Sharing research data is more than just a funder requirement. There are various other benefits – both to us as consumers of research and to us as producers of research – that come with making more data open access. This post goes over the five biggest reasons for making research data open access.
“The coolest thing to do with your data [might] be thought of by someone else.”
– Rufus Pollock, Cambridge University and Open Knowledge Foundation
Research data is something that most of us will produce or use over the course of our PhD. After all, when research data is defined as “recorded factual material […] necessary to validate research findings”, or even more broadly as “materials generated or collected during the course of conducting research”, it’s hard to avoid it! However, as the research project winds to a close it can be easy to forget about the nitty gritty pieces of information that got us there in favour of focusing on the bigger picture – the thesis, the presentations, the publications.
For some of us, the research data will come back into play because of open access requirements. Many funders, such as the UK Research and Innovation Councils (the UKRI includes the EPSRC, BBSRC and AHRC, to name a few) now stipulate that research data from a funded project has to be made open access as a requirement of the funding. But talking about reasons for looking after and sharing research data solely in terms of funder requirements makes it seem like just another item on the never-ending PGR checklist. There are many other reasons for making data open access!
1 – Impact
Data citation has come a long way in the last ten years, and it provides another channel for people to use and reference your work. This includes those who might not have much to add to the published article the dataset links to. The breakthrough with your data might not even come from within your discipline!
2 – Collaboration
In some ways this leads on from the point about impact. Making data open access means more opportunities for people to come across your work and raises the possibility of new collaborations. Another researcher might be able to combine and compare your data with their own in a way that leads to new information, or results in a new research project.
3 – Integrity
If others can see your research data, they have a much better idea of how you got to your results. More importantly, they can attempt replicate your methods without having to go through the potentially lengthy process of re-collecting data. In that way, they can easily validate, challenge, or build directly on your results to make new discoveries.
4 – Innovation
Research is never stagnant. In the future your data might be reinterpreted or reinvented, used to support or contradict new theories and discoveries. The beauty of your research data is that – if it is properly kept and catalogued – it might get a new lease on life years after you publish your article, make your presentation, or finish your thesis. Technologies for combining, analysing and visualising data to create new information are developing all the time, and most of them depend on that data being open access.
Of course, from the researcher perspective there are few things more exciting than discovering data that might support your argument, regardless of when that data was first published!
5 – Public Service
The sharp-eyed among you might notice that this ties back to the funding requirements I mentioned earlier. After all, the sentiment underpinning the requirement to make your funded research data open access is precisely the fact that because the public have paid for it in some way (e.g. through taxpayer contributions allocated to the UKRI) they should be entitled to be able to access it if they want to.
However, this point goes deeper than that. If you’ve had a stint outside of an academic institution, you’ll be familiar with how frustrating it can be trying to get access to academic research. Even from within there can often be barriers between us getting access to the research that would help our project. By making data – properly kept and catalogued – open access you are helping to break down those barriers. In this way we can all help our fellow researchers, academics and enthusiasts – both inside the Academy and out – get access to what they need.
A final point might be that even if you’re not creating data the above is still applicable! Even if you’re using someone else’s dataset it is useful to track, record, and publish any changes or annotations you make to help future researchers. There are a broad range of open access data repositories for almost every discipline and dataset, including:
- Institutional services (WRAP and the Research Data team here at Warwick)
- Sub-discipline specific repositories (e.g. Genbank, which includes data from the Human Genome Project)
- General repositories (e.g. Figshare, Zenodo, and the UK Data Service)
After all, if the last few years have taught us anything it is that open data access is very much the future!
What is your experience of sharing research data? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at email@example.com, or leave a comment below.
Emily Bassett is a second year in a 2+2 research programme in the Philosophy Department who also has experience working for the Library Research Data services. Her research is focused on testimonial knowledge and artificial intelligence, and how we should approach information generated by different machines. When away from a computer screen (admittedly, not often), she can be found sleeping.