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The economic impact of research data

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In 2014, an ANDS-commissioned report by economist John Houghton and the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies found that curating and openly sharing data created during research could unlock up to $4.9 billion of economic value each year.

It followed an earlier report on the Costs and Benefits of Data Provision (2011) showing that the benefits of sharing public sector information data outweighed the costs by a considerable margin.

Now the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Data Availability and Use is set to help realise this untapped potential in the form of research output data. It is considering sweeping changes to free up both public and private sector data, with some positive signals that change may be imminent.

Calculating the value of data

The value of research data is calculated using several methods, says Dr Greg Laughlin, Principal Policy Advisor at ANDS. “It ranges from just having the data there for immediate reuse, saving the costs of collection, all the way up to having large data centres where there are great efficiencies  and the prospect of doing new kinds of research,” he says.

With the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research currently under review, there is an opportunity to change the default expectation on data availability in the Australian policy framework for research from its current, largely voluntary, approach to something more concrete. That could  see a considerable boost to the total value of Australian research data.

The impact of research data centres

A study of three UK research data centres found that found that these centres achieved between a two-fold and twelve-fold return on investment each year.

Credit: NCI

Examples include the European Bioinformatics Centre, which hosts several data centres, including Ensembl, a publicly-accessible data bank which automatically annotates the human genome and integrates these annotations with other available biological data. This data bank has led to thousands of research  discoveries and advances.

One such study is the Deciphering Development Disorders study, which used Ensembl and its sub-set, the Variant Effects Predictor Tool, to compare DNA sequencing from 14,000 families, finding diagnoses for around one-third of more than 1100 previously investigated but undiagnosed children.

Closer to home, Australia’s National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) hosts data for a consortium of more than 30 universities, publicly funded research, medical research and national science agencies, for research, commercial and industry. It includes Australian Community Climate Earth System  Simulator (ACCESS), used for weather forecasts and research into climate variability and extremes.

Research data already adds to Australia’s bottom line. But with universities, research institutions and government departments opening up more of their data for reuse, productivity could be boosted even higher. Perhaps even billions of dollars higher.

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