Can governing documents contribute to more accessible research data?

Published: 2021-10-22

—The problem isn’t the demand for research data, but the supply.
Thomas Kieselbach from Umeå University opened the SND network meeting by stating that there are many stakeholders, from researchers and scientific journals, to funders and politicians at a national and international level, who demand that research data should be as accessible as possible. One of the questions in focus at the meeting was whether various forms of governing documents can contribute to the supply of accessible research data.

Image with examples of stakeholders who demand increased access to research data: OECD, the European Commission, the government, journals, research funders, and researchers.
Thomas Kieselbach from Umeå University gave a background to the work with making research data accessible, and the problem that supply doesn’t yet meet the demand.

The network meeting on Wednesday, 21 October, was a continuation of the discussion about research data policies that began with a network even last June. Several HEIs in the SND network are working on different strategies, policies, guidelines, and recommendations for how to handle data correctly during the entire research process and achieve the government’s goal to make all publicly funded research data as open and accessible as possible by 2026.

Grateful for the exchange of experiences

The work with governing documents has progressed to different stages in different HEIs and Mattias Persson from Örebro University expressed gratitude for the ongoing exchange of experiences:

—I really want to thank everyone who has been at the forefront and inspired the rest of us. For our part, this work has been going on for a long time. At the beginning, the proposed research data policy was very detailed, but we have now established a more comprehensive policy that is sustainable over time. To complement it, we have more flexible and detailed guidelines that can easily be adapted as needed, he said.

Sabina Anderberg from Stockholm University also emphasised the importance of coordination:

—Putting on my SUHF hat, I can state that it’s great if HEIs have similar regulations that are as simple and comprehensive as possible. This makes it easier for researchers, especially if they move between HEIs.

Putting principles to practice

At the network meeting, participants from seven HEIs gave brief presentations of their work with various governing documents for research data and which efforts are needed to put the principles of these documents to practice (Karlstad University, Karolinska Institutet, Linköping University, Stockholm University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå University, and Örebro University).

—It’s very important that this doesn’t turn into a paper tiger, but that it reflects how we actually work with data management and how we strive to reach the goal of open science, said Johanna Nählinder from Linköping University.

The other presenters also emphasised the connection between governing documents and actual practice. In many HEIs, researchers have taken part in the work to develop policy documents and guidelines, and plenty of work has been made and will be made to reach out to departments and among researchers. Some of the examples mentioned were workshops, seminars, meetings like staff days, visits to departments, tutoring to individual researchers, trainings in PhD programmes, and information on websites and in newsletters.

It won’t all go right from the beginning

Sabina Anderberg expressed how important it is to be patient during this process:

—This will take some time, and it’s ok if it isn’t perfect. It can’t all go right from the very beginning.

One thing that can make it extra difficult for the work with research data policies to have an impact is that the HEIs have so many governing documents. Thomas Kieselbach had counted that Umeå University has almost 300 governing documents, but depending on how you search for them, there could be even more. Mikaela Asplund from Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences shared similar experiences:

—The research data policy is part of a jungle of governing documents. It’s a challenge in itself to see how everything is connected and to explain that.

Despite the challenges, many of the network meeting participants agreed that the HEIs need some form of governing documents for research data to achieve the government’s goal of open science by 2026. They also thought that such a governing document would be useful to make research data management easier for researchers.

Here you can see some of the presentations from the event. Note that they are in Swedish.

A list of why an open science policy is needed and why it’s important to turn it into something practical in each researcher’s everyday work.
Sabina Anderberg from Stockholm University summarised experiences that several of the HEIs shared concerning a need for governing documents for open science and the key issue of how to turn them to practice in research.