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Ensuring the Integrity, Accessibility, and Stewardship of Research Data in the Digital Age
their responsibilities through informal groups or formal organizations created with the involvement of funding agencies or professional societies.
In a period of rapid technological change, researchers can be challenged to master all of the information they need to fulfill their responsibilities toward data. Training in the responsible conduct of research that includes guidance on the management of data can clarify and emphasize researchers’ responsibilities (Chapter 2). Many research data have potential uses and users that may not be obvious from the perspective of a single research field. Courses, seminars, or Web-based modules in data management can list and describe these potential uses and users, providing researchers with a more comprehensive set of factors to consider in making decisions about data accessibility and stewardship.
Researchers also need to be aware of the many considerations surrounding data when they are considering possible restrictions on data and the appropriateness of any such restrictions (Chapter 3). Restrictions may be necessary, yet most restrictions on the accessibility of data have costs for the research community. Because of these costs, researchers have a responsibility to provide compelling reasons for any limitations on the accessibility of data, which requires that they fully understand and are able to justify these limits.
Finally, researchers are the ones best positioned to plan both how data will be made available and how they will be preserved and curated for long-term use (Chapter 4). When standards for data accessibility and stewardship do not exist in a field, researchers need to be involved in—and most likely will lead—the process of developing such standards.
The integrity, accessibility, and stewardship of research data are too important to be secondary considerations or afterthoughts in the development of a research plan. Provisions for maintaining these three qualities of research data should be part of every research plan, whether a sponsor requires such provisions or not.
Research institutions, including colleges, universities, medical schools, and other nonprofit organizations, have a major influence on the policy environment in which research is conducted. Their support—or lack of support—for data integrity, accessibility, and stewardship can have a major effect on the quality and usability of research data. Research institutions need to have clear written policies regarding data management and communicate these policies to researchers. Organizations such as the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, the American Association of Universities, the Committee on Government Relations, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, and others can help formulate and disseminate these policies.
Research institutions need to support training in data management (Chapter 2). They should establish an expectation that researchers will undertake