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Greg Laughlin, ANDS Principal Policy Adviser

In Share 27 we talked about ANDS seeking to extend the Productivity Commission’s definition of research outputs beyond publications to include data, techniques, algorithms and software. This would bring Australia into line with its major overseas peers.

Since then, the Productivity Commission has released another draft report, this time on Data Availability and Use.

The Data Availability and Use report proposes sweeping changes to free up the availability of data from the private and public sectors, including possible legislative and structural  measures.

For the research sector, the Commission suggests a different approach based on strengthening government policies, altering the conditions of funding and building on existing journal publication requirements (such as the growing trend of journals requiring supporting data before accepting an article for publication).

One of the vehicles of reform proposed by the Commission is the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, which is currently under review. The Public Consultation Draft of the Code (Nov 2016) is a shorter, principles-based approach, which says this about research data:

R7 (Institutions) Provide facilities for the safe and secure storage and management of research data, records and primary materials and, where possible and appropriate, allow access and reference to these by interested parties.
R20 (Researchers) Retain clear, accurate and complete records of all research including research data and primary materials and, where possible and appropriate, allow access and reference to these by interested parties. Where required, maintain the confidentiality of research data, records and primary materials.

At the present time the incentives for Australian institutions or researchers to publish and share research data are not as clear as in the EU, UK or USA. There are two overarching drivers that could change this if they were to be reflected into the Australian research policy framework:

  1. Research sector-specific policy driver. There should be a default policy setting which acknowledges the value* of data products from the research system and which creates an opportunity to select and disseminate the data that supports research findings.
  2. Incentive driver. Research funders and research organisations should treat data publications as first class outputs for the purposes of scholarly referencing, track record and reporting.

These two drivers would have the benefit of bringing the sector into alignment with proposed changes to the public and private sectors. With respect to research data, these principles would also align Australia with many of its international peers.

* That is, value within the research system as well as to business and the wider community.