Data management – What and why?
What is research data?
Why should I share my data?
What does open availability mean in practice?
Benefits for the authors of data
Benefits for the scientific community
Benefits for funders
Benefits for society

Data management – What and why?

In each phase of the research process, thought should be given to how research data—which is perhaps the most important element  of research—should be managed: How and where should it be stored? Who owns it? Where will it be published? How will others be informed of the data and its existence? The usefulness of research data to future research can only be guaranteed by ensuring that information of the data is not lost when the original researchers, move on to other assignments. This is why thought should be given to the research data lifecycle and enabling  its reuse already at the beginning of the research process. The careful planning of data management is the first step towards open science and research data that can be easily used by academia and society at large. It also gives research greater exposure and promotes the merits of those producing the data – the researchers. (Finnish Social Science Data Archive FSD 2013)

Research data can be thought of as being a key raw ingredient in both the research process and research projects. Data management planning is part of good scientific practice. For example, the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity (TENK) has laid out guidelines on the responsible conduct of research, which include the use of ethically sustainable methods for data acquisition, specification of research team member positions, rights and responsibilities, principles concerning authorship and planning of storing data at the beginning of the research process. Funding agencies, such as the Academy of Finland and Tekes, have begun to require that a research data management plan be drafted as part of the research plan submitted with the funding application. (TENK 2012, FSD 2013).

This guide contains the key areas of data management that each and every researcher should take into consideration.  A data management planning checklist has been made to assist researchers, in addition to which the guide contains background information on, e.g., the  research process and existing services.

What is research data?

The term "data" is used in the Data Management Guide because it deals with digital materials that do not include interpretation (as compared to the term "information", which is used as a reference to interpreted information). In this guide, the term "research data" refers to any data produced, modified or expanded upon in research work. Data can be:
•    raw data, which is unprocessed, original data
•    quality controlled data, from which the data author has for example removed errors
•    processed data, which was acquired by processing the original data by some means
•    aggregated or statistical data
•    data used only in the publishing of results

Many fields of research also make use of data produced by government agencies, which is not originally collected for research use. This type of data becomes research data once it has been modified, processed or expanded upon. To prevent duplicate storage it is important to clearly define and document each collection of unprocessed data.

Why should I share my data?

The openness  of research data promotes their reuse, which is useful  not only to the author of the data, but also funders, scientific community and society, on  the national as well as  international levels.

What does open availability mean in practice?

Research data can have several different levels of publicity  ranging from fully open to rights of use restricted by licenses or one-time agreements. Although the level of publicity  is set by the owners of the research data, they must take into consideration laws that restrict the use of data, such as the Personal Data Act, Act on the Openness of Government Activities and Copyright Act. The use of licences is recommended.

Benefits for the authors of data

Sharing  data gives the researcher or research team international exposure. Openly available scientific publications are cited more often than articles only published in publications requiring a paid subscription. In addition, publications with openly available background data are cited more frequently than those whose background data are not available (see e.g. article Scientists Who Share Data Publicly Receive More Citations). Recognition can help in getting additional funding. Openness increases interaction  among  researchers by lowering the threshold. Openness makes it possible for a researcher to receive feedback on even the most obscure data, allowing the researcher to further improve them. Feedback can promote posing of new research questions and  finding  new solutions  to problems being analysed. Publishing data for the scientific community as part of the open science process may also encourage other researchers to share their data. When sharing and opening data, it is highly recommended that licenses are used to ensure certain user rights.

Researchers can already now include the data they have published in their curriculum vitae. The Academy of Finland recommends use of the TENK Template for researchers curriculum vitae as a part of  funding applications. It is also desirable that such records of achievement are used in funding decisions in the future.

Benefits for the scientific community

The scientific community benefits from the sharing of research data, for example, in the following ways:

  • Scientific endeavours are made more efficient and accelerated: The reuse of data saves a great deal on resources, as the gathering of data is often expensive and laborious.  Some data are so unique that gathering them again is either impossible, exorbitantly expensive or ethically questionable. (FSD 2013)
  • The scientific community can use available research data in assessing the accuracy of conclusions and results or their reinterpretation or repurposing, when examining new research problems and in working in new scientific disciplines. The open availability of data can also promote the development of new research methods. (FSD 2013)
  • Extensive, openly available data allow for comparisons over time and place (FSD 2013).
  • The sharing of data ensures the preservation of data upon the conclusion of individual research projects.
  • The open availability of data can enhance teaching and the training of new generations of researchers.
  • The open and easy availability of research data improves research innovation and networking within and between disciplines as well as researcher recognition. It can also spark discussion or create new research paths. (FSD 2013)
  • On the Internet, open data can be found more easily with  different search engines.
  •  According to an OECD recommendation, the open availability of publicly funded research data is an absolute necessity for a productive international scientific community.

Benefits for funders

The openness and transparency of science, which includes the open availability of data, also facilitates the work of funders:

  • It is easier to devote resources to the right targets, when a funder knows what data exist. If there is any suspicion of forgery or plagiarism, there will be data available to conduct an evaluation.
  • In addition to scientific publications, the funder can take researcher's achievements in the production of data into consideration.

However, managing the openness of research data by e.g. licencing, is recommended, in order to ensure that researchers are able to  define their own rights to the data.

Benefits for society

The open availability of results and data from publicly funded research increases research exposure, credibility and utility from a taxpayer's standpoint. Openness promotes democracy and improves the transparency and quality of political decision-making, when both citizens and policy makers have better  access to research data relevant  to the decision-making process. Openly available data is usefulboth to public administration and business: data can create new opportunities for innovation, particularly for the small and medium-sized enterprises. It is crucial that the data is clearly interpretable and adequately described, with an eye towards its  reuse.

On  the international level,  openness of data and publications  can promote equality and development in the research community. It also democratizes the availability of information nationally and globally, offering equal possibilities for access to data for researchers (e.g.  in developing countries) who cannot afford to purchase expensive data. Ideally, this can have a positive effect on the development of poor countries. (Ristikartano 2010)