Open data is data that is publicly available to everyone, for use and reuse, without restriction. If the idea of this fills you with mild trepidation, don’t worry, you’re not alone! The open data movement is a relatively new and bold one, which is changing the way we think about and work with data.
Why should data be open?
Openness = transparency
Whether for government, education, or the private sector, making data publicly available increases transparency and accountability. This is particularly important for publicly funded research, where researchers are expected to be able to demonstrate that funding has been used appropriately and to defend their research if challenged.
Openness = innovation
Making datasets publicly available can increase the value and potential of the data.
Allowing others to reuse and intermix the data with other datasets, opens up possibilities for the development of new hypotheses, applications, services, products and innovations.
Openness = efficiency
Sharing data reduces potential duplication of effort and resources. Heidorn (2008) states that, “The true worth of the data is not determined by the cost for gathering it but in the savings incurred by someone else not needing to gather it again.” 1
A little inspiration:
“The importance of data sharing is clearly illustrated by the inscription on the statue of Albert Einstein in front of the National Academy of Sciences: “The right to search for truth implies also a duty: one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.”” (source)
What’s in it for researchers?
Researchers and institutions may feel uncomfortable about making their research data openly available because of perceived difficulties around copyright, intellectual property, recognition, and misuse or misinterpretation of data. The prevailing institutional culture may be resistant to sharing based on current practice and perceptions of competitiveness or commercial value.
There are, however, a range of solutions to allay these concerns. Platforms exist and are being developed to assist researchers to share their data in a safe and cost-effective way. Data repositories allow researchers to describe their data, specify how it is to be cited and apply licences for usage. 2
However, there are a range of solutions to allay these concerns. Platforms exist and are being developed to assist researchers to share their data in a safe and cost-effective way. Data repositories allow researchers to describe their data, specify how it is to be cited and apply licences for usage.
Some of the many Australian and international research data repositories:
(access to research data is provided with a range of licences, from open to restricted)
- Australian Antarctic Data Centre
- Climate Change Knowledge Portal – a hub for information, data and reports about climate change around the world.
- CSIRO Data Access Portal
- DRYAD – supports open publishing of supporting data for peer-reviewed scientific and medical literature.
- TERN (Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network) Data Discovery Portal
- Tropical Data Hub – portal providing information about and access to data related to the tropics.
Openness, where appropriate, is a lofty goal – we encourage researchers who are uncertain about how to start, to begin by sharing their data in a modest way. This could simply mean mediated sharing with a small group of collaborators or other researchers in the same field.
This graphic illustrates some of the gains for researchers who share their data. These benefits are shown for researchers who share their data openly or even in a limited way. A little sharing and collaboration can have a big impact.
Australia has a growing culture of open data and data sharing. At eRSA we believe it is only a matter of time before data sharing (where appropriate) will be a requirement of public research funding. This will have a positive impact on research practices and outcomes for the community.
How we can help
eRSA can assist researchers in determining the best way to manage access to their research data and supports a number of platforms to enable sharing, discovery and reuse.
1. Heidorn PB. 2008. Shedding light on the dark data in the long tail of science. Library Trends 57(2): 280–289. doi:10.1353/lib.0.0036
2. Piwowar HA (2011) Who Shares? Who Doesn’t? Factors Associated with Openly Archiving Raw Research Data. PLoS ONE 6(7): e18657. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018657