Storing and sharing data for research more effectively: putting scientists first

27 May 2021

Knowledge institutions, research funders and public authorities must put the wishes and needs of scientists first when improving the storage and availability of data for research. Close cooperation between these parties and researchers on the work floor is vital. This is what the Academy is arguing in its advisory report 'Storage and availability of data for research - from intentions to implementation'.

Across the full breadth of science, the trend is towards making data for research more readily available for reuse in accordance with the FAIR principles. Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable. The new Academy advisory report is based on the needs, wishes and practices of researchers working with data. Researchers attach great importance to storing data and making it available to colleagues, the report concludes, but they often struggle with implementation. Specific challenges lie in the area of data ownership and the availability of national infrastructures for data storage. There are also general challenges, such as training scientists in this area, establishing the right metadata and methods for data access, better support for scientists working with data and creating a culture that recognises the importance of storing and accessing data. Scientists have a real need for more guidance at national level to connect the data more effectively.

The report calls on knowledge institutions to examine how they can better support researchers per scientific field in their handling of data. Examples include removing legal and ethical obstacles, facilitating training programmes and creating ICT-like services that allow scientists to store, share and publish data easily and securely at any stage of their research project.

It must also become clearer to researchers who actually pays for the costs of storing and sharing data for research: ministries, research funders, knowledge institutions or a combination of these parties. There's no denying that data have an intrinsic value. Not acting is therefore not an option: losing data also entails considerable costs.

Furthermore, the Academy is asking the Dutch Ministers of Education, Culture and Science; Economic Affairs and Climate Policy; and Public Health, Welfare and Sport to make similar agreements for the sharing of data between academic institutions on the one hand and Dutch companies and public sector organisations on the other. This promotes equal opportunities for researchers working with data.

However, researchers also have their own responsibility. They should make it clear to their management before the start of their research project what support and guidance they need for appropriate data storage and access. The advisory report contains a checklist for this purpose.

The Academy wishes to use this advisory report to contribute to a better alignment between the wishes and needs of scientists on the one hand and the plans and ambitions of knowledge institutions on the other to make data FAIR. Over the next few months, the Academy will be organising several meetings to detail the recommendations with the parties involved.