Plenty of funding agencies have data sharing policies. Plenty of publishers and their individual journals have data sharing policies. Yet despite their alignment of interests, there’s so far been little collaboration between these two major stakeholders in developing coherent data policies. This is especially problematic because the majority of data become (or should become) public alongside a published article, such that one party (funders) are relying on the other (publishers) to promote compliance with their policy.
In recognition of this issue, the Belmont Forum recently adopted a Data Accessibility Statement developed in conjunction with science publishers. Below is an interview with two people involved with its development: Fiona Murphy and Bob Samors.
Could you give a quick overview of what the Belmont Forum does, and how it currently promotes open data?
The Belmont Forum supports multi-national and transdisciplinary collaborative research, bringing together natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities, as well as stakeholders, to co-create knowledge for understanding, mitigation, and adaptation to global environmental change. To meet this challenge, the Belmont Forum emphasizes open sharing of research data and digital outputs to stimulate new approaches to the collection and management of data and information, thus increasing the transparency of the research process and robustness of the results. Recognizing the crucial role of open and effective data and information exchange to the Belmont Challenge, the Belmont Forum adopted Open Data Policy and Principles in 2015 and now requires all researchers who submit grant proposals to fulfill its Data and Digital Outputs Management Plan (DDOMP) requirements.
Could you describe the new policy and how it came into being?
The policy consists of a rationale for the Data Accessibility Statement (DAS) itself, a table of sample bullet statements, and some information about what is and what isn’t covered. We took great care to make the language and requirements consistent with the DDOMP materials so as to give researchers the best chance to produce a high quality DAS with minimal additional effort.
The Belmont Forum leadership, in particular Professor Robert Gurney, the then co-Chair, had been considering how best to operationalize the Open Data Policy and Principles, and started talking to publishers informally at meetings such as this one.
We held a joint workshop at the Institute of Physics in June 2017 (Phill Jones mentions this workshop on a previous ‘Ask the Chefs’) which crystallized our thinking and led to the scoping out of the Data Publishing Policy Project kicking off in early 2018. A core group of publishers met in a monthly teleconference with Belmont Forum representatives to find common ground and gauge how best to develop the standards of compliance and wording for the policy. We also built in a number of opportunities for community review, additional stakeholder contributions and interactions with other initiatives. These included a multi-session workshop at the Researcher to Reader 2018 conference and a presentation at the Research Data Alliance Plenary in Berlin. We also consulted with the Enabling FAIR Data Project, Wellcome Trust and ORCID, among others.
How do you see the respective roles of funders and publishers in promoting open data?
Having begun this dialogue, we are keen to foster opportunities for it to develop further and be adopted widely by publishers and individual journals. Initiatives such as the Enabling FAIR Data Project are articulating how our respective stakeholder roles intersect and fit together to support the strengthening of understanding of common goals and trust. The more we are able to clarify directions of travel, standards, and underpinning infrastructures, the better.
We explicitly stated that the project did not cover checking compliance. However, over time, the Belmont Forum’s data management requirements will be fully integrated into the proposal evaluation and approval process, as well as interim and final project evaluations. We are aware we have some time (at least a couple of years) before the first research articles will be submitted that are subject to the updated policy.
At the same time, we are aware of and in touch with groups such as the ORBIT project and various initiatives around persistent identifiers which may also provide some possible routes towards joint infrastructure-related solutions.
The Belmont Forum asks their researchers to prepare Data and Digital Outputs Management Plans as part of their funding applications. How well do you expect these DDOMPs to link with the data the researchers eventually publish?
The intent of the DDOMP is to require researchers to develop and implement sound data management plans to appropriately steward the data generated by their projects, both during the life of the project and beyond. We expect that subset(s) of that data would be the foundation for one or more published articles, so those specific data should be as accessible as the entire body of project data.
What are your next steps for data sharing? Where do you see your policies and tools in five years?
The Belmont Forum will continue to work closely with the science publishing community to encourage widespread adoption of their common approach to Data Accessibility. In addition, Belmont Forum will continue to refine its data management requirements and the evaluation of proposed and implemented data management plans. In five years, the Belmont Forum expects that it will have fully implemented its end-to-end data management process, and that these policies and procedures will be increasingly integrated into the data management practices of its national members and partner organizations.
Do you feel the process and experiences you gained here, working with all different stakeholders in the working group, is something that could be replicated in other areas of the Belmont Forum’s work and outreach?
We have been delighted with the levels of engagement from our partners in this project and are certainly open to discussing other opportunities to work with publishers, infrastructure providers, and major initiatives like the Enabling FAIR Data project in the future. Belmont Forum already collaborates closely with data skills training resource providers across the globe. Familiarizing ourselves with each other’s objectives and responsibilities within the research ecosystem has been both instructive and illuminating. We also hope that by drawing attention to this collaboration, we can encourage other multi-function groups to start coalescing around more of these key topics.