Open Access to Research Data: The European Commission’s consultation in progress
The European Commission held a public consultation on open access to research data on July 2 in Brussels inviting statements from researchers, industry, funders, IT and data centre professionals, publishers and libraries. The inputs of these stakeholders will play some role in revising the Commission’s policy and are particularly important for the ongoing negotiations on the next big EU research programme Horizon 2020, where about 25-30 billion Euros would be available for academic research. Five questions formed the basis of the discussion:
- How we can 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”?
Contributions from the researchers’ perspective emphasised that data, metadata and other documentation should be made available in order to be able to replicate the results of a research article and more data available means more scrutiny and getting more value out of the data. Furthermore, there is a need for pre-registration of studies in order to understand the full picture of a research field where e.g. negative results in the biomedical sciences (as well as many other fields) are not published. Then, this is also a need to have binding mechanisms e.g. required data management plans, better linkage between the research data and scientific publication with enforcement of data availability by journals, but also sustainable plans for making data available, where open access to data is formally a part of the research budget.
Searching and finding research data should be also made easier, as open access to data does not necessarily mean accessible data. There was also an emphasis that every contributor should be known and acknowledged and there is a need of establishing cultures around data sharing in different disciplines and “augmenting the scientific infrastructure to be technical, social and participatory” (Salvatore Mele, CERN).
There was some agreement that commercial data and data which can lead back to individuals should be kept closed but some aggregated data should be shared. Industry representatives (Philips Research, Federation of German Security and Defence Industries) argued for keeping some data closed, deciding on a case by case basis and having embargo periods on data produced in public-private partnerships in order to encourage investment.
Funders viewed research data as a public good, which should be managed and be discoverable, and encouraged open and better access to research data where research outputs are accessed and used in a way that maximises the public benefit. While there is a growing consensus about funder policies, these should be better implemented and enforced. Resources like – infrastructure, incentives and cultures, capacity and skills, ethics and governance – should be built and sustained in recognition of the different stages that different disciplines are currently at (some really good points made by David Carr, the Wellcome Trust).
The IT, data centre professionals and librarians spoke about the need to recognise the role of data scientists and data librarians, with appropriate funding and careers. While the value of data is often recognised later on and grows over time there is less of an understanding who would pay for the long-term preservation since few institutions can make indefinite commitments. A key component should be also proper training and the development of core skills in dealing with research data (where librarians can assist researchers in data management plans, bridging the gap in knowledge), as well as the proper citation rules and practices for data where career recognition can be linked to sharing of research data in order to boost incentives.
While the European Commission has been carrying the flag of open access, mandating open access to research publications funded by the last research and innovation programme FP7, there are larger hurdles on the road to open access to research data. While the EC’s communication “Towards better access to scientific information” reflects some commitment to open access to research data, there are many exceptions, e.g. privacy, trade secrets, national security, legitimate commercial interest, intellectual property, data resulting from a public-private partnership, etc. As Mireille van Echoud, professor of Information Law at IViR, stated at the Open Economics workshop in June, “any lawyer will find whatever argument they need to keep data from falling under an open access obligation”.