The 10 principles of open research data

With the publication of the Concordat on Open Research Data last week, the UK strengthened its leadership position in promoting access to taxpayer-funded research data.

The Concordat sets out 10 principles that promote access and reuse of research data as a catalyst for high quality research, while recognizing the costs that may be involved. Among other principles, the concordat promotes:

  • the availability of data to support scholarly publications
  • the use of data repositories
  • the value of data curation to enable data access and reuse
  • support for the development of data skills for researchers
  • the cultural norms of academia that ensure that individuals can earn credit for sharing data

On behalf of Springer Nature, I had the pleasure of playing a small role in the development of the document; written by a collaborative and multi-stakeholder working group followed by a broad public consultation with the research community.

Although research organizations rather than publishers are the target audience for the Concordat, the principles have many implications for publishers if we are truly to facilitate better research communication through wider access to data.

Citation of data is a recurring theme of the arrangement, as is a “right of first use” for data generators. The data should be made available in a citable form, ideally in repositories, and “[a]All users of research data should formally cite the data they use”. Citation of data is a persistent feature of the standard research data policies we aim to implement in all Springer Nature publications. And Springer Nature last month (co-chaired by Amye Kenall of BioMed Central) helped bring editors together to share our experience and create a roadmap for implementing data citation in journals and books.

The importance of data retention – as a process and competence of the researcher – is underlined by the Concordat, which also recognizes the importance of disciplinary standards:

Data curation can be accomplished in a number of ways, such as peer review, adhering to community-specific data formats and standards, filing into specific repositories and through appropriate descriptions, or ‘Dedicated data articles in journal publications..

Publishers must continue to innovate and experiment with how the data underlying publications can be rendered more findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR). Concretely, this means facilitating access to data during peer review and promoting the use – and partnership with – data repositories. It also means promoting discipline-specific data standards and providing new publication formats and content features, such as data reviews and articles. An example of this within Springer Nature’s Scientific data the team is one Data curation editor (Dr Varsha Khodiyar) who works with the authors to help maximize the discoverability and reuse of open research data.

While the Concordat is inherently UK-focused, the global nature of research and collaborations across geographic and disciplinary boundaries suggests that the document may have broader implications. Leading research organizations outside the UK, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are increasingly recognizing the importance of data retention skills for researchers.

Important steps were also taken last month by the National Science Foundation, which began providing dedicated funding for data repository in the Dryad data repository, and the European Commission, which will finance open access to research data through its Horizon 2020 open data pilot.

Sharing data is often described as a journey and embracing the 10 principles of #searchconcordat by research organizations is, for many, an important first step.

Sean N. Ayres