What can be done to encourage data preservation among university researchers? U.S. science and technology research agencies and the offices that oversee them have had strong ideas on the subject and have been making pronouncements for over a decade. Twelve years ago, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began asking grant-seekers to plan for the management of their research data. The National Science Foundation (NSF) followed in 2011. In 2013, the White House superseded both agencies with a memorandum from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announcing the government’s commitment to “increase access to federally funded published research and digital scientific data…”
Money talks. The NSF invests about $7 billion in American research annually and the NIH allocates about $30 billion to medical research. To put these numbers in perspective for Tufts, that translated into about $8 million from the NSF and just under $62 million from the NIH last year.*
Because the agencies that disburse money in the form of federal R&D funds have been mandating data management plans from their applicants, the research universities that rely on those federal funds have responded. Many, including Tufts, have looked to their libraries to provide support in:
- Assisting researchers in the creation and implementation of data management plans
- Helping researchers find the right data repository
- Dataset metadata creation
- Encouraging best practices in data management
Universities have taken other steps as well. Some have created new data repositories, or have augmented their existing institutional repositories in order to accommodate and support the long-term preservation of research data.
Have government data access directives had their intended effect? So far the data are sparse. A 2014 Drexel University study did find NIH mandates, along with those implemented by scientific journals, seemed to be “meeting the goal of increasing the sharing of scientific resources among life science investigators.” But the point I want to make here is that, at the very least, these mandates have served to publicize the issue of data management to a degree that has encouraged debate and discussion among researchers and others within the university.
While the government still provides the greatest portion of funding to U.S. research universities, the automatic spending cuts of the 2013 budget sequestration have reduced the flow of money enough to make grant-seekers nervous. Researchers are increasingly appealing to foundations, corporations and philanthropic organizations to fill in the gaps. I hope you’ll join me in April for Part II, as we “follow the money” and look at which non-government funders are advocating for data management as well!
* In research project grants