Thursday, 28 June 2007

OECD Principles and Guidelines for Access to Research Data

Drafts of the OECD’s Principles and Guidelines for Access to Research data from Public Funding (OECD, 2007) have been available for some time, and the final Recommendation was approved in December 2006. I have only recently had the chance to read the report that details and explains this recommendation. This is a very important document, which could have a major effect on our scientific information systems.

The arguments they put forward in support of the Recommendation are powerful:
“Effective access to research data, in a responsible and efficient manner, is required to take full advantage of the new opportunities and benefits offered by ICTs. Accessibility to research data has become an important condition in:

• The good stewardship of the public investment in factual information;
• The creation of strong value chains of innovation;
• The enhancement of value from international co-operation.

More specifically, improved access to, and sharing of, data:

• Reinforces open scientific inquiry;
• Encourages diversity of analysis and opinion;
• Promotes new research;
• Makes possible the testing of new or alternative hypotheses and methods of analysis;
• Supports studies on data collection methods and measurement;
• Facilitates the education of new researchers;
• Enables the exploration of topics not envisioned by the initial investigators;
• Permits the creation of new data sets when data from multiple sources are combined.

Sharing and open access to publicly funded research data not only helps
to maximise the research potential of new digital technologies and networks,
but provides greater returns from the public investment in research.”

I had not realised the strength of Recommendations. The report makes clear that a Recommendation is a “legal instrument of the OECD that is not legally binding but through a long standing practice of the member countries, is considered to have a great moral force”, and calls it a “soft law”. They say “Recommendations are considered to be vehicles for change, and OECD member countries need not, on the day of adoption, already be in conformity. What is expected is that they will seriously work towards attaining the standard or objective within a reasonable time frame considering the extent of difficulty in closing the gap in each member country.”
The actual Recommendation is perhaps not as strong as this might suggest. It states “that member countries should take into consideration the Principles and Guidelines on Access to Research Data from Public Funding set out in the Annex to the Recommendation, as appropriate for each member country, to develop policies and good practices related to the accessibility, use and management of research data.” This falls rather short of a recommendation to implement them. However, they do propose to review implementation after a period.

The message is that when deciding on access arrangements to research data (both well defined), the governments should take account of the principles and guidelines. The Principles are, in summary:

• Openness
• Transparency
• Legal conformity
• Formal responsibility
• Professionalism
• Protection of intellectual property
• Interoperability
• Quality and security
• Efficiency
• Accountability

They are all important, and it’s well worth reading the document to find out more. However, the first is perhaps key. Note how carefully it is worded:
“Openness means access on equal terms for the international research community at the lowest possible cost, preferably at no more than the marginal cost of dissemination. Open access to research data from public funding should be easy, timely, user-friendly and preferably Internet-based.”
I do commend this document to anyone who is working on policy and implementation aspects of research data resources.

OECD (2007) OECD Principles and Guidelines for Access to Research Data from Public Funding. Paris.

1 comment:

  1. It is interesting to consider the strength of the principles not in terms of how sound they are, but in terms of impact. So often funder's mandates fail to affect change. A Canadian study has found that "Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant recipients have been required for the last 17 years to permanently archive their research data, but a recent study found most recipients it surveyed were unaware of the requirement."

    In addition to principles, support is needed to make it easy for researchers to prepare and deposit their data in a trusted archive or repository.

    Robin Rice
    Edinburgh University Data Library


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