The UKRN can be traced back to a meeting held by the Academy of Medical Sciences, jointly with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Medical Research Council (MRC), and Wellcome in 2015, on the challenges and opportunities for improving the reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research in the UK. At this meeting, it was clear that there was a desire to address these issues, but no single organisation who had clear responsibility for doing so.
A number of academic colleagues began discussing how best to achieve this and lobbied funders for support. In September 2018, we were able to bring several funders, publishers, and other sectoral organisations together at a meeting at the University of Bristol, to discuss a model for coordinating this activity. There was enthusiastic support, and the UKRN was born, launched formally at an event at King’s College London in March 2019.
There was already a large community of researchers engaged with these issues, many of whom volunteered to form local networks at their institutions. This part—the foundation of UKRN—grew rapidly. Our target was to recruit 10 institutions as institutional members in 3 years, but we recruited this number in less than a year, driven perhaps by the Research Excellence Framework in the UK, which provided an incentive for institutions to join.
Our model has been to remain light touch and flexible—our Terms of Reference are brief, and while they include model role descriptions for Local Network Leads and Institutional Leads, these are intended to be a starting point, rather than prescriptive. We recognise that while there is value in coordinating activity, each discipline, institution, and country (as we see other national reproducibility networks emerge) will have different specific needs.
We also are able to operate on a modest budget that supports an administrator, our website, and support for key initiatives. Our strategy was to ask for modest support (ranging from £500 to £10,000 per year over 3 years) from a relatively large number of funders. This approach may work best in countries with a sufficient number of funders to support this approach, but it lowered the barrier to entry for these funders, given that the amount requested was modest.
Our medium-term strategy was to use this funding to establish UKRN, and grow the Network, while seeking more substantial funding by the end of that initial 3-year period.
In July 2021, we were awarded £4.5 million by Research England (with an additional £4 million in-kind contribution from partners) to continue our activities for a further 5 years, focused on embedding open research practices across our partner institutions and, ultimately, the wider sector.
This funding—including the substantial in-kind contributions from our partner institutions and other organisations—provides a stable platform for UKRN for the next 5 years. In that time, we will have to develop a longer-term sustainability model that will allow us to continue our activity. What this looks like remains to be seen, but it is exciting to be able to continue to work collaboratively across the sector, nationally and internationally.