The aim of the European Commission’s consultation on open research data was to gather feedback from relevant stakeholder communities on the following questions:
- How can we define research data and what types of research data should be open?
- When and how does openness need to be limited?
- How should the issue of data re-use be addressed?
- Where should research data be stored and made accessible?
- How can we enhance data awareness and a culture of sharing?
The consultation was opened by Thierry Van der Ply, Director of Excellence on Science in DG Connect and Octavi Quintana, Director of European Research Area from DG RTD. Both directors outlined the importance of open research data for the European Commission, listing benefits such as the potential for the reuse of data, encouraging innovation in SMEs, and benefits for the citizen in terms of transparency and the verifiability of scientific results.
Views from researchers, funders and industry
The first group of stakeholders to have their voices heard was the researchers. Many contributors outlined the benefit, such a replication of experiments, fostering of global communities of practice, of open access to research data. The question of the types of data that should be made available was addressed several times by different disciplines, and many pointed out that even data from experiments which resulted in negative research results should be made available. Although the question of when and how openness should be limited was mentioned frequently, there seemed to be no strong push from researchers to put embargo periods in place, merely a desire to ensure that sensitive personal data be treated appropriately. An interesting point raised by one speaker was that patients donating data for medical research are doing so for the benefit of society and not just for use by a closed select few.
The importance of metadata was also raised by some researchers; metadata recording methodologies, authenticity and provenance. The key to enhancing a culture of sharing from the researcher’s perspective is the incentivisation of data sharing through reward and recognition. Making data sharing easier by providing good submission tools and making the data sharing process easier for researchers was also mentioned as a way to encourage data sharing.
Representatives from industry were also heard from at the consultation. Their primary concern seemed to be what and when should data be made open. Whilst industry acknowledges that they can profit from unlimited access to data, there is a fear that open data will reduce competitiveness or the amount of potential profit to be made from engaging in European projects. For them, it is important that open access not be compulsory and that only data from certain stages of the research process be made available in consultation with the data producers.
National research funders also presented their perspective at the consultation. Their contributions were interesting because they presented their criteria and considerations for the development and implementation of open data policies in their fields. Funders also called for better infrastructure, the building of skills and capacity, and the collection and promotion of success stories in data sharing.
Data management plans and tools for data sharing essential
Not surprisingly, the need for good data management plans and provision of funding for data management beyond the project end date was highlighted several times by representatives from research infrastructures. Interoperability between data repositories and the development of tools and technologies for data sharing and exploitation were given high priority by infrastructure representatives, but it was also highlighted that tools for data sharing should match the existing workflows of researchers. In terms of what data should be made available, it was pointed out that small datasets should be given just as must importance as big data.
Several publishers, both entirely open access and traditional, presented their views on open research data, highlighting how open data was enabling publishers to develop new tools for enhanced publications and data visualisation. The publishers called for defragmentation and also emphasised the need for interoperability between repositories and the importance of metadata to record how data is collected. Being able to track the reuse of data and to cite data was seen as key to encouraging data sharing and awareness.
Lastly, libraries shared their views on open access to research data and the important role they play in the provision of support, infrastructure and education in data management and sharing. Libraries also have a key role to play in advocacy for data sharing. Supporting the creation of data management plans is one very practical role that libraries can play in data sharing. To fulfull these roles libraries will need more funding for skilled staff and infrastructure and will also need to reposition themselves within the researcher workflow. Read the full intervention by Paul Ayris.
This is just a snapshot of some of the discussion on the day. There was a great many contributions and points made for the European Commission to digest and incorporate in to their open research data policies. The overall message from every stakeholder community in the room seemed to be that open access to research data will ultimately benefit us all and that its potential is so hugh that we cannot yet predict its full impact or the way in which it may change the nature of research. What we do know is that there exists a lot of good will and willingness to engage across the stakeholder communities.
*More information on the Recode project is available here: http://recodeproject.eu/