Research data infrastructures in the UK

The Open Research Data Task Force : “This report is intended to inform the work of the Open Research Data Task Force, which has been established with the aim of building on the principles set out in Open Research Data Concordat (published in July 2016) to co-ordinate creation of a roadmap to develop the infrastructure for open research data across the UK. As an initial contribution to that work, the report provides an outline of the policy and service infrastructure in the UK as it stands in the first half of 2017, including some comparisons with other countries; and it points to some key areas and issues which require attention. It does not seek to identify possible courses of action, nor even to suggest priorities the Task Force might consider in creating its final report to be published in 2018. That will be the focus of work for the Task Force over the next few months.

Why is this important?

The digital revolution continues to bring fundamental changes to all aspects of research: how it is conducted, the findings that are produced, and how they are interrogated and transmitted not only within the research community but more widely. We are as yet still in the early stages of a transformation in which progress is patchy across the research community, but which has already posed significant challenges for research funders and institutions, as well as for researchers themselves. Research data is at the heart of those challenges: not simply the datasets that provide the core of the evidence analysed in scholarly publications, but all the data created and collected throughout the research process. Such data represents a potentially-valuable resource for people and organisations in the commercial, public and voluntary sectors, as well as for researchers. Access to such data, and more general moves towards open science, are also critically-important in ensuring that research is reproducible, and thus in sustaining public confidence in the work of the research community. But effective use of research data depends on an infrastructure – of hardware, software and services, but also of policies, organisations and individuals operating at various levels – that is as yet far from fully-formed. The exponential increases in volumes of data being generated by researchers create in themselves new demands for storage and computing power. But since the data is characterised more by heterogeneity then by uniformity, development of the infrastructure to manage it involves a complex set of requirements in preparing, collecting, selecting, analysing, processing, storing and preserving that data throughout its life cycle.

Over the past decade and more, there have been many initiatives on the part of research institutions, funders, and members of the research community at local, national and international levels to address some of these issues. Diversity is a key feature of the landscape, in terms of institutional types and locations, funding regimes, and nature and scope of partnerships, as well as differences between disciplines and subject areas. Hence decision-makers at various levels have fostered via their policies and strategies many community-organised developments, as well as their own initiatives and services. Significant progress has been achieved as a result, through the enthusiasm and commitment of key organisations and individuals. The less positive features have been a relative lack of harmonisation or consolidation, and there is an increasing awareness of patchiness in provision, with gaps, overlaps and inconsistencies. This is not surprising, since policies, strategies and services relating to research data necessarily affect all aspects of support for the diverse processes of research itself. Developing new policies and infrastructure for research data implies significant re-thinking of structures and regimes for supporting, fostering and promoting research itself. That in turn implies taking full account of widely-varying characteristics and needs of research of different kinds, while also keeping in clear view the benefits to be gained from better management of research data, and from greater openness in making data accessible for others to re-use for a wide range of different purposes….(More)”.