Open research data

Making research data more open

In the context of its programme of activities, RIDLs – the initiative that preceded and laid the ground for InformAll – considered the case for focused, small-scale empirical research aimed at advancing the evidence base and supporting the development of policy relating to information and data literacy skills in the higher education sector.  Following discussions at the end of 2012, RIDLs agreed that there was a strong case for a study about the knowledge and skills associated with the increasingly important requirements of data sharing and open data. This was felt to be particularly timely in the light of the publication, in June 2012, of the Royal Society report on Science as an open enterprise, and of the Government’s White Paper on Open Data – Unleashing the Potential.

These and other developments provided a timely opportunity to investigate the means that are or ought to be deployed to ensure that researchers have the knowledge, confidence and ability to allow for the greatest possible openness for the research data that they create. The RIDLs study was undertaken during the first half of 2013, and the report stemming from that, entitled Helping to open up: improving knowledge, capability and confidence in making research data more open, published in July 2013, is available here.

Summary findings of the study

Opening data builds on recent requirements and trends in HE for RDM. It is simply one potential goal for managing data. To support opening data, openness should be put at the heart of RDM and RDM training: an “open by default” position. This is a small extension and a change in tone, rather than any fundamental change.

While there is little training specifically intended for opening data, there is an increasing number of training courses and materials available to support RDM. Much of this training is at a level that provides only basic working knowledge and an awareness of the issues of RDM, and whereas “open data” may be mentioned, it is only addressed superficially.

Few training materials are available for intermediate level skills and none for training experts in opening data. Some courses are available to train information professionals (ie library or IT staff) who will subsequently have a role in training others or providing support. The individuals who currently have responsibilities for managing research data are in many cases responsible for working out how to do this: however, there is not yet a significant body of expertise and best practice.

None of the training examined was aimed at a particular instrument or dataset. However, such training would normally either be given within the research group, by an instrument supplier, or by a research collaboration.

In many disciplines, it is still early days for opening research data. Although the drivers exist, the culture of “open by default” is not yet established, and there is no clear view on the type and level of support in opening data needed by researchers. There is also no common view of the skills required by such support staff or how such support should be delivered.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to opening data appears to be meeting the needs of researchers across different disciplines, with strongly differing needs. The report describes a framework for how to address this challenge when designing training and support for opening data, within the broader questions of RDM. Recommendations are set out, relating to:

– putting opening data at the heart of policy

– putting opening data at the heart of training

– deepening and broadening the training

– identifying and disseminating best practice in opening data

– developing institutional and community support

A more extended summary can also be found in a post on the Impact of Social Sciences blog run by the London School of Economics, published in October 2013.


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Helping to open up: improving knowledge, capability and confidence in making research data more open by Research Information and Digital Literacies Coalition (RIDLs) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.