Sharing research data under own conditions

From next year, researchers from universities will be able to share their research data under their own conditions. For this they use the AMdEX application Research Data Exchange (RDX), which SURF and the University of Amsterdam (UvA) are currently developing.

The Research Data Exchange is a solution for – as Frans Oort calls it – the open science dilemma. Oort is the open science coordinator at 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.”

Publishing research data

ICT cooperative SURF and 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 for their use by another party. If someone, after reading the description, decides they want to use the data for their own research or new analyses, a link is provided to the Research Data Exchange (RDX). There, the interested party will be presented with a contract. After digitally signing the contract, they will have access to the data under the specified conditions. At the start, the possibilities of the RDX pilot version are still limited. Later on, the RDX technology will also enforce the contract. Compliance can also be enforced by offering data for statistical analysis only. Then, a user only gets the results of the analysis and not the raw data.

A suitable contract

Oort: “Some researchers have many objections to sharing their data. Others want to share, but have no suitable means. Researchers are busy, so we want RDX to work smoothly, enabling researchers in sharing their data on their terms without any difficulty. They needn’t even draw up a user contract. All that takes is answering a few questions.” The content of such a digital contract would depend on the conditions of the researcher or institution offering the data. It also depends on the person who is interested in using the data. Oort: “I would imagine that commercial companies would be subject to different conditions than researchers working at a university.”

Oort’s research institute has worked hard in recent years on a central digital archive with research data. He employs a data steward to manage that process. “Researchers are asked which part of their data is suitable for sharing and under what conditions. As soon as the RDX is operational, other universities, but also companies, can start offering their data. In previous talks with other universities, I noticed a lot of interest in participating. First, they would like to see a real working example before they are willing to invest. We are now going to provide that working example. Hopefully, this will convince others as well.”

At the right time

The platform has come at the right time: the current interest in open science is enormous within the scientific world, says Oort. A European cooperation has now been set up to start a European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) for research data. European governments have recently started GAIA-X, an initiative with representatives from the corporate world, science and politics. This is set up to achieve a European data infrastructure, as an alternative to the American 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 on the analysis of the problem, but it remains difficult to convert the ideas into practical solutions. We are now changing that.”

Author: Mirjam Streefkerk

17 June 2021

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