We want to make the UK the most digitally advanced research nation in the world. There are some strong foundations to build on, but one area that needs continued support is how we manage, and make the most of data produced in the process of research. This is where Jisc can help.
The useful life of research data doesn’t grind to a halt when it’s created. That’s just the start of its journey. It has a whole lifecycle that takes it from creation through to discovery, reuse and citation; and understanding this process is key to unlocking the potential that research data can have outside of university walls – the goal of open science in a nutshell.
The data we’re talking about here is vast in scale, scope and complexity. We’re on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution, data is big business, and there is potential in this data for life changing discoveries which could change the future of humanity. With this opportunity come concerns about how we manage research data, but focusing on the research lifecycle can help.
For researchers, whether or not the data they inherit or produce is interoperable can make or break careers; it’s also an expectation within many funding agreements that research data is shareable. Perhaps more importantly, the impact of research in the wider world is limited if it’s not held in a format that can be reused. So right at the inception of the lifecycle, there’s a challenge ahead to keep in mind.
But before we even know whether data can be reused effectively, we need to address the issue of discoverability – this is where the lifecycle both begins and ends.
Our research data discovery service is all about breaking down the data silos and linking data to other research outputs, which means the impact and potential impact of research is easier to ascertain. By incorporating data as part of the research achievements, making data open will become part and parcel of the citation process.
"Discoverability isn’t just about reuse and impact. Delays in disseminating research and data can be economically devastating and even life-threatening. Early research on Avian flu published in Chinese in 1998 “…attracted very little attention…”. The opportunity for an early global research effort was missed."
Webster, R. G., Hakawi, A. M., Chen, H., & Guan, Y. (2006). H5N1 Outbreaks and Enzootic Influenza. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 12(1), 3-8
The concept of keeping research open really isn’t new – The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 called for ‘observations and results to be made freely available’ and those within the academic community have been calling for this to be the default position for many, many years.
The Panton Principles, famously created in a pub in Cambridge, came as a call to action for the academic community to take on the mantle of making research open; data and findings from publically funded research should be available in the public domain. The newest principles within the community link us back to the lifecycle at each stage; research needs to be FAIR - findable, accessible, re-usable and interoperable – more on this to follow in our recent report, FAIR in Practice.
This report is part of a growing conviction amongst researchers (and policy makers) that the fruits of our labour deserve to be shared as widely as possible. When it comes to the melting pot that is cross-disciplinary, global research, it’s not enough for individual researchers or university departments to be doing things right, we need to take a sector-wide approach, covering the research lifecycle in its entirety.
As sponsors of the UK’s Research Data Champions, we are working to support colleagues from across the sector so we can share best practice, and help institutions manage their research outputs as effectively as possible.
To create a launchpad for UK open science, and enable more powerful, impactful research, managing and storing research data is essential for both publication and collaboration – a buzz word in the research press as we await the impact of Brexit. This movement is also enhanced by the new disruptive publishing initiatives that challenge the traditional commercial routes to publication, with universities and academics 'doing it for themselves'.
And infrastructure matters as much as policy. Considerations such as whether or not the software we use has source codes freely available so that data can be redistributed and modified according to the users’ needs – in this case the researcher or research data manager – need to be factored in.
It’s great to see the likes of UKRI and the research councils addressing these types of barriers, and looking for sector-wide solutions, but we need this work to pick-up pace if the expectations placed on the UK’s future research economy are to be realised.
The pilot phase of our research data shared service (transitioning to a fully-fledged service later this year) is all about enabling researchers to easily deposit data for publication, discovery, safe storage and preservation. This means that we’ll be able to provide sustainable access to research data for the long term so it can be re-used, overcoming one of the significant hurdles of producing FAIR research.
Our work on this project with member universities and research institutes has given us a persepctive on the challenges and the reality of research which is allowing us to shape services that support the lifecycle, and make research data both as open as possible and as closed as necessary.
In the future, we expect that open science – especially where research is publicly funded - will become the norm, with a sector joined up to support UK researchers at every stage of the cycle, but as our data champions explain, '…we’re not quite there yet'. Within our daily roles however, all of us in the research sector can drive the open science agenda at each stage of the research lifecycle, and bring the possibilities of open research to life.
Read our guide on managing research data in your institution.