An Analysis of Open Data and Open Science Policies in Europe, v2.1 | January 2018
It has long been accepted that national energies are generally dedicated to implementing Open Access to publications before attention turns to research data, not least because of the potential penalties for non-compliance with funder mandates, which are rare in the data realm. This study found that, in some countries, research data has had to wait in line behind public sector data, i.e. that produced by government departments (and often re-used by HE researchers) as opposed to data created or captured by researchers in the field or the laboratory.
The European Commission’s Open Research Data Pilot for Horizon 2020 is cited in multiple policy documents as a driver and influencing force in the development of national approaches. At the same time, the importance of underpinning infrastructure is clear, and while significant efforts have been taken to develop a pan-EU research data management infrastructure via projects such as EUDAT, there is no consensus position shared within, less still across, the member states. The UK case exemplifies this, with a single set of overarching principles guiding the individual funders, but a wide diversity of approaches and levels of support at domain/disciplinary level. Some of the RCUK councils operate or sponsor dedicated data centres, while others leave this to the researchers and their institutions, or to the disciplinary community at large. This underscores the difficulty in producing a “one-size-fits-all” approach to research data management, whether at a policy level or at a practical/procedural level: the Danish and German policies, to name two, are quite explicit on this point.
Despite the difficulties inherent in attempting to make comparisons between quite different types of policy document, the analysis made some interesting findings. 11 of the 28 European Union member states have national, research data-related policies in place. In the European Research Area, two further non-EU members (Norway and Switzerland) have active policies. The majority of the policies we looked at are owned by, or heavily involved, the national research funders, and consequently the type of policy that we see most often is the standard funder data policy, laying out expectations for grant recipients. Other types are available, ranging from national plans or roadmaps to codes of ethics, white papers, and even laws passed by national parliaments. The years in which the policies came into effect ranged from 2009 to 2017, with a pronounced tendency towards more recent implementation. Of the thirteen, there is roughly an even split (in each case 7 vs 6) between countries where research data is covered in the same policy as Open Access or Open Science and those where it is considered in isolation, and between countries with a ‘hard’ (imperative) and a ‘soft’ (encouraging) approach. Formal approaches to monitoring and compliance, and indeed fair mechanisms for reward and recognition, seem relatively low on the priority list, although four of the thirteen policies do make reference to these.
Where policies had been in place for a reasonable period of time, our original intention was to say something about their levels of uptake and success. In practice, none of the policies we looked at were more than 7 or 8 years old. In some cases, the current policies stand a successors to previous policies; in others, they are the first time that anything like this has been attempted at a national level. We expect to refresh this report at least twice in the next two years, and we will seek to identify evidence of uptake and engagement as and when it emerges.
Another potential area for further study is in codes of research ethics. Numerous European countries have these in place, often serving as a form of community-derived de facto policy. See for example http://www.enrio.eu/codes-guidelines-3/national-codes It may be worth future effort to look at these in more detail, particularly as carrying out comparisons between them will be comparing like with like. On the other hand, whilst coverage may vary between them, it seems unlikely that their positions on specific issues would vary greatly from country to country, given the general scientific consensus about the benefits of openness. What divides opinion now is less whether or not openness is a good thing, but rather how best to implement it, whose responsibility it should be, and who will pay.
This work was commissioned by SPARC Europe, co-financed by SPARC Europe and the Digital Curation Centre (DCC), and carried out by DCC.