Takeaways for Research Data Managers: Figshare's Open Data Survey Report

With over 21,000 respondents over six years, the State of Open Data survey and report provides valuable insight into the challenges researchers face and their attitudes toward open data.

The State of Open Data is an annual survey of researchers’ attitudes toward and practices of open data organized by Springer Nature, Digital Science, and Figshare. As the longest longitudinal study and analysis of open data, it provides a prolonged look at how researchers' relationship with open data changes over time.

In the latest report on the survey’s findings, research data managers, data curators, and librarians who work closely with researchers on open data practices wrote contributing pieces that include tangible suggestions for how to combat the challenges researchers face in this space.

Researchers Need Guidance on Making Their Data as FAIR as Possible

72% of survey respondents stated that they had either previously heard of the FAIR data principles but weren’t familiar with them or they have never heard of the FAIR data principles. Jan van der Heul (Data Curator at 4TU.ResearchData), works closely with researchers depositing their data into their repository to make their data as FAIR as possible. Jan assesses the files and helps improve the quality of the metadata associated with it.

“I look for peer-reviewed journal publications that accompany the dataset, check if the researcher has previously published datasets, and explore online resources, such as Scopus and Web of Science to collect relevant metadata. From this, I can suggest a more descriptive title, subject categories and keywords to describe the dataset. Sometimes it’s possible to add information about the organization that contributed to the creation of the dataset, the funding organization, and authorship,” he says.

He also provides guidance on what license to assign to the item. Where appropriate, he suggests open licenses to ensure the data is able to be reused. Uncertainty about copyright and data licensing has been a consistent challenge for researchers since the start of the survey, with 35% of respondents this year citing it as a concern when sharing datasets.

Researchers Need Recognition And Credit For Sharing Their Data

Systems for recognizing and crediting researchers for sharing their data openly are beginning to be implemented but are in their infancy. There are calls for credit systems to be put in place for data sharing like the Credit for Data Sharing initiative developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Multi-Regional Clinical Trials Center of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard, and the New England Journal of Medicine.

The University of Pretoria has implemented several recognition programs to combat this. Veliswa Tshetsha (Senior Coordinator: Open Scholarship), Rosina Ramokgola (Data Curation Officer), and Pfano Makhera (Metadata Specialist: Scholarly Communications), suggested implementing research data recognition grant awards for researchers who don’t receive enough recognition for sharing their data. They have also implemented Researcher of the Month and University Researcher Month where researchers are awarded prizes and certificates of merit.

They also referenced a nationwide award by the National Science and Technology Forum that rewards researchers for generating, preserving, and/or reusing research data.

ResearchersNeed Advice on Where To Publish Their Data Openly

Just under half of respondents to the survey said they share their data in institutional repositories. This is a valuable opportunity for research data managers and librarians to educate and inform researchers on best practices for sharing their data openly.

Daniel Kipnis, Life Sciences Librarian at Rowan University, provided some guidance for other Life Sciences Librarians working with researchers to share data, especially in the wake of the open data sharing movement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kipnis encourages researchers to seek out a librarian on campus who can help formulate a data management plan including a place to publish the data at the end of the project. He also suggests that archiving data in repositories is another method to increase citation rates: “If increased visibility to research and impact factors continue to be models for promotion in the academy, then archiving data and making it readily available should help with elevating researchers,” he says.

For more tips on how to provide support for your researchers facing challenges with open data, check out the full survey results on Figshare.