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Open Data dialogue project influences new Concordat

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The Open Data public dialogue project was commissioned by Research Councils UK (with Sciencewise support) and ran from December 2011 to June 2012. Recent Sciencewise research has identified new longer term impacts from the project, particularly on the new Concordat on Open Research Data.

The Open Data dialogue took place within the context of Government commitments to openness and transparency, and new developments in the potential for combining and sharing data from publicly funded research. At that time Research Councils UK (RCUK) developed a dialogue to follow on from work by JISC and the Royal Society on Science as a Public Enterprise (SAPE). The dialogue was designed to provide public insights and feedback on future data openness, data re-use, data management technologies and data management policies across the research councils and beyond with a focus of the dialogue on the use of data in research. The specific aim of the dialogue was to provide public insight and feedback on how open data principles and policies around research should be developed and practised.

RCUK used the dialogue results to inform its data policies, which were revised in 2012. In particular, the work had a direct influence on the work of the Research Councils’ Research Outputs Network, which co-ordinates cross-council policy on access and use of research outputs and data (including across the Higher Education Funding Councils - HEFCs). It also fed the dialogue results into the Research Sector Transparency Board, which advises the government on how to increase access to research data. The results were also presented to the Administrative Data Taskforce (ADT), chaired by Sir Alan Langlands, to feed into the Taskforce report to Ministers in December 2012 on the wider use of administrative data for research and policy purposes. The ADT’s final report and the Government response both picked up on the importance of public engagement on data issues, seen by RCUK and others as a result of the dialogue.

In January 2014, the Royal Society convened the Open Research Data Forum, which built on their own earlier work and the dialogue results. The Forum identified four principles which are similar to those that resulted from the dialogue. The Forum agreed that a concordat on open data could be a powerful tool in helping to accelerate culture change, and that it needed to be taken forward as a partnership between funders. By October 2014, a draft concordat was being prepared by a group of representatives of funders, research institutions and others. In July 2015, RCUK launched an open consultation on the draft Concordat on Open Research Data on behalf of the working group developing the concordat.

The new Concordat aims to help to ensure that the research data gathered and generated by members of the UK research community are made openly available for use by others wherever possible in a manner consistent with relevant legal, ethical and regulatory frameworks and norms. It aims to establish a set of expectations of good practice with the intention of establishing open research data as the desired position for publicly-funded research over the long-term. It recognises the different responsibilities of researchers, their employers, and funders of research but it is not the intention of the concordat to mandate, codify or require specific activities.

The links between the original dialogue and the concordat have been confirmed by RCUK and the Chair of the original dialogue oversight group (who is also on the concordat working group):

“The open data Concordat working group was convened, chaired by the then Chair of RCUK which has been putting together a research sector concordat around the principles of open data with the funders and also universities. I know the dialogue has been one of the evidence strands that has contributed to that. That is in the final throes of drafting and agreement at the moment.” (RCUK February 2016).
“The most recent and most significant development on the whole open data policy area has been the development of the concordat on open data … many of the principles draw very strongly on some of the findings of the dialogue, so a principle around openness being the default but set against that some requirements to restrict access to data depending on privacy concerns … That concordat is going to inform the Research Councils’ revision of their data policy and will be the bedrock of their policy development in the future.”
(Chair, dialogue steering group; member of Concordat working group February 2016)

RCUK confirmed the importance of the dialogue at an early stage in the development of policy around open research data:

“This was a useful piece of work in a very early stage policy area. In a tricky, politically charged, personally charged area it has allowed us to gauge where people are with the whole open data issue and input in to high level discussions and the creation of policy in a way that is sympathetic to people’s views without second guessing them and going for maybe a more risk averse approach or being a bit too passionate about something and getting it totally wrong. So it has allowed us to be much more knowledgeable about the true picture out there, giving us a window in to what people really do think - or that that sample of people at least - in order to devise policy that is credible and will, hopefully, hit the mark with people.” (RCUK February 2016).

Sciencewise (2016) Tracing the impacts of public dialogue projects supported by Sciencewise: Open Data. Sciencewise March 2016.
Sciencewise project page.