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. Since 2016 there has however been an indication that open research data is now on the agenda, and a number of policies and initiatives have been developed during the time this policy review has been active. 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.
Since the last version of this report, partly thanks to a concerted effort between SPARC Europe, DCC, EBLIDA, LIBER and IFLA, the new EU’s Directive on Open Data and the Re-use of Public Sector Information (PSI Directive) puts a greater focus on enhancing the way that publicly funded research data should be made available, accessed and shared. The new directive came into force in July 2019. The goals for change to this directive were to improve digital public services through a greater focus on data openness, greater use of AI and business support to tech startups among other things. The emphasis on improving access to publically funded research data is very welcome. Article 10 now states that “Member States shall support the availability of research data by adopting national policies and relevant actions aiming at making publicly funded research data openly available (‘open access policies’) following the principle of ‘open by default’ and compatible with FAIR principles.”They shall be re-useable for commercial and non-commercial purposes if this data has made available in an institutional or subject-based repository. This relates to research datathat is publicly funded or co-funded by public and private-sector entities. It also follows the principles of as open as possible, as closed as necessary to make necessary exclusions. This European legislation now needs to be implemented in each EU Member State in the coming 2 years.
Another important addition is the broad committment for Open Science in the commitment in the next European Commission R&I Framework Programme Horizon Europe. One of the operational objectives includes “fostering open science and ensuring visibility to the public and open access to scientific publications and research data, including appropriate exceptions.” European Commission, 2019, EU Budget for the Future:Horizon Europe. EU Funding for Research and Innovation 2021-2027, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/budget-may2018-research-innovation_en.pdf Importantly it also emphasises the importance of uptake of more OS policy and practice: “Accelerating the transition towards open science, by monitoring, analysing and supporting the development and uptake of open science policies and practices, including the FAIR principles, at the level of Member States, regions, institutions and researchers, in a way that maximises synergies and coherence at EU level.” The regulation goes further to encourage modernising recognition and reward systems on national levels, which are so crucial to the success of OA and OS. OA to research data is the general rule under the terms and conditions fo the new EU funding programme’s grant agreement. It is rather well aligned with the PSI directive as mentioned above, endorsing FAIR and making data “as open as possible, as closed as necessary’; DMPs are also to be established. This legislation will be laid down in the Horizon European grant agreement and come into force in 2021.
Going back to reporting on developments in Open Science policies in European countries, despite the challenges inherent in making comparisons between quite different types of policy document, the analysis made some interesting findings. 14 of the 28 European Union member states have national, research data-related policies in place, which is up from 10 in January 2018. In the European Research Area, three further non-EU members (Norway, Serbia and Switzerland) have active policies. The majority of the policies we looked at are involve 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, strategy documents 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 2019, with a pronounced tendency towards more recent implementation. Of the fourteen, there is roughly an even split 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 as successors to previous policies; in others, they are the first time that anything like this has been attempted at a national level.
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/ 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.