Open research is research conducted in the spirit of free and open-source software. Much like open-source schemes that are built around a source code that is made public, the central theme of open research is to make clear accounts of the methodology freely available via the internet, along with any data or results extracted or derived from them. This permits a massively distributed collaboration, and one in which anyone may participate at any level of the project.
Especially if the research is scientific in nature, it is frequently referred to as open science. Open research can also include social sciences, the humanities, mathematics, engineering and medicine.
Important distinctions exist between different types of open projects.
Projects that provide open data but don't offer open collaboration are referred to as "open access" rather than open research. Providing open data is a necessary but not sufficient condition for open research, because although the data may be used by anyone, there is no requirement for subsequent research to take place openly. For example, though there have been many calls for more open collaborative research in drug discovery and the open deposition of large amounts of data, there are very few active, openly collaborative projects in this area.
Crowdsourcing projects that recruit large numbers of participants to carry out small tasks which are then assembled into a larger project outcome have delivered significant research outcomes, but these projects are distinct from those in which participants are able to influence the overall direction of the research, or in which participants are expected to have creative input into the science behind the project.
Most open research is conducted within existing research groups. Primary research data are posted which can be added to, or interpreted by, anyone who has the necessary expertise and who can therefore join the collaborative effort. Thus the "end product" of the project (which may still be subject to future expansion or modification) arises from many contributions across multiple research groups, rather than the effort of one group or individual. Open research is therefore distinct from open access in that the output of open research is prone to change with time.
Issues with copyright are dealt with by using either standard copyright (where applicable), releasing the content into the Public domain or by releasing the content under licenses such as one of the Creative Commons licenses or one of the GNU General Public Licenses.
Science and engineering research to support the creation of open-source appropriate technology for sustainable development has long used open research principles. Open source research for sustainable development is now becoming formalized with open access for literature reviews, research methods, data, results and summaries for laypeople.
While first attempts towards opening research were primarily aimed at opening areas such as scientific data, methodologies, software and publications, now increasingly other artifacts of the scientific workflow are also tackled, such as scientific meta-data and funding ideas.
The Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) Committee met in 2014 to address one key element of the incentive systems: journals' procedures and policies for publication. The committee consisted of disciplinary leaders, journal editors, funding agency representatives, and disciplinary experts largely from the social and behavioral sciences. By developing shared standards for open practices across journals, the committee said it hopes to translate scientific norms and values into concrete actions and change the current incentive structures to drive researchers' behavior toward more openness. The committee said it sought to produce guidelines that (a) focus on the commonalities across disciplines, and that (b) define what aspects of the research process should be made available to the community to evaluate, critique, reuse, and extend. The committee added that the guidelines aim to help improve journal policies in order to help transparency, openness, and reproducibility "become more evident in daily practice and ultimately improve the public trust in science, and science itself."