their data with as much professionalism as they devote to their experiments. And they should receive greater support in this endeavor than they are afforded at present.”29
Through their planning and actions, researchers facilitate or complicate the retention of data. Researchers need to provide much of the metadata that can allow data to be used in the future by colleagues who may be in quite different fields. Only the researchers and data professionals directly involved in a project know their data well enough to judge what should be preserved and what should be discarded. The heterogeneity of data and the variety of possible needs argue that policies and strategies be set by those within a field, not outside it.
Among the most important tasks for researchers establishing a data management plan is to arrange for preserved data to be annotated in such a way that they retain their long-term value. Annotation might include computer codes, algorithms, or other processing techniques used in the course of research. Furthermore, this information should be sufficient to allow other researchers not only to verify previous results but to extend those results into new areas.
Data stewardship must start at the beginning of a project, not partway through or at the end of a project.
Recommendation 9: Researchers should establish data management plans at the beginning of each research project that include appropriate provisions for the stewardship of research data.
At a minimum, data management plans for research projects should provide for compliance with the relevant legal and policy requirements covering research data. These would include institutional policies, sponsor requirements, federal law (e.g. the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), and state law as appropriate. Under certain circumstances (e.g., when the data can be reproduced cheaply, no secondary use is anticipated), provisions for stewardship of the data beyond what is legally required may not be necessary. In other cases, the data management plan would specify whether the data would be deposited in an institutional and/or disciplinary repositories, annotation and metadata specifications, and other elements.
This recommendation does not imply that individual researchers are responsible for ensuring indefinite preservation of their own data, only that they ensure that it is prepared and transferred to the appropriate archives or repositories. Also, researchers should be working in partnership with their institutions, sponsors, and fields in formulating and implementing their plans.
Researchers need to participate in the development of policies and standards for data access, annotation, and preservation, including standards regard-
Editorial. 2008. “Community cleverness required.” Nature 455(7209). Available at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v455/n7209/pdf/455001a.pdf.