Because good research needs good data

How can we motivate researchers to learn about Open Data and start implementing Open Data Policies

Adrian Richardson | 27 February 2017

Michael Heeremans reports from the Birds of a Feather session on Open Data, held at the International Digital Curation Conference 2017.

The idea of Open Data is not yet properly established in Norwegian academia, although governmental and institutional policies have (partly) been established or are being established. The Norwegian government prefers to keep a cautious profile in pushing the idea of Open Science on the institutions. This is also expressed in the speech by Bjørn Haugstad, Norwegian Secretary of State for Research and Education* during the Amsterdam Call for Open Science Conference in April 2016.

At the University of Oslo, a competence group on Research Data has been established as a result of a report published in 2015 entitled "The data explosion – a major challenge, and a great opportunity!"**. This group has started of organising courses in writing Data Management Plans focused on Horizon 2020 projects. The first one was focused on researcher administrators while a second one attracted a good mix of researchers, administrators and IT personnel. In addition it has established contacts with other Norwegian universities for establishing a national platform for promoting open research data.

I am a local IT support staff member working with data management and work in close cooperation with researchers at the department of geosciences. For the researchers I work with, Open Data is still an unknown term or at least a 'very' new and scary term. I gave a workshop on Managing and Sharing Research Data in March 2016. The majority of the people attending were PhD students and Postdocs (no PI's). All of them saw the benefits of Open Data but were also quite sceptical. Scepticism was primarily base on spending extra time preparing data for archiving and also very much on their fearfulness of being scooped.

With this background, I came to the Birds of a Feather session and asked the audience if they had any similar experience with researchers and/or if they have and good suggestions how to approach them and motivate them to simply surrender to open data. There was a good mix of funder representatives, data managers, repository representatives and even people with researcher background. We had some good discussions and I would like to highlight a few points.

  1. Give the researcher good examples of how data can be reused, maybe even in a way the researcher never had thought about. In this way, you also might take away the researchers urge to hold on to his data stating that 'nobody understands my data the way I do". And by doing this, the fear for being scooped is reduced as well. But, it's important to completely take away the fear for being scooped.
  2. We discussed that we are currently in a state of change and that in several years, things have normalised and that probably the majority of the researchers have adopted and implemented Open Data as a norm. This will probably be the case, but as also mentioned in the discussion, this can actually take many years.
  3. The target audience of training sessions was also a discussed. Although we agreed on that ECR are more prone to adopt the concept of Open Data, we do need the PI's to get involved as well. Especially in big projects, it's the PI that is responsible for the way the data is curated on the long term.
  4. We also touched upon communication with researchers and how e.g. training sessions should be announced. It is probably not a wise strategy to announce a training session with the term "Research Data Management", which will probably just scare off researchers. An approach that evokes curiosity is probably more effective.
  5. Modern technology gives us the possibility to cross-reference  all our published activities (papers, data sets, DMP's, etc) that have received a PID and connect it to an ORCID. Also discussions in social media on certain papers or data deposits with PID's can now be tracked. It's crucial to inform researchers of this possibility. In this way, the researcher can monitor the impact of all its publications and also easier inform others of the availability of certain data sets.
  6. The reward system was ofcourse also a point of discussion, but that is not an issue I can do something with in relation to how I can motivate researchers to adopt the concept of open data, since this is out of my reach.

As a final remark, I would like to thank all the participants in this BoF for their participation and input.

*The Norwegian Approach to Open Science, Impact and Evaluation

**The data explosion - a major challenge, and a great opportunity!