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Data Sharing: Creating Incentives and Changing Cultures

30 May, 2014

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A new report from the Expert Advisory Group on Data Access (EAGDA) discusses the need for a fundamental cultural shift in the research community to incentivise and support researchers in sharing data. Dave Carr, Policy Adviser at the Wellcome Trust, highlights some of the key challenges addressed in the report.

At the Wellcome Trust we believe there is a vast untapped potential in research data. We are committed to working with our funded researchers to support them in making data available to others to access, combine, and re-use in innovative ways. It was this goal that led us to establish EAGDA in partnership with the MRC, ESRC and Cancer Research UK in 2012 to provide strategic advice on data access issues and to help us address the considerable challenges in putting our policies on data access into practice.

Over the last two years, EAGDA has helped to shape our thinking on how we can work with our research communities to facilitate wider access to the rich datasets generated by cohort and longitudinal studies, while anticipating and responding to emerging ethical, technical and legal issues.

As funders, we recognise that our success in enabling access to these data depends critically on creating an environment which supports researchers in sharing high quality data, and offers due rewards to those who do it well. As part of its work programme, EAGDA initiated a study last year to better understand what helps and hinders researchers in sharing data and to examine the need for new types of incentives. The perspectives of a wider range of researchers and data managers across the fields of genetics, epidemiology and the social sciences were sought via surveys, interviews and focus group discussions.

3332644561_c9d5041d02_bThe resulting report emphasises the significant progress and investments made by the partner funders in supporting data sharing. Nonetheless, EAGDA rightly highlights that we need to do more. In particular, the work indicates that the costs to researchers of sharing data are not always adequately anticipated or provisioned; that there is typically very little, if any, formal recognition for data sharing in key assessment processes; and that many researchers do not have access to the infrastructures and skills they require to share data effectively.

In its recommendations, EAGDA calls on the funders to sustainably build on their existing investments by:

  • Funding data management through the research life cycle: through strengthening approaches for reviewing data sharing plans that funders request as part of grant applications, anticipating the costs involved, and ensuring the implementation of agreed plans is tracked post-award.
  • Recognising data sharing as valued research output: through including data sharing as a formal criteria in funding decisions, and working with the higher education funding councils to promote data outputs for explicit inclusion as outputs in future Research Excellence Frameworks.
  • Supporting key skills and resources:  through working in partnership to create formal career paths for data managers and to develop and sustain key data repositories.

The MRC, ESRC, Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust are reviewing and discussing EAGDA’s recommendations, and will publish a joint response over the coming weeks. As the report points out, stimulating the cultural change required to enable data sharing is a complex challenge, but if we are to achieve our goal of maximising the full value of data, it is a challenge we cannot afford to ignore.

We welcome any comments and feedback on the report, which is available on EAGDA’s website.

Image credits:  Random Number Multiples – RGB – Jer Thorp on Flickr, CC-BY 2.0, DATABASE at Postmasters, March 2009 – Michael Mandiberg on Flickr, CC-BY-SA 2.0

One Comment leave one →
  1. 30 May, 2014 10:50 am

    Peer-to-peer data sharing should always be encouraged and it is part of being a professional to do so on request (within reason). It places little time or financial burden on the individual scientist. But curated data sharing via repositories places significant (and often ongoing) time and financial burden on both the scientist and the curator; so whether all data should be in curated repositories or not bears some consideration. There appears to be a striking distinction between situations where large-scale data collection and curation/sharing has led to many follow up uses and benefit (e.g. Allen Mouse Brain, Connectome etc) and others where the community makes little or no use of curated data (e.g. fMRI data repositories for small-scale experiments). Often the former seem to be situations where there is a large-scale funded effort towards a defined target – rather than the more ad-hoc exploration of disparate scientific hypotheses that characterises the ‘long tail’ of much scientific effort. It may make sense to explore this distinction further in order to understand whether it is better to concentrate (curated) data sharing efforts on large-scale funded projects rather than place a (significant) burden on individual researchers preparing metadata etc for curated repositories. That is, the requirement/obligation to data share can be universal; but applied to different researchers in different ways.

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