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Access to, Sharing, and Retention of Research Data: What Do Campuses Need to Do?

Data that are generated by research and other scholarly activities are the lifeblood of the research enterprise.  These research investigators and their institutions have responsibilities and obligations regarding access to and retention of these research data. Recognizing the importance of these research data as a valuable resource that needs to be managed properly is key to maximizing the return on the research investment.

Several federal government announcements have highlighted the need for and the importance of policies pertaining to the management of research data.  In 2011, the National Science Foundation (NSF) mandated that grant applicants must submit a data management plan with their proposals, and in March 2012, the White House announced its” Big Data” plan.  Both initiatives have implications for campuses.

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Francine Berman, vice president for research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and co-chair of the National Academies Board on Research Data and Information, wrote:

“The Obama initiative and the NSF policy reflect a growing recognition of the role of research data in fueling innovation and discovery. What is not so clear is this: Who will pay the "price at the pump"? That is, who should pay for the human and cyberinfrastructure required to support stewardship of digital data? The question is critical because without reliable infrastructure and sustainable economic support, valuable research data may cease to exist. As research becomes increasingly data-driven, the economics of data access, stewardship, and preservation threaten to become our Achilles' heel.”

The heaviest responsibility for providing an effective research data management infrastructure will likely fall on campus IT services.  However in this time of shrinking budgets and reallocated resources, it is unrealistic to expect that IT alone will be tapped to store, protect, preserve, and facilitate the retrieval of a wide range of data to enable the optimum exploitation of research outputs – often in ways not predicted by the original data creators.

Dr. Berman, in her article, raises interesting points about the economics of research data and its concomitant infrastructure. Developing policies and models that engage all stakeholders in every aspect of this shared responsibility is critical to ensure the continued viability of research data in advancing scholarship and innovation.  The EDUCAUSE Advanced Core Technologies Initiative (ACTI) is one such group that is working in this area.  The ACTI Data Management Working Group is focusing on developing support for campuses interested in building a research data support infrastructure that includes a focus on how data management plans are developed and supported throughout the research lifecycle, and the ACTI Campus Cyberinfrastructure Working Group looks at how large-scale research data sets may require special cyberinfrastructure support.

EDUCAUSE will continue to monitor and report on this evolving issue.

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