Implementing Research Data Management Policies Across Europe – Experiences From Science Europe Member Organisations
On 29 January 2019, Science Europe released its ‘Practical Guide to the International Alignment of Research Data Management’1 (hereafter referred to as ‘RDM Guide’). As a follow-up, Science Europe compiled the present document to showcase some best practices of the Guide’s implementation during the first year after publication. For the sake of readability, research funding organisations (RFOs) and research performing organisations (RPOs) will be jointly referred to as research organisations in this publication.
This document is based on the experiences from organisations that have already implemented the RDM Guide into their policies. It features their approaches in developing research data management (RDM) policies and the means of communication they use to inform researchers and their institutions on the concept of RDM and the requirements of these policies. It also explores which challenges researchers, their home institutions and the funding organisations face, both during and after implementation of the new policies, and provides examples on how researchers can be supported in their RDM efforts.
An increasing number of research organisations request researchers to develop data management plans (DMPs) and select repositories for long-term storage and sharing of their data.
DMPs are meant to encourage researchers to take data management and data sharing into account from the very beginning of the research process. But as long as DMP requirements keep significant variations between different research organisations, participating organisations reported that many researchers still think of DMPs as a bureaucratic burden, rather than a useful tool.
After having worked on discipline-specific aspects2 of research data management, Science Europe published the RDM Guide as the result of an initiative aimed at aligning RDM across Europe. The objective is to help research organisations to develop RDM policies in a harmonised way. The Guide provides researchers a uniform set of core requirements for their individual DMPs (see annex 1), along with a set of minimum criteria (see annex 2) that a trustworthy research data repository should fulfil. The Guide has made an impact at EU level as the European Commission references it in its Annotated Model Grant Agreement3 since June 2019.
Since researchers should eventually no longer have to deal with different requirements when working with different organisations, it is quite clear to see how aligned DMP requirements will ultimately support researchers in their data management and data sharing.
During the first year that followed the publication of the RDM Guide, at least seven Science Europe Member Organisations (see below) have already used it to develop or adapt DMP requirements in their institutions. These organisations were surveyed and contributed with their experiences to the present document. Some of them even endeavoured a broader implementation with partners at national level. In addition, Science Europe received information that some universities are using the Science Europe RDM Guide to provide support to their researchers.
The French National Research Agency (ANR), the Irish Health Research Board (HRB), the Polish National Science Centre (NCN) and the Swedish Research Council (VR) have developed their DMP requirements based on the RDM Guide. The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and the Dutch Research Council (NWO) have updated their existing requirements to align them with the RDM Guide’s. The Academy of Finland (AKA) ensured that the already existing national policy on DMPs was updated to integrate the requirements of the RDM Guide. Both ANR (through the French Committee for Open Science) and VR also undertook collaborations with other research organisations to achieve a broader take-up of common RDM policies at national level.
The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) published its policy on Open Research Data (ORD) already in 2017. SNSF (CH) contributed with its expertise to the development of the Science Europe RDM Guide. The present publication therefore also provides examples of the SNSF policy.
When comparing the approaches and characteristics of the implementation of the RDM Guide in different research organisations across Europe, it is obvious that there are many similarities. These can be considered as key messages and advice to other organisations that are in the process of integrating the RDM Guide into their organisational or national policies.
Based on these conclusions, Science Europe encourages other research organisations to follow the three steps mentioned at the beginning of this publication (page 5) when crafting DMP requirements: development, communication and implementation.
1. When developing RDM policies, collaborating within and beyond the own organisation is key, as involving all stakeholders concerned increases acceptance of the new policy.
2. When communicating on new requirements, research organisations should engage directly with all actors concerned and explain the underlying concepts and benefits. The actors essentially include scientific, legal, financial and communication staff.
3. When implementing RDM policies, both RFOs and RPOs need to work together if they want to provide sufficient support for researchers, such as training or online tools to set up and managing DMPs.
In short, aligning DMP requirements across Europe is an important step to support researchers in their RDM efforts. This report shows clear progress in the implementation and alignment of policies, however more can and needs to be done to streamline RDM across Europe. It is only through concerted efforts that the ongoing movement towards Open Science can be further fostered. Regarding research data, Science Europe strongly recommends organisations that do not have RDM policies in place yet to use the RDM Guide when developing them, or to check the alignment of
existing policies with the Guide. Science Europe will continue to provide support to its members in implementing the RDM Guide as part of its broad commitment to support its members in fostering Open Science.
Three steps to successfully implement research data management policies
During the development phase
Take a collaborative approach and involve colleagues, both within the organisation and other research stakeholders. This will enhance buy-in and commitment from all actors involved. It also allows to identify potential challenges during the implementation of the policies and explore possible solutions from the very beginning.
During the communication phase
Clearly communicate the usefulness and relevance of a new policy and explain the underlying concepts. Seek to provide researchers and their home institutions with enough information. While websites and documentation provided throughout the grant application process are widely used, experience shows that most organisations seek more direct engagement with researchers and their institutions through workshops, webinars or other events.
During the implementation phase
Provide researchers with the support and information they need to develop their data management plans (DMPs). This is essential if they are to be convinced that DMPs are a useful tool. Research organisations have different ways of providing this support. Some have provided online tools to set up and manage DMPs, others have appointed data stewards in the researchers’ home institutions.