Sami Borg

International Survey on Data Sharing Policies

The International Federation of Data Organizations (IFDO) has published an overview report on data policies in 32 countries. The report is titled Policies for Sharing Research Data in Social Sciences and Humanities and is based on an online survey conducted by IFDO in 2013. Northern American and Western European countries were best represented in the responses received.

The survey was directed at national data service experts who were asked about data sharing policies of key research funders in their country in the fields of social sciences and humanities. In Finland, the key research funder was the Academy of Finland. Funders themselves were not asked to respond to the survey directly, as some questions covered opinions on data sharing policy situation in the country as a whole.

One of the main questions focused on whether key research funders had formal data sharing policies and if they did, what kind. Response alternatives provided were: 1) the funder requires data sharing; 2) the funder recommends data sharing; or 3) the funder has no requirements or recommendations relating to data sharing.

Recommendations more common

Only in very few countries key funders had implemented data sharing as mandatory requirement for receiving funding. In the UK, the Economic and Social Research Council has long required that funded projects offer the data generated during the project to be archived at the UK Data Archive. Strong mandates are also becoming more common in the USA.

Recommendations were more common than mandatory requirements. About two thirds of all countries or funders had data sharing recommendations. The content of the recommendations varied a lot. Some funders specify the data repositories that can be used and a time limit within which the data have to be deposited at a repository. At their vaguest, recommendations may only state that recipients of funding must organise access to the data generated in the study after the funding period has ended.

Data sharing policies often missing

The IFDO report mentions some of the major challenges connected to data sharing. Even in countries that are members of the OECD and the EU, both of which have published policies on open access to data, too often there were no data sharing policies. Even in cases where the policies were there, they were often rather vague. The policies did not contain sufficient guidelines and practical advice to data creators, including references to established data services. Another problem was that policies seldom took a stand on data documentation standards which are necessary to ensure subsequent data discovery.

The IFDO report recommends that data management plans are created as part of the research plan. An appropriate Data Management Plan (DMP) is a pre-requirement to good management of the whole data life cycle, which includes as open access to data as possible after the original research has been completed.

Data policy of the Academy of Finland

In international comparison, the situation in Finland is not too bad. The Academy of Finland requires that grant applicants provide a Data Management Plan as part of their research plan and recommends that the data be archived at one of the national or international key repositories of the field, mentioning the FSD as one of these repositories. It also recommends as a general principle that research projects funded by the Academy provide access to the data for other researchers.

More information