IDCC11 Preview: An interview with David Lynn

23 November, 2011
Kirsty Pitkin

In the second of our preview posts ahead of the 7th International Digital Curation Conference, we talk to David Lynn, Head of Strategic Planning and Policy at the Wellcome Trust, about what he views to be the key issues surrounding the conference....

You will be talking about data matters from a research funder's perspective in your presentation at IDCC 11. What are the main outcomes are you hoping for from your talk?

I will be emphasising the strong commitment of the Wellcome Trust, as a charitable research funder, to maximising the long-term value of research data, and describe the range of activities we are taking forward - both to support the sharing of research data and to expand research access to datasets of value. I look forward to discussing with colleagues at the meeting how research funders can best work in partnership with other key stakeholders to enhance data management, preservation and sharing.

Lots of people argue for open data but far fewer practice what they preach. What do you think is needed to encourage more data sharing?

We need to create a culture within the research community that recognises the value of data sharing and recognises the contributions of those who do it well - whilst many fields have already embraced this philosophy, others have been much slower to adopt it.  We also need to build the resources and tools to enable researchers to share and access data effectively, and which minimise the time and effort involved.

Where datasets contain sensitive information relating to individual data subjects, there are legitimate concerns around privacy and confidentiality.  However, we need to ensure the regulatory framework achieves an appropriate balance – providing proportionate safeguards, whilst ensuring that the data can be used for research in line with the public good. We must also build the systems, for example so-called “safe havens”, that enable researchers to access and use data in a safe and secure manner.

How do you think we can encourage 'unexpected' reuse of data - that is, use by communities other than those who originally collected the data?

First, we need to ensure that datasets of value are discoverable to potential users so that they can readily locate and access these resources.  Second, we need to ensure data is available in a form which enables it to be used effectively and integrated with other data – in particular, it must have adequate associated metadata and adopt relevant data standards in line with recognised best practice.

We usually see funders, data creators, universities and data users as the typical set of stakeholders for data. Would you add any to that list?

Publishers also have a key role to play – particularly in terms of facilitating the discoverability of datasets underpinning published research findings - and need to be engaged in these discussions. Arguably, those involved in managing and curating community data resources could also be seen as a distinct stakeholder group.

We should also consider the broader public as stakeholders. In particular, increasing research access to potentially sensitive datasets concerning individuals raises legitimate concerns and we need to engage actively in an open and inclusive dialogue on the benefits of research access to data and the potential risks, to ensure we maintain public buy-in and support.

Which group of stakeholders do you believe can do the most to promote a culture of wider reuse of data?

All these groups have critical roles to play, and will need to work together to create the culture and resources needed to support data sharing – however, we will achieve nothing without the support and engagement of the research community itself, so I would highlight that as perhaps the key group.

What research data management projects do you think will be the ones to watch in the future?

There is much encouraging work underway in the UK – with JISC, RIN, the Digital Curation Centre and others supporting a range of valuable activities and research aimed at maximising the value of research data.  We particularly welcome the DCC’s work to develop data management planning tool – which we think could be a great aid to researchers and institutions in planning and resourcing data management and sharing as an integral part of the research process.

I would also highlight work the Wellcome Trust is taking forward with a range of partners internationally to promote the sharing of research data to improve public health, building on a joint statement of purpose published earlier this year. The partners are committed to working together to increase access to health research data in ways that are equitable, ethical and efficient and are developing joint activities to advance this goal.

If there was one change that you could make to improve research data management practice, what would it be?

That's a very difficult question – but I think I would start with ensuring there was universal recognition of the critical importance and value of data management, preservation and sharing as an integral part of the research enterprise.  As a funder, we have tried to encourage this by ensuring all researchers think about data at the application stage, and have a plan for sharing any data that will be generated. However that alone is not enough – and as noted above a broader cultural change is needed.

You may be also interested in other interviews from this series with Ewan McIntosh, Mark Hahnel and Victoria Stodden.


David will be presenting a session entitled 'Data Matters: A view from a research funder' as part of the organisational perspective strand of talks on Tuesday 6 December.  You can still book your place at the 7th International Digital Curation Conference

If you are unable to attend in person, look out for an announcement next week about how you can take part remotely, or track the conference via Lanyrd to be notified about the arrangements.