The Research Data Exchange is a solution to what Frans Oort calls the open science dilemma. Oort is the open science coordinator of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and director of the Research Institute of Child Development and Education . “The dilemma, on the one hand, it that as a university you want to share as much data as possible. To promote the progress of science, to be transparent and enable replication or new analyses. Also, as scientific research is financed with public money, results should be publicly owned. On the other hand, it is important to keep control over your own data. This entails legal problems regarding ownership and copyright, confidentiality of personal data, restrictions on ‘informed consent’ of the research participants, purpose limitation, a ban on ‘dual use’ and prohibition on resale. All this to prevent commercial companies in building a service with the university’s data, only to find later on you’ll have to pay for the service these data helped create.”
ICT cooperative SURF and the UvA are currently working with other interested universities on a first version of an RDX. Researchers will soon be able to publish a description of their research data and determine the conditions under which another party may use that data. If, after reading the description, someone wants to use the data for their own research or new analyses, there is a link to the Research Data Exchange (RDX). There, the interested party can sign a digital contract, which grants access to the data under the specified conditions. Initially, the possibilities of the pilot version of the RDX are still limited. At a later stage, the technology behind RDX will also enforce the contract. Enforcing compliance can also be done by making the data available only for statistical analysis, for example. The user will then only receive the results of the analysis and not the data itself.
Oort: “Some researchers have many objections to sharing their data. Others want to share, but have no options. Researchers are busy. We want RDX to work so well in the future that researchers will hardly have any trouble sharing data under their own conditions. They do not have to draw up the user contract themselves. They just have to answer a few questions about it.” The content of the digital contract depends on the conditions of the researcher or institution that makes the data available. The person who shows an interest in using the data also has an influence on the contract. Oort: “I can imagine that commercial companies are subject to different conditions than researchers who work at a university.”
At the right time
The platform comes at the right time. There is currently a great deal of interest in open science in the scientific world, says Oort. For example, there is now European cooperation to European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) for research data. European governments have also recently GAIA-X started. This initiative works with business, science and politics to create a European data infrastructure, as an alternative to US and Asian dominance. Oort hopes that AMdEX’s RDX can contribute to the development of EOSC and GAIA-X. “There is a lot of talk about it. There is now agreement about the analysis of the problem, but it remains difficult to convert the ideas into practical solutions. We are now changing that.”
Text: Mirjam Streefkerk