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Letter from the COPE co-Chairs: July 2018

Transparency 2020: Operational transparency, and research transparency

Transparency is “mission critical” for COPE. Sixty COPE members gathered in Melbourne, Australia, for a COPE seminar, held in collaboration with Wiley, WCRI (World Conference on Research Integrity), RMIT University (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) and QUT (Queensland University of Technology). The high point for me was our “Transparency 2020” panel discussion, led wonderfully by Tracey Bretag, COPE volunteer and Council Member.

In my mind, it’s helpful to think about two types of transparency:
• operational transparency, and
• research transparency.

The first, operational transparency, addresses whether and how journals, publishers, and other organizations open-up their workings for all to see. For example, do journals explain to researchers how they make decisions about what they publish, what the interests (and conflicts of interest) of their decision-making editors are, and which business models they adopt? Operational transparency means answering these questions (and more) clearly, for the communities that we serve to see. The 16 Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing (from COPE, OASPA, DOAJ, and WAME) define what types of operational transparency we think are necessary. COPE assesses membership applications using these criteria, amongst others.

The second, research transparency, is something that we can support and make easy (or at least easier) for the researchers who we serve. It’s arguable that transparency will make research more reliable, and more potentially reproducible. Many researchers are being asked for more openness by their employers and by their funders (think: study design and methods, data analysis plan, data, materials, code, preprints, publication). Researchers find it hard and confusing. And so we as COPE members have a terrifically important role to play in supporting researchers and leading change.

Our “transparency 2020” panel discussion during the seminar was superb. Nicole Foeger (Head of the Administrative Office of the Austrian Agency for Research Integrity) joined Paul Glasziou (Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine at Bond University), Roxana Lescano (a lawyer, and member of two Peruvian institutional review boards), and Frederick Koon-Shing Leung (Chair, Professor, and Kintoy Professor in Mathematics Education at the University of Hong Kong). Tracey Bretag chaired this panel as they discussed diverse themes. We talked about transparency (and evidence) in policy-making and the appropriate use of researchers’ results by politicians. We talked about the importance of transparency at universities in the context of the price we need to pay to achieve it, and whether and how most institutions reward research transparency. We talked about the value of research transparency (if it has any value) in the absence of properly described and completely reported research. For example, if you don’t know how an educational intervention was actually performed in a study, then what value is there in the article or the data from that study, even if it is made FAIR and accessible?

The discussion was so good that we’re doing it again. So please, do join us for Transparency 2025 discussion at WCRI 2019 in Hong Kong (find out more here). We have a fresh set of stellar panelists for you. And together we’ll continue the conversation.

COPE co-chairs Chris Graf and Geri Pearson 


Disclosure: CG works for Wiley, where he is Director, Research Integrity and Publishing Ethics
Picture credit: CC0 Creative Commons from 


Read COPE Digest newsletter for more advice and resources to support your intellectual property policies and procedures, the case of the month 'Suspected unattributed text in a published article', a quick poll for you to take following up on our webinar 'Creating and implementing research data policies', COPE Council vacancy announcement plus our usual roundup of news and events.

Read July 2018 Digest: Intellectual Property | Transparency