This year's research data network event was a huge success, with sector experts gathering to discuss global issues in research data management. The consensus? There are challenges, but we’re excited about meeting them.
The great thing about the annual event is that it welcomes anybody with an interest in research data management. This means that you really do get a well-rounded view of what’s going on in the area.
This summer’s event was the fourth of its kind for us and went on for a day longer, meaning plenty of time to network, discuss and debate.
So why share research data?
If we don’t share research data, what will we miss out on?
Well, obviously there are different views here, but think about it - if we could bring together all sources of oncological data and easily compare them, perhaps the cure for cancer would be faster to arrive.
Astronomy and citizen science
Our keynote speaker Mark Humphries gave a great example of data sharing. Within astronomy, data is collected automatically by very expensive telescopes available in a few places around the world. The data is shared widely and astronomers around the world benefit from the huge investment.
What’s more, astronomy is an excellent example of ‘citizen science’. There’s so much data about space that some researchers actively engage citizens to work with it. A project that we originally funded, Galaxy Zoo – helps researchers to categorise pictures by way of crowdsourcing.
Astronomy is an example of open data already leading to better research, with less duplication and more progress. However, open mustn’t mean 'available to anyone at any time', to avoid data being used for negative purposes and ensure that sensitive data is handled correctly.
Furthermore, just having all the data out there can make it harder to explore - open simply means that data is both discoverable and reusable.
Arguably, one of the biggest challenges facing research data management (RDM) at the moment is compliance with funder open research data policies that recommend intelligent openness, discoverability and reusability of data. This compliance raises both technological and cultural issues.
Technological issues can be about interoperability between systems and a lack of adequate preservation tools.
Both of these issues can be tackled by our research data shared service (and more RDM services are listed at the end of this blog).
Cultural challenges within RDM are also rife. Resistance to using new tools or sharing data openly, along with differing opinions about what sharing means, and what research data actually is, all cause problems.
Mark Humphries highlighted that in his field of neuroscience, researchers feel a stronger ownership over data, as it is trickier to collect, and therefore seen as more valuable.
To become a notable researcher and to get tenure, you need to prove your worth in order to get research grants. These grants rely on the quality and frequency of your publications, and publications rely on data, so it's easy to see why open research data can be a sensitive subject.
Tackling the challenges: helpful resources and information
We know that solid data management is invaluable for research. The question is – what can be done to help?
- The Open Research Data Taskforce has been established by Jo Johnson (minister of state for science) to tackle the open research data infrastructure in the UK, and to make recommendations on the direction of travel, so in terms of what is coming next, this is the group to watch – and we’ll be playing our part at Jisc
- Research Data Network is a site that we established for the sector at the demand for help pulling together all the resources, tools and services. It is open for anyone to contribute to and it supports the research data network events as well, so all the resources from the past four events are there too
- Research data shared service is a service for universities that allows researchers to manage most of their data smoothly. It helps universities to ensure that they are complying with funder requirements and are preserving data, whilst making as much of it open and accessible as possible
- Research data discovery service is a searchable catalogue of research data from HE and research institutions across the UK
- Research data metrics for usage is a service that can track and add up how many times data sets have been downloaded and cited
- Research data business case and costing was a project that defined a framework to understand the costs that an institution will have to incur when setting up an infrastructure for sharing and preserving research data
- Equipment.data is a search engine for research equipment across the UK, aimed at researchers and technicians working with kit that is more expensive than £10k