The recently-launched Concordat for Open Research Data advocates an open data landscape, but how do you as an institution go about achieving this vision?
My last blog on the Concordat referred to the arguments for open research data. How at a policy level it helps ensure reproducibility, research integrity, and, while not mentioned in a lot of detail in our post, it of course works to prevent scientific fraud.
A study published in Nature identified a reproducibility ‘crisis’ whereby the majority of respondents in a survey failed to reproduce either their own or another scientist’s experiments.
So, the Concordat demonstrates the widespread policy acceptance of the requirement to share and open up research data (both at a research funder and university level), and aims to bridge some of the gaps, namely in forging consensus between research funders and research-performing institutions.
While working with stakeholders to develop the Concordat we repeatedly touched on the need for it to be accompanied by practical steps to addressing the principles that we were setting out. It’s all very well that the Concordat advocates an open data landscape, but how do you as an institution go about achieving this vision?
This is a significant challenge. In fact I would characterise some of the discussions we had in this time as urgent calls for practical help, and for ensuring implementation options and advice.
Universities are committed to providing their researchers with systems for managing, and for recording, their research, but presently there are few mature, sustainable solutions that would be suitable for the entire research data management lifecycle.
Our co-design work at Jisc with sector representatives echoed this. We got a clear message that institutions wanted to share practical solutions and to work together to be able to develop understanding and answers to some of the related challenges. There was also a clear demand from the community for shared services that address the issues with research data management. They told us they wanted Jisc to work with universities to provide a trusted and cost-effective approach to the systems and services needed for research data.
Realising a shared service
And that’s what we’re doing. The major activity that we have underway is the development of a research data shared service in partnership with 17 higher education institutions.
Our research data shared service project is a pilot with a view to iteratively developing a fit-for-purpose and sustainable service for UK higher education institutions (HEIs). The HEIs we’ve involved are diverse. This is imperative as the service aims to serve a variety of needs, from small and specialist colleges (Royal College of Music), to research-intensive (University of St Andrews), or those that have traditionally been more teaching-focused but have a number of strong research areas and are furthering their development, such as Middlesex University.
The key service platforms include:
- Repositories for deposit and access to research data
- Preservation to manage curation and ensure reuse into the long-term
- Reporting to help manage the data pipeline and report on use and system performance
Removing the barriers
The shared service is more than just these platforms on their own. Of equal importance is the work we are doing to improve the user experience so barriers to researcher deposit of research data are removed. There is also a focus on ensuring the service is interoperable with other systems – so as far as possible metadata will have to be entered only once, thereby reducing duplication of effort and freeing up time to concentrate on producing new research and more streamlined and efficient curation actions and research reporting.
Interoperability will be addressed within the higher education institution, for example with their current research information systems and also outside the institution with disciplinary repositories and global research infrastructures, for example by using common identifier standards like ORCID (researcher identifiers) or DataCite (dataset identifiers).
Some of the big gaps that HEIs informed us of in meeting compliance were in the preservation area. A big piece of work therefore is to address this, facilitating an environment where systems suppliers, HEIs and developers can work together to update and create suitable preservation solutions so that data can be properly accessible and re-used into the future and comply with funder expectations.
Working with vendors
As is our way, we are not creating a solution from scratch, instead we are building on established systems and improving them through collective requirements and implementation. In order to develop the shared service we are working with established suppliers. We are not taking their products off the shelf, but rather procuring the most relevant services and developing them via a framework agreement.
Both proprietary and open source suppliers have successfully competed to be on the framework agreement and the service will use those that meet the needs of the 17 HEIs. I won’t list all of the suppliers here, as there are a number, you can see details of the suppliers we’re currently engaged with in our blog from earlier this year.
The pilot HEIs are busy working with our architects and team to refine and identify our minimal viable product so we can move to the next stage of procurement, where suppliers will be selected to start work.
And while I can’t claim that this service will be the sole solution to all of the barriers, it will go a long way in bridging the priority gaps and securing a reliable, sustainable data management service for the data lifecycle from deposit to preservation, to support re-use as well as funder policy compliance.
I’d also urge you to come to the next research data network event on Tuesday 6 September at the University of Cambridge, where you’ll be able to share experiences, lessons and developments with other peers responsible for research data management. We look forward to hearing from you or welcoming you to Cambridge.