A wide range of issues must be considered in setting data standards, including dissemination, usage restrictions, periods of exclusive use, documentation requirements, financial provisions, ownership, licensing terms, infrastructure needs, technological compatibility, and sustainable preservation. These issues vary greatly from field to field, depending on particular traditions and requirements. Although it is not impossible to prescribe a standard set of practices to which all researchers should adhere—indeed, the general principles stated in this report apply to all researchers—every field collectively and every researcher individually must address issues of data accessibility.
For researchers to make their data accessible, they need to work in an environment that promotes data sharing and openness.
Recommendation 7: Research institutions, research sponsors, professional societies, and journals should promote the sharing of research data through such means as publication policies, public recognition of outstanding data-sharing efforts, and funding
As noted earlier in this chapter, research institutions, research sponsors, professional societies, and journals are undertaking a range of initiatives to promote the sharing of research data. In taking the next steps, research institutions and research sponsors need to create incentives for researchers to share data, just as they have incentives to maintain the integrity of research data and to publish their findings. Researchers need both formal and informal ways of being acknowledged and rewarded for making research data accessible and usable. For example, in some cases tenure and promotion decisions could take into account efforts to promote the accessibility of data, the creation of publication-based metrics, or service to a community or institution.
Data professionals also have an important role to play in ensuring the accessibility of research data. In close cooperation with researchers in a field, data professionals can anticipate the needs of data users and establish data management systems that meet those needs. Their contributions to making data accessible, as well as ensuring the integrity of data, need to be recognized.
One way for research sponsors and journals to promote data accessibility is to establish the terms of access and sharing expected of institutions and investigators. For example, NIH explicitly requires that all grant applications for more than $500,000 in direct costs in a single year must include a data management plan that embodies the principles of the NIH Data Sharing Policy. This policy says that “data should be made as widely and freely available as possible while safeguarding the privacy of participants, and protecting confidential and