Data publishing: removing the barriers

Data publishing has gained momentum globally, due to an increasing awareness of the benefits in publishing and re-using data, alongside the growing insistence of funding bodies that data be made publicly available.

While momentum for data publishing is growing, it is clear that a wide spectrum of approaches to data publishing still exists, as represented in this data publishing continuum. Publishing data used in research enables:

  • the replication and verification of work;
  • formal and measureable recognition of data as a research output;
  • a reduction in the duplication of data collection;
  • the re-use of data in multi- and interdisciplinary research;
  • greater transparency in the research process.

In the context of publicly funded research, the re-use of published data is paramount to achieving maximum returns on investment in research.

Despite the clear benefits, some impediments to data publishing must still be addressed before the research community can fully embrace its potential. Studies have shown that the greatest barrier to individual researchers publishing their data is a lack of time, support and resources to do so. Concerns also remain about the appropriate attribution of data and the recognition of data collectorswhen they publish data.

There are initiatives in place, globally and within Australia, to remove these barriers to enable full participation of the research community in data publishing. In Australia the importance of data publication is clearly recognised, with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research stating that it is the responsibility of researchers to make ‘data available for use by other researchers unless this is prevented by ethical, privacy or confidentiality matters’. The code also clearly states the responsibility of institutions to ‘retain research data and primary materials, provide secure data storage and record-keeping facilities’.

To support these high standards, the Australian Government has made significant investments via the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and Education Investment Fund to develop the capabilities, tools and technologies needed to manage, curate and publish research data for long-term storage and re-use.

TERN is one such investment, providing data infrastructure for the Australian terrestrial ecosystem science community. TERN sits alongside other complementary capabilities such as the Integrated Marine Observing System and Atlas of Living Australia. All of these initiatives work closely with the Australian National Data Service, which is at the forefront of developing collaborative data platforms to provide connections between data, projects, researchers, and institutions. This includes initiatives such as the Australian Research Data Commons and Research Data Australia.

Attribution of data and recognition of data collectors has been addressed through data-licensing initiatives such as the Australian Governments Open Access and Licensing Framework (AusGOAL), which provides a framework for licensing data in which the requirements of data re-use are clear and ensure attribution to the data creator. In addition, the advent of processes to assign digital object identifiers (DOIs) to datasets, under the international DataCite initiative, gives a persistent identifier to datasets, and makes them products that are easy to track and cite.

With increasing recognition of data as a stand-alone research output, attaching DOIs to datasets enables researchers to better track the re-use of their published data and to report this as a measure of their impact. There is also evidence that publishing data enhances the impact of associated research, further increasing an individual’s overall research impact.

As the barriers to data publishing continue to be lowered, it’s clear that data publication will become standard practice in the research community, enabling new collaborations, increased interdisciplinary interaction, improved research outcomes and, ultimately, better returns on research investment.

Building the infrastructure, tools, and culture to support ecosystem data publication is a vital element in TERN’s vision of a collaborative, networked ecosystem science community.

Published in TERN e-Newsletter June 2013

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