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This article describes how virtual research environments (VREs) offer new opportunities for researchers to analyse open data and to obtain new insights for policy making. Although various VRE-related initiatives are under development, there is a lack of insight into how VREs support collaborative open data analysis by researchers and how this might be improved, ultimately leading to input for policy making to solve societal issues. This article clarifies in which ways VREs support researchers in open data analysis. Seven cases presenting different modes of researcher support for open data analysis were investigated and compared. Four types of support were identified: 1) ‘Figure it out yourself', 2) ‘Leading users by the hand', 3) ‘Training to provide the basics' and 4) ‘Learning from peers'. The author provides recommendations to improve the support of researchers' open data analysis and to subsequently obtain new insights for policy making to solve societal challenges.