Terms of Reference
Australian Reproducibility Network
DRAFT Terms of Reference
23 January 2020
For Australia to be a lead the world leader in conducting and promoting rigorous research, in particular by making research more reproducible.
The Australian Reproducibility Network (AUS-RN) is a peer-led consortium that aims to ensure Australia retains its place as a centre for world-leading research, by investigating the factors that contribute to robust research, promoting training activities and disseminating best practice, and working with stakeholders to ensure coordination of efforts across the sector. AUS-RN’s activities span multiple levels, including researchers, institutions, and other stakeholders (e.g., funders and publishers).
AUS-RN originated from activity across Australia seeking to understand the factors that contribute to poor research reproducibility and replicability, and to develop approaches to counter these and improve the quality of the research we produce. AUS-RN Terms of References are modelled heavily on the UK Reproducibility Network’s Terms of Reference. These issues affect all disciplines, so AUS-RN aims for broad disciplinary representation. AUS-RN’s position is that ongoing efforts to address these issues represent an opportunity to improve our research by reforming culture and practice.
Definition of terms
There are several terms used to refer to the broad issues that the Australian Reproducibility Network aims to address, and these are often used interchangeably. Our focus is on ensuring Australia produces robust, rigorous research. Below we list various terms and definitions that are widely used. When terms are used, it is important to be clear which meaning is intended by that word. In the context of the Australian Reproducibility Network, in line with the UKRN, the definition closest to our meaning is “results reproducibility” as defined by Goodman et al. (2016). We provide a more complete definition of terms at Annex 1.
Organization and membership
AUS-RN consists of a Steering Group, Local Networks (led by Local Network Leads), Institutions (represented by Academic Leads for Research Improvement) and a Stakeholder Engagement Group (comprising full and affiliate stakeholders). The Steering Group is advised by an external Advisory Board comprising senior academics from the international research community.
The Steering Group, which currently comprises Paul Glasziou, Ginny Barbour, Alex Holcombe, Shinichi Nakagawa, and Fiona Fidler, is responsible for the overall coordination of AUS-RN activity and strategy. It is supported by a part-time administrator. The Steering Group reports to the Local Network Leads and Academic Leads, and to the Stakeholder Engagement Group, by means of an annual report (in XX July) and meeting (in XXMarch). The current Steering Group will continue until XX March 2022; the membership of the Steering Group and a process for appointing new members will be developed from XX March 2021.
Local Networks provide a mechanism through which the aims of the AUS-RN can be promoted within that institution (e.g., by establishing open research working groups, running training workshops, advocating for the wider adoption of best practice within the institution, etc.). A Local Network Lead provides the point of contact for AUS-RN, and represents the grass-roots network of researchers at that institution. It is intended that these Local Networks will grow, both in number and size, over time, as researchers elect to participate in AUS-RN activity. Local Networks are self-organising, but we encourage them to ensure their membership is open to academic and research staff (at all levels) and professional services staff.
Institutions can join the AUS-RN by formally committing to supporting the aims of the Network, creating a formal role within the senior management team (an Academic Lead for Research Improvement), and supporting the delivery of AUS-RN activities (training, workshops etc.) within the institution (e.g., via undergraduate, postgraduate, postdoctoral and senior training programmes). The Academic Lead is independent of the Local Network Lead, and is the institutional point of contact for AUS-RN, representing that institution’s senior management team. Logos of participating institutions are displayed on the AUS-RN website. The criteria for joining AUS-RN are provided at Annex 2, and model role descriptions for the Academic Lead at Annex 3, and for the Local Network Lead at Annex 4.
Stakeholders (e.g., funders, publishers, learned societies) who support the AUS-RN (either directly or via access to resources and other forms of support in kind) form the Stakeholder Engagement Group. This ensures that AUS-RN activity is aligned with the strategy and activity of the stakeholders, and allows the exchange of ideas. In addition, the relationship between the Stakeholder Engagement Group and the AUS-RN provides stakeholders with a mechanism for obtaining feedback on new initiatives from the research community. Stakeholders may be full or affiliate members – these categories are described in more detail at Annex 5.
AUS-RN Local Network Leads work with and through the Steering Group, which is advised by the Advisory Board and the Stakeholder Engagement Group. Individual members report to their Local Network Leads, and Local Networks are responsible for their internal governance (which may vary depending on the size of the Local Network, geographical distribution of the institution, etc.). The Steering Group and the Local Network Leads operate with the consent of the individual members.
Academic Leads are independent of Local Networks, but are expected to work in partnership at an institutional level, to ensure coordination of activity and that any local initiatives are developed with the input of Local Network Leads and members. Academic Leads liaise with the Steering Group informally. We have a Code of Conduct, which is available at Annex 6.
The Steering Group meets with the individual Academic Leads, Local Network Leads and Advisory Board annually to review progress, agree on strategy and direction, and formulate objectives for the forthcoming year. Following this meeting, the Steering Group and Advisory Board meets with the Stakeholder Engagement Group to review the strategy and annual plan, and identify specific projects where the AUS-RN and individual stakeholders may work together.
We prepare an annual report for our Stakeholder Engagement Group in July that we publish on our website, and discuss at our annual meeting in March.
Members of the Advisory Board are asked to serve a three-year term in the first instance, with the option to renew this for a further three years at the end of this term. The Steering Group, with the input of the Advisory Board, reviews the governance structures of AUS-RN annually.
Ways of working
AUS-RN coordinates activity across Local Networks in three broad areas: 1) education and learning (e.g., delivery of short courses to early career researchers, preparation of online materials; coordination of virtual seminars, journal clubs); 21) meta-research (including evaluation of innovations intended to improve research quality); 2) promoting training (e.g., delivery of short courses to early career researchers, preparation of online materials; coordination of virtual seminars and journals clubs); and 3) engagement with relevant stakeholders (e.g., funders, publishers, learned societies, policymakers, etc.) to align and coordinate strategy and activity. It also supports less formal activities. (e.g., ReproducibiliTea journal clubs).
AUS-RN follows a distributed model, where Local Networks can be supported by individuals acting as advocates for the work of the AUS-RN, or formally by their institution following a commitment of support for the aims of AUS-RN by that institution (as described in Annex 2). AUS-RN is currently supported by financial and in-kind contributions from stakeholders and institutions. Financial support for AUS-RN is listed on the AUS-RN website for transparency. Meta-research activity is supported separately by grant funding, philanthropic donations, and institutional support.
Information about the Network is presented on the AUS-RN website at www.aus-rn.org, which includes a list of supporters (stakeholders and institutions), as well as Local Network Leads and their institution, and Academic Leads and their institution. It also provides links to resources (e.g., training materials), information about joining the Network (either as an individual or institution) or supporting the Network (as a stakeholder), and links to relevant external resources.
Working groups are formed as required to lead on individual initiatives. AUS-RN also, subject to funding, holds a AUS--based conference, to bring together researchers from the AUS-RN and beyond engaged in meta-research questions. Any income from the conference or AUS-RN workshops is used to support the work of the network, with a view to eventually place the AUS-RN on a sustainable financial footing.
While the focus of AUS-RN is on improving Australian research, an important role is to work with those in other countries who share our objectives of improving research.
The Steering Group meets at least once every quarter via teleconference / ZoomSkype to discuss new / emerging evidence, training etc. of relevance to AUS-RN, feedback from Local Networks, and input from stakeholders and institutions.
The Steering Group also meets in person every year with the Advisory Board. This forms part of a larger meeting to which the Local Network Leads, institutional Academic Leads and the Stakeholder Engagement Group are invited.
The focus of this annual meeting is to discuss the work of AUS-RN and coordinate future activity, both within the AUS-RN, and between the AUS-RN and the individual stakeholders.
Meetings are not formally minuted, but the Steering Group Chair reports back to the Local Network Leads on key points arising from meetings with the Advisory Board, stakeholders, institutions, etc.
Sharing of information
The primary means of communication between the Steering Group and Local Network Leads, Academic Leads and Stakeholders is email, supplemented by the schedule of meetings described above. The primary means of communication between Local Network Leads and members of Local Networks varies depending on the size of the Local Network, geographical distribution of the institution, etc.
We aim for the majority of information shared being in the public domain (e.g., research articles). Any information that is not in the public domain is clearly marked as confidential and not for sharing. The Steering Group and Local Network Leads are provided with a password-protected online shared drive to enable the sharing of materials (e.g., research articles).