that is a centre, a lab or a university. Another example is the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment (CoARA). We have seen a number of Irish institutions sign on to that.


Hardy: Yes, the University of Galway is among the signatories.

Daniel: That’s excellent. So those two examples are steps in in the right direction which are tied into broader movements. But I think the key thing for institutions is to consider a holistic open research strategy with policies, procedures and actions to back up the policy side with a medium to long term plan of what should be implemented locally. A starting point for institutions could be to review and map progress against national objectives in the National Action Plan for Open Research and consider gaps that NORF has identified in the Landscape Report.

The other point is then making sure the support staff and structures required for Open Research are factored into staffing plans. I really think that people are the key here! They are the local connectors into services and tools. They are the ones that can do the advisory work and awareness raising that is necessary across the institution.

One last point for institutions is that open research shouldn’t be siloed. It typically requires collaboration across the institution, the involvement of many different types of roles, including researchers, and strong support from institutional leadership.


Hardy: Finally, I would like to zoom out again. You mentioned that part of the momentum of NORF is the European direction of travel, the wider policy environment. Broadly, where do you see Ireland’s position in that journey? Where are we in the Open Research league table?

Daniel: It is a good question, and I don’t think there's a clear answer, because there are so many aspects to Open Research. But I would say that there is a lot of ambition and goodwill here, and our objectives are very much aligned with what's happening internationally and what has come through bodies such as UNESCO and the European Commission. I believe the National Action Plan has set us on a good trajectory and will serve as a roadmap for the years to come. I would say, we are currently somewhere in mid-table but aspiring to lead in this area.

Hardy: Thanks, Daniel, for talking to us. And we are looking forward to the next steps of NORF!


You can follow Daniel Bangert on Twitter. He also has a personal website. The interview was conducted by Hardy Schwamm, Open Scholarship Librarian at the University of Galway Library.