Friday, 19 September 2008

A national data mandate? Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research

Andrew Treloar pointed to this Code in a presentation at the e-Science All Hands meeting. All Australian Universities have signed up to the Code, which turns out to have a whole chapter on the management of research data and primary materials. It deals with the responsibilities of both institutions and researchers. Mostly it’s in the style “Each institution must have a policy on…”, but it then gets quite prescriptive on what those policies must cover. Here are some quotes, institutional responsibilities first:
“Each institution must have a policy on the retention of materials and research data.”

“In general, the minimum recommended period for retention of research data is 5 years from the date of publication.”

“Institutions must provide facilities for the safe and secure storage of research data and for maintaining records of where research data are stored.”

“Wherever possible and appropriate, research data should be held in the researcher’s department or other appropriate institutional repository, although researchers should be permitted to hold copies of the research data for their own use.”
On researcher responsibilities:
“Researchers should retain research data and primary materials for sufficient time to allow reference to them by other researchers and interested parties. For published research data, this may be for as long as interest and discussion persist following publication.”

“Research data should be made available for use by other researchers unless this is prevented by ethical, privacy or confidentiality matters.”

“Retain research data, including electronic data, in a durable, indexed and retrievable form.”
To discharge these obligations requires training in good curation practice, significant care, and appropriate infrastructure. Maybe these are regarded as yet more "un-funded mandates", to be treated on a risk assessment basis (will we be found out?). Maybe this does represent "the dead hand of compliance", as a senior colleague once phrased it. But if taken in the spirit as written, it represents a significant mandate for data curation!

I don’t know of an equivalent Code elsewhere that is so specific. The nearest US equivalent may be the Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research, from the Office of Research Integrity, Dept of Health & Human Services. It tends to be more a rather bland assembly of good advice, than anything prescriptive.

In the UK, the Research Integrity Office says it is “developing a code”, individual Research Councils have Ethics and related policies, while Research Councils UK is consulting in this area; their consultation closes on 24 October, 2008. It does have a section on Management and preservation of data and primary materials:
“… ensure that relevant primary data and research evidence are preserved and accessible to others for reasonable periods after the completion of the research. This is a shared responsibility between researcher and the research organisation, but individual researchers should always ensure that primary material is available to be checked. … Data should normally be preserved and accessible for not less than 10 years for any projects, and for projects of clinical or major social, environmental or heritage importance, the data should be retained for up to 20 years, and preferably permanently within a national collection, or as required by the funder’s data policy.”
The “normal” period is longer, but otherwise, still not as specific and therefore strong as the Australian Code!


Post a Comment

Please note that this blog has a Creative Commons Attribution licence, and that by posting a comment you agree to your comment being published under this licence. You must be registered to comment, but I'm turning off moderation as an experiment.