As part of a continuing series we recently broadcast our first ever Digital Science webinar, on the topic of research object management. The aim of these webinars is to address key challenges that institutions face and examine the ways in which those challenges can be met.

Attendees of the webinar were able to learn how institutions in the UK are tackling research object management, how cloud-based data management services are beneficial, how global trends in funder policies are driving institutions to provide services and why researchers should be managing and sharing their own data.

Laura Wheeler (@laurawheelers), Community Manager at Digital Science, introduced the webinar and gave a brief overview of the esteemed panel.

The discussion was led and moderated by Dan Valen (@thevandalen), Product Specialist at Figshare, who kicked thing off by discussing some trends and observations around research metrics, collaboration and open science. Dan discussed the fact that funding is getting increasingly difficult to obtain and that there is growing pressure on researchers to demonstrate research impact. There is also a greater focus from funders on the importance of collaborative research and on making data openly available. There are clear correlations between collaboration and open data with citation rates, a key indicator of impact. Open data mandates can therefore be seen as a result of funders wanting to maximise the impact, the return on investment, of the research they fund.

Dan’s introduction led nicely into the next presentation from Angus Whyte, Senior Institutional Support Officer at the Digital Curation Centre in the UK. The DCC has been funded by JISC, a not-for-profit organisation that supports the use of digital technologies in UK education and research, since 2004. Angus shared the DCC’s perspective on research data management in the UK and explained how they work in a user-centred way with institutions to help them develop and deliver services.

Angus identified the risks and opportunities for institutions for research data, which he grouped into five different categories; policy-related, economic, cultural, stakeholder-related and infrastructural. The biggest risk and therefore the biggest driver for institutions is policy-related, namely compliance with funder mandates. Of particular significance is the EPSRC’s policy which mandates institutions to provide these services for researchers. As well as this, in the UK, funding allocation is related to the assessment of impact beyond academia, which creates a economic incentive for institutions to provide services to help demonstrate and maximise the broader impact of research.

Angus also discussed a useful template for institutions as guide for their own development planning. The DCC have also used this framework to survey service managers on their progress, using a five-point timeline that goes from initiating development, to specifying requirements, to piloting, to rolling out a complete service, and then finally, to embedding it within the wider institutional infrastructure. You can read more about the survey on the DCC’s blog.

Mark Hahnel (@MarkHahnel), founder of figshare, followed on from Angus by examining trends in research data management from a more global perspective. Mark cited a Scholarly Kitchen article which referred “to the publication of data and objects (like multimedia, application code, etc.)” as one of the biggest trends in scholarly publishing as evidence of the strong consensus on open data.

Mark discussed several non-UK examples of funders embracing open data, for example, the European Commission wants data to be openly available and is recommending that national funders implement policies to ensure this. The Whitehouse’s Office of Science and Technology Policy published a memo on this issue, the impact of which has been visualised through a handy crowd-sourced diagram, available on Figshare (see below). Last year the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced what Nature News called “the world’s strongest policy in support of open research and open data”. This is all part of a global trend which Mark calls “The Open Academic Tidal Wave”, ultimately leading to enforced, mandated open access to all digital outputs of publicly funded research.

After all this discussion of funder policies it would be easy to forget that data management services are first and foremost of concern to researchers. Jon Tennant (@Protohedgehog), PhD student at Imperial College London, was able to share his perspective on open data, examining the benefits for researchers as well some of the potential concerns they might have.

Making your data open maximises the re-usability of your data and increases its potential impact. Jon argued that open data is the basis for improving reproducibility in science. In his view, without openly available data behind it, academic research is ultimately no better than anecdotal. The re-use of open data also opens doors for unexpected research collaborations. Data citations, via DOIs, offer a new way for researchers to gain credit, beyond just publishing in a journal and accruing article citations.

If there are all these benefits, why don’t all researchers make their data open? One possible reason that Jon identified is that researchers may be concerned about their work being misrepresented or misleadingly re-used. Similarly researchers may be concerned about being “scooped”, i.e. another researcher announcing a discovery based on their data before they do. Many of these issues are cultural, or even ethical, and Jon argued that one way to address them would be through stronger and more explicit community guidelines. Many researchers also worry that sharing data will take up too much of their time. This highlights the need for efficient services which minimise the extra amount of work required by the researcher.

Finally, what can researchers do to help with progress? Jon finished with a call to action, encouraging researchers to practise data citation, to educate colleagues about the benefits of open data, and also to lead by example by integrating data sharing into their own workflows.

In our next webinar we will be looking at research impact and some of the highlights from the REF 2014 impact case studies. It will be taking place on the 24th June, keep an eye out for further details!