January 2009

Stewardship of Research Data in Canada: A Gap Analysis

I have previously blogged (see Research Data Canada) on work by The Canadian Research Data Strategy Working Group.

Its report “Stewardship of Research Data in Canada: A Gap Analysis” is now available. Using the data lifecycle as a framework, the report examines Canada’s current state versus an ‘ideal state’ based on existing international best practices across 10 indicators. The indicators include: policies, funding, roles and responsibilities, standards, data repositories, skills and training, accessibility, and preservation.

The analysis reveals significant barriers to the access and preservation of research data ’” barriers that could have a serious impact on the future of Canadian research and innovation if not addressed. For example, large amounts of data are being lost because of the woefully inadequate number of trusted data repositories in Canada.

The report summarises gaps for Canadian research data across the data lifecycle as follows:

Data Production

  • Priority is on immediate use, rather than potential for long-term exploitation.
  • Limited funding mechanisms to prepare data appropriately for later use.
  • Few research institutions require data management plans.
  • No national organization that can advise and assist with application of data standards.

Data Dissemination

  • Lack of policies governing the standards applied to ensure data dissemination.
  • Researchers unwilling to share data, because of lack of time and expertise required.
  • Some policies require certain types of data be destroyed after a research project is over.

Long-term Management of Data

  • Lack of coverage and capacity of data repositories.
  • Preservation activities in repositories are not comprehensive.
  • Limited funding for data repositories in Canada.
  • Few incentives for researchers to deposit data into archives.

Discovery and Repurposing

  • Most data rests on the hard drives of researchers and is inaccessible by others.
  • Per per view and licensed access mechanisms are common where data are available.
  • Many researchers are reluctant to enable access to their data because they feel it is their intellectual property.

The gap analysis will be extremely familar to many – reflecting difficulties recognised and responded to in many different countries such as the USA (Datanets), Australia (ANDS), and the UK (UKRDS feasibility study). It is pleasing to see the report cite the UK and USA as two countries that are seen internationally to be leading responses to these challenges.

It is reported that in the last several months, the Canadian Research Data Strategy Working Group has also made progress on a number of other fronts. Three Task Groups have been established to support efforts in addressing the gaps identified in the analysis. The Task Groups are:

1. Policies, funding and research;

2. Infrastructure and services; and

3. Capacity (skills, training, and reward systems). The Capacity Task Group is currently developing a workshop on data management for researchers, which it hopes to begin offering in 2009.

The next steps for the Working Group are to develop an action plan and an engagement strategy to involve senior leaders from the various institutions represented on the Working Group.

Public Funding Announcement for English Universities 2009-2010

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has just received the annual grant letter on higher education funding for 2009-10 from the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

HEFCE Chair, Tim Melville-Ross, said on the HEFCE website:

“‘This represents a continuing substantial investment in higher education during a period of severe economic challenges. We shall be considering the implications of the letter at the Board meetings on 22 January and 26 February in preparation for the announcement of the recurrent grant to universities and colleges on 5 March.”

The grant letter sets out funding allocations and priorities the Government has for English universities (all bar one of whom are public rather than privatly funded institutions). The broad priority areas are:

  • Supporting the economy through recession and wider engagement with business [no surprises there];
  • Widening participation and fair access;
  • Quality and oversight;
  • Promoting excellence in research, science and innovation;
  • Tackling climate change;
  • Student numbers and finance.

A couple of things caught my eye in the grant letter given our company’s interests and work in the sector and my own involvement with University Schools of Information Studies:

  • a strong emphasis on promotion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics);
  • implications for RAE 2008 and HEFCE ‘s distribution of £1.5 billion research funding to universities;
  • the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and work between academia and the private sector;
  • and “value for money”.

To quote from the grant letter to illustrate these points:

Promotion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)

“I would like you to work with the sector as it finds innovative ways to support business. Promotion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines should be a factor in all of your activities, since these are subjects that employers consistently tell us they will need in the long term…”

RAE 2008 and Research Funding distribution

“The coming academic year is the first in which research funding will be allocated by reference to the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. In allocating your research funding, I expect you to continue to recognise and respond to the high cost and national importance of STEM subjects. I also expect the Council to continue to recognise and reward the highest levels of research excellence wherever it is found. I know that you will need to maintain high levels of funding for those institutions with the largest volumes of world-class research whilst rewarding and nurturing pockets of excellence elsewhere. It is also important that you seek to remove barriers to research partnerships between universities and both charities and businesses.”

and “Looking further into the future, I would ask you to work with the sector to explore ways to encourage collaboration between institutions with the largest volumes of world-class research and those with smaller pockets of excellence…”

Research Excellence Framework (REF) and work between academia and the private/public service sectors

“The Council is already working on the Research Excellence Framework, and has initiated the pilots exercise for bibliometric indicators of excellence. This should reduce the burden on institutions and take better account of the impact research makes on the economy and society. The REF should continue to incentivise research excellence, but also reflect the quality of researchers contribution to public policy making and to public engagement, and not create disincentives to researchers moving between academia and the private sector. You are also considering wider aspects of assessment, including user-focused research and subjects where bibliometrics have not yet been fully developed. I look forward to seeing your proposals on the REF by summer 2009.”

Value for money

“I am grateful for the savings the Council is helping HEIs to achieve across this CSR period, in areas including shared services, procurement, and from rationalising some special funding streams. The Council and the sector have improved value for money (VFM) in recent years and over the CSR07 period, including in areas covered by the Governments Operational Efficiency Programme (OEP). In the coming years all agencies in the public sector will need to achieve the greatest possible VFM. So I would like you, working with the sector, to examine further options and develop plans to deliver additional improvements in VFM in 2010-11 and beyond with a particular focus on those areas identified by the OEP.”

Most of these quotes are self-explanatory in terms of partnerships and shared services etc. However it may be useful for some to see the discussion on research funding (made before the funding letter was available) in The Times Higher Education Supplement this week and the related stories it cites from previous editions for the broader context and implications of HEFCE research funding, RAE 2008 and REF.

Google pulls its research datasets service

Early in 2008 there was a lot of excitement around the announcement that Google was about to launch a free service for hosting research datasets as noted in our blog posting Google to host research datasets twelve months ago.

Less widely reported so far – and I had missed it until I saw it in the Open Access News – was the report by Wired that Google has withdrawn the proposed service first known as Palimpsest (and later re-named Google Research Datasets).

Unfortunately the proposed service seems to have fallen prey to the credit crunch. The issue of sustainable funding for long-term services for datasets and the challenges of doing this in the current commercial environment are thrown into stark relief. For further information and comment see the Wired blog Google shutters its Science Data Service.