Evaluating what matters with DORA the explorer

A DORAat10 Local Event Report

In May 2023, DORA celebrated it’s 10th Anniversary with two plenary sessions and a decentralized weeklong program of local events organized by community members from around the world. Event organizers were given the option to write brief reports on their events that summarize key takeaways and recommendations.

By Holly Limbert

This year, here at the University of Derby, we joined the global research community in celebration of the 10th birthday of the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA). It was important for us to mark this important event to demonstrate our continued commitment to the development of and approaches to responsible research assessment and Open Research more broadly. Our Repository and Open Access Librarian, Holly Limbert of the Research Liaison Team in the Library invited Professor Stephen Curry, Chair of the DORA Steering Committee, and Professor Cameron Neylon, co-lead of the Curtin Open Knowledge Initiative to deliver a talk which considered the what, why and how of research assessment and associated practices in the academy, how far we have come as a community, and where we might be heading in the future. Given both Stephen and Cameron’s commitment to questioning current and established practices when it comes to research evaluation, assessment and opening access to knowledge, the university was incredibly fortunate to secure two leading experts and inspirational speakers!

In his talk, ‘Ten years of DORA – evaluating what matters!‘ Professor Curry discussed the origins of the declaration and the organisation behind it. Whilst he acknowledged that change is evident across the research landscape, he stressed that DORA is still very much required to drive forward reform in research evaluation and assessment. A particularly pertinent aspect of Stephen’s talk addressed the pressures which researchers face relating to career advancement, publishing expectations and real-world impact in society. One example used was from a Ted Talk by Thomas Insel, a leading neuroscientist whose research focuses on mental health. In his talk, Insel makes explicit reference to the number of papers and money spent during his years at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) versus how much impact was felt by those suffering from mental health problems during this time (Insel, 2013). This speaks volumes about the importance of questioning established practices and processes in the academy and advocating for change! Stephen also advocated for the Narrative C.V. which aims to highlight a wide range of skills and experiences, considering the vast contributions that researchers make to the research ecosystem and not just written publication. 

Professor Neylon’s talk ‘The problem of evaluation: DORA the explorer at 10 and our paths into the future’ centered on the role of evaluation in research across departments and geographies and some of the major challenges we face collectively in terms of how research evaluation is even thought of and considered, particularly in relation to why the academy evaluates research at all. One of the key takeaways from Cameron’s talk centered on rethinking what “excellence” means in research and how this is interpreted and understood. It was fascinating to hear that when presented with the question of ‘What is excellence?’ researchers and institutions find it is exceedingly difficult to provide a concrete definition. As co-lead of the Curtain Open Knowledge Initiative, which seeks to ‘…change the stories that universities tell about themselves, placing open knowledge at the heart of that narrative’ (COKI, 2023), Cameron and colleagues at Curtain University Australia, are passionate about using Open data sources to help universities become more open, transparent and accountable in their activities relating to scholarly communications and equality, diversity and inclusion practices.

After the talks took place, the floor was open to questions and a lively discussion ensued. Questions were raised about priority steps institutions can take to address certain established and potentially harmful ‘norms’ and how these can be phased out particularly when it comes to definitions and understandings of quality and prestige. The future research assessment exercise in the United Kingdom was also a topic of discussion, particularly around how metrics and understandings of quality might play a role in the future. There was also some debate regarding citations and readership and what both phenomena may indicate in different contexts and disciplines. A follow up question which Stephen and Cameron were both happy to respond to after the event, related to how research assessments can cater for the humanities especially as much of what is practiced is very heavily focused on STEM subject areas.

Overall, the event was an enormous success with over 160 registrants from across the globe and over 70 attendees on the day! This demonstrates the will and need for researchers and those in research support roles to transform the ways in which we assess and evaluate research. We need to challenge the systems in place which put emphasis on certain incentives and rewards in the academy. Whilst DORA has done much to change the way we think, feel and act when it comes to the value we give to certain measures of quality and what matters, there is still work to be done! The only way to achieve an open, inclusive, and equal culture of research is to continue to collaborate and help to establish new norms which celebrate and recognise the varied and wide-ranging contributions made by researchers the world over.

Haley Hazlett
Dr. Haley Hazlett has been DORA's Program Manager since 2021. She was a DORA Policy Intern before taking the role of Program Manager. She obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology in 2021 and is passionate about improving research culture for all researchers.

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