A dialogue on transparency, open access and ethics in development research
This joint-event, organized by the Sehgal Foundation and 3ie, was a platform for over 110 policymakers, including government representatives, researchers and students to come together to discuss transparency, open data, ethical values and issues related to development research in India.
Aparna Radhakrishnan, senior research and policy associate, Sehgal Foundation and Marie Gaarder, director, Evaluation Office and global director, Innovation and Country Engagement, 3ie made opening remarks and set the tone for the day’s event by talking about the lack of appropriately translated and openly accessible quality data and evidence for decision-making, a particular challenge in L&MICs.
Chair: Marie Gaarder, director, Evaluation Office and global director, Innovation and Country Engagement, 3ie
Panellists: Arul George Scaria, co-director, Centre for Innovation, Intellectual Property and Competition, National Law University; Avani Kapur, director, Accountability Initiative, Centre for Policy Research; Prabhakar Singh, executive director, Centre for International Legal Studies, O.P Jindal Global University; and Saurabh Bhajibhakare, senior research manager, J-PAL South Asia
In this session, Avani Kapur spoke about her organisation’s efforts to ensure that data are unbiased and used by implementing organisations to make programmatic changes. While it is difficult to ensure that grassroots organisations make evidence-informed decisions, she emphasised the need to work with local staff on rigorous data collection.
Saurabh Bhajibhakare shared how transparent and open practices, such as preregistering research, developing pre-analysis plans, creating replication files, reporting of complete information, using complete citations and publishing open research have promoted data transparency in development economics.
Arul George Scaria presented his research on transparency and open access practises of Indian researchers. He highlighted that most researchers do not share data on open access platforms. While most researchers have started sharing methodologies and sources of funding, they are not willing to share errors in data. He also asserted that in order to reach the wider Indian public, research should be communicated in regional languages.
Prabhakar Singh discussed the lack of data collection expertise of government departments in India. He also talked about the inaccessibility of research due to high costs and demands for open access following the Sci-Hub controversy.
Chair: Ramaswamy Sudarshan, executive director, Centre for Ethics, Law and Political Economy, Jindal School of Government & Public Policy
Panellists: Doug Johnson, director, IDinsight; Guneet Narula, DataMeet; Rakesh Ranjan, senior consultant, Niti Aayog, Government of India; and Pramit Bhattacharya, data editor, Mint, New Delhi
Ramaswamy Sudarshan pointed out that open source data is an inherently political issue. While the Indian government has attempted to promote open access through initiatives such as india.gov.in, data remains guarded and inaccessible
Rakesh Ranjan talked about the government’s efforts to make data publically available. While there is consensus on promoting open access of government data, there is a need to quality-assure data being shared
Pramit Bhattacharya talked about the increasingly important role data play in journalism in response to the credibility crisis and the growing demand of evidence-informed stories from an educated reader base.
Gunnet Narula stated that, while the government has approved the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy, the quality of data renders them unusable.
Doug Johnson discussed how accountability in the top government echelon can ensure better standards of data collection and analysis. He also argued that rigorous data collection should be ensured by coming up with a solution-oriented rather than a punitive approach.
Chair: Neeta Goel, senior evaluation specialist, 3ie
Panellists: Anant Padmanabhan, fellow, Centre for Policy Research; Anupama Jha, regional consultant, Trace International; L Vekatachalam, professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies and Stephen Marks, professor, Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
The panellists in the closing session on ethics in the research life cycle deliberated on the collective responsibility of the research community to promote ethics in the conduct of research.
Anant Padmanabhan shared his concern over an increasing risk of surveillance in the age of fast-paced technological innovations like self-learning algorithms and the need to de-identify data.
Anupama Jha discussed the relationship between researchers and their sample communities, and emphasised that researchers should share the end use of the data with beneficiaries. She also suggested sound capacity-building for researchers to help promote ethical data collection practices.
L Vekatachalam argued that arbitrary methods used to collect data renders it unusable. He highlighted that the discipline required for data collection should be taught as part of the university curriculum.
Stephen Marks underscored the ethical concerns that cloud research work in academia. According to him, research often depends more on availability of funds rather than the researcher’s motivation. He stated that data collection should be an inclusive process and should incorporate those on whom the data are being collected.
Emmanuel Jimenez, executive director, 3ie
In these closing remarks, Emmanuel Jimenez focused on three key takeaways from the conference. First, he focused on the benefits of being transparent. Research that is openly available can improve quality. Open data, for example, provides incentives for researchers to ensure that their work is at a level that can pass scholarly scrutiny.
Second, the conference highlighted the critical role of ethics in research transparency. Aside from a dedicated panel, ethical issues came up throughout the day. Most panelists agreed that it was a moral responsibility for researchers to share their findings and data widely. Respondents deserve to know how their data was being used. Moreover, when data are released, it is crucial for researchers, funders and users of research to ensure the privacy of those whose data are being collected.
Third, the discussion revealed that India still has a long way to go in terms of research transparency, however it was recognized that events like these help generate interest in the topic.