From practice to policy: how open research is changing research culture in cultural heritage




The role of the museum (to preserve, interpret and make accessible collections and heritage) means that open access, in the broadest sense, has always been part of our purpose. Organisational research culture at National Museums Scotland has been guided by a longstanding academic tradition, the Nolan principles of public life and, since gaining Independent Research Organisation (IRO) status in 2016, UKRI (UK Research and Innovation) rules and regulations on research.  To this end, since 2012, our public-facing research repository has encouraged the depositing of research outputs predominantly in traditional formats (journal articles etc.) produced by curators and research-associated staff. Open research is also embedded in many areas of our practice; for example, researchers within the museum are expected, often as part of public engagement, to share methods and make associated data freely available. These can be found in non-traditional formats such as talks, podcasts and blog posts. Since 2017, the museum has taken steps towards being more consistent in its application of open research principles. The academic open research agenda is providing impetus and focus to modernise this practice from analogue to digital to FAIR.   

In line with the Museum’s new research strategy, we have recently formulated and communicated new guidance for what range of outputs, and range of authors, should be included in our Research Repository. An interdepartmental Open Access Steering Group, initially formed in 2018 to look at image provision, has been reframed to include the embedding of Open Research principles. This shift in outlook has raised issues not least regarding copyright and complicated rights structures, but also raised debates as to what counts as a research output, what counts as research data, and, ultimately, what is research.    

This talk outlined the road so far towards embedding open research at National Museums Scotland, and will discuss how open research policies, external to the museum, are impacting research culture and practice. It acknowledged where the experience in a museum and Independent Research Organisation may echo, and may differ from, related journeys within Higher Education Institutions.