Incentives needed to further improve sharing of research data, says new report

There is widespread enthusiasm for the benefits of early sharing of large research datasets, but in practice the implementation of data sharing has lagged. A new report published today highlights the need for the development of new types of incentives within the biomedical research community to improve this situation.

The report was developed by the Expert Advisory Group on Data Access (EAGDA), which was established by the Medical Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust in 2012. EAGDA provides strategic advice to the four funders on emerging scientific, ethical and legal issues in relation to data access for cohort and longitudinal studies across genetics, epidemiology and the social sciences.

The report indicates that, although there has been considerable investment and support provided by funders to enable data access, the costs needed to enable data sharing are not always being fully anticipated or provisioned. Researchers in some disciplines do not have access to the skills and resources they require to readily share data, and there is not yet adequate monitoring of the extent to which commitments to share data are realised in practice.

There is a widespread perception among researchers that those who work to make their research data available to others receive inadequate recognition - be it in funding decisions, career advancement or the Research Excellence Framework.

EAGDA calls on funders to strengthen their approaches for reviewing and funding data management and sharing plans submitted by researchers and tracking these post-award. It also recommends that the contributions of researchers who share data be explicitly recognised - including as an explicit criterion in future Research Excellence Frameworks.

The report highlights the crucial need for stakeholders to recognise and support the increasingly vital role played by specialist data managers as part of research teams. It also calls for key data repositories to receive long-term funding and support to deliver user-friendly services.

Professor Martin Bobrow, chair of EAGDA, said: “Providing access to high-quality datasets in a form in which they can be easily used by others is time-intensive and costly for research teams. This is not yet adequately recognised and valued by all parts of the biomedical research community. There are tangible actions that research funders, the university sector and research leaders can take now to further improve the major change in research practice which they have initiated and supported over the past few years.”

Nicola Perrin, Head of Policy at the Wellcome Trust, said: “If we are serious about the value of being able to share research data, we must provide the incentives for researchers - including providing appropriate support and formal recognition. We are committed to working in partnership with our fellow funders and our research communities to effect change in this area.”

Professor Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council, said: “We are pleased that the report recognises the important progress that has been made, including through world-leading resources such as the UK Data Service in the social sciences. The cross-disciplinary perspective provided by EAGDA is invaluable and we believe there is considerable scope to work across disciplines to embed cultural change.”