Opening access to research data a merit to researchers

This article was published in Finnish in the latest issue of the FSD Bulletin (1/2019).

The digital operational environment has revolutionised everyday work in the academic community. Concurrently, we have gained a better understanding of the different types of information produced in research: researchers do not only produce publications but also research data and software.

Jyrki Hakapää, Senior Science Adviser at the Academy of Finland, considers the change positive and sees that the Finnish Social Science Data Archive (FSD) plays a valuable role in the development as FSD has facilitated access to research data for reuse in Finland. Researchers no longer collect data strictly for their own research, as systematic data management and opening of data can merit the researcher and enhance future collaboration possibilities.

“When researchers archive their data and allow reuse, they boost their own visibility in their research networks and in the scientific community in general. Their research receives more citations and more possibilities for further studies,” Hakapää lists.

“In my view, the appreciation of research data is increasing. A central goal of the 2013 Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) is to engage the scientific community to not focus as much on individual metrics for evaluating and meriting studies, such as the Journal Impact Factor, but rather to better consider the researchers’ achievements as a whole. This view has been brought up in Finland by UNIFI, a cooperational organisation for Finnish universities, in their Open Science and Data Action Programme which was approved in May 2018,” Hakapää says.

Promoting open science is in the hands of the scientific community

The Ministry of Education and Culture funded the Open Science and Research Initiative (ATT) which ended in 2017. After this, the responsibility for coordinating national operations in the realm of open science was transferred to the Federation of Finnish Learned Societies. The Federation has appointed a national strategy group that collaborates with expert review groups of different fields to work on strategies and key objectives for open science.

Emphasising cooperation within the scientific community is, in Hakapää’s opinion, a good objective, and he eagerly awaits the commencement of operations.

“Almost all scientific organisations in Finland have started to emphasise open science, and so it seems that researchers and their support services have the resources needed to promote openness”.

“Since autumn 2016, the Academy of Finland has required that a data management plan be included in all research funding applications. The requirement can be seen as a practical action based on which many researchers have had to acquaint themselves with formulating a data management plan. Data management planning and opening of research data go hand in hand. Finnish universities and other research organisations, the Finnish Social Science Data Archive, and the IT Center for Science (CSC) have worked hard in recent years on providing guidelines and services for opening access to research data,” Hakapää says.

According to Hakapää, a lot of work still needs to be done internationally in making research data openly available in the social sciences and humanities. He encourages Finnish actors to participate in the European Open Science Cloud Initiative, launched in November 2018. FSD participates in the project through CESSDA.

FSD offers personal service

Hakapää deems FSD’s services valuable especially because almost no other organisation in Finland is responsible for archiving research data in the social sciences as well as humanities and health science. According to Hakapää, FSD’s strengths include the personal service and expert advice on data processing, both exceptional in Finland.

“I have experience about this on two levels. On one hand, it has been crucial in connection with applications sent to the Academy to know that FSD aids researchers in a very concrete and detailed way with their data management plans. For many years, FSD’s presence has made the Academy’s work easier, and, fortunately, Finnish universities have also started creating their own guidelines for data management planning.”

“I have also had the honour to produce a dataset that is now archived at FSD. During the depositing process, I gained concrete experience on how personal and thorough their service practices are. As an official at the Academy, it is also easier to direct researchers to FSD when I know from experience that the personnel at FSD really weigh and consider different needs and problems that may occur during the depositing and opening of a dataset,” Hakapää shares.

“Research infrastructures do not operate only at the national level, but rather, FSD offers guaranteed international visibility for research in different fields.”

Attention to the reuse of data

For the time being, no comprehensive information exists on the extent to which research funders’ requirements of data management planning have ultimately increased archiving and access to research data for reuse. Hakapää reckons that we still need examples and success stories to make the benefits of archiving and opening data more broadly understood.

“FSD’s usage statistics indicate that reuse purposes include not only scholarly research but also study, since a significant share of the datasets in FSD holdings are used for studying at Bachelor’s and Master’s level. This value of archiving is often forgotten.”

“It would also be great that the Data Citation Roadmap for Finland published by the Finnish Committee for Research Data (FCRD) would be taken to general use. The issue is not simple at the international level, either, but bibliographic citations to datasets would make the scientific community used to considering research data as a product of research. I am sure it would emphasise the status and significance of research data in the scientific community.”

The Academy considers data management plans twice during the application process for research funding.

“First, during the evaluation process, a review panel assesses whether the application follows the conventions and guidelines of responsible science and whether the data management plan seems adequate in the framework of the field. The better the plan has been formulated, the more likely it is that the application could receive a good assessment. In principle, only applications where even this aspect has been dealt with in a professional manner should receive funding.”

“Of course, not all data can be opened for one reason or another, but the Academy will assess the situation at the end of the project. The researcher must be able to indicate how opening could be done or why the dataset cannot be opened. There are also studies that do not produce any research data, and of course these projects are not adversely affected by this.”

“The challenge for us in the short term is to develop monitoring of reporting to gain a better general understanding. Our objective is to figure out where data are archived and to what extent, and also why datasets are not archived. I have no doubt that FSD will have a big presence in these statistics,” Hakapää shares.

Text: Eija Savolainen