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Research Data Management


Q. How do I inform the EPSRC about possible problems with data sharing? They don’t require a data management plan.

Even though the EPSRC does not evaluate data management plans as part of the grant application process, they are clear that all well managed publicly-funded research should include, from the outset, consideration of any potential issues with future data sharing. It is therefore good practice to prepare a data management plan. If applicable, your data management plan should also describe possible solutions to problems with data sharing. Deciding on a research data sharing strategy from the outset of your research may spare you difficulties towards the end of your project. We also encourage you to outline your data sharing intentions, and any constraints that may apply, in your grant application, as even though the EPSRC does not require your plan, this will potentially demonstrate additional value in your proposed research to those who peer review your application.

Q. When I accepted my EPSRC award in 2010, they did not have expectations on data sharing. Do I need to share my data from that research? If I knew about these expectations, perhaps I would not have accepted the award.

Yes you do, the expectation from 2011 has been that publicly-funded research data will be shared, and it is vital that published research findings are by default made open to scrutiny by the sharing of the underpinning data on which they rely (see also the Royal Society’s report ‘Science as an open enterprise’ and the government’s ‘Open Data’ white paper, both published in 2012). In terms and conditions of awards from Research Councils, it is stated that terms and conditions might change. If you accepted an award from Research Councils you have also agreed to the fact that conditions might change. If there are reasons why you are unable to share your research you will need to make these clear.

Q. My research is partially funded by a commercial company, which does not want research data to be released. What should I do?

Ideally (and in future collaborations) you will already have a collaboration agreement in place which identifies if any data provided by the company is confidential, and which clarifies ownership of exploitation rights to any intellectual property arising from the project. If one is not already in place you should determine with your collaborating company which data can be shared and which cannot, and take steps to reach such an agreement as soon as possible (the Research Operations Office can help with this).

You should always inform any commercial company with which you wish to collaborate that due to your public funding, you are expected to share research data as openly as possible. Effective data management planning from the outset of a proposed project will help you determine if (some) research data needs to be restricted, and to provide appropriate statements in any publications which arise explaining the reason why access to data is restricted. For more guidance on sample statements please see the FAQ "How do I link to my data? Do you have any template statements that I could adapt for my publication?".

Q. I am funded by EPSRC - can I restrict access to my data?

The EPSRC expects you to make your research data publicly available, with as few restrictions as possible. However, there are some exemptions to this. The access to the following types of data can be restricted:

  • Personal data should not be released, unless consent of the person is given; otherwise the data will need to be properly anonymised. Anonymisation can be more complex and time consuming than simply removing someone’s name, so plan ahead (guidance on personal and sensitive data is available).
  • Sensitive data (that would compromise intellectual property, or security) should only be released under carefully controlled conditions and once any necessary permissions are obtained (guidance on personal and sensitive data is available).
  • Reasonable delays/restrictions to data publishing are acceptable if necessary to protect intellectual property or commercially confidential data.
  • If data preservation is not possible or cost-effective, it is acceptable not to publish the data, as long as the ability to validate published research findings is not compromised. For example, suitably documented research methodology and initial conditions allows others in principle to produce an equivalent dataset sufficient to validate the published work.

Q. Could I just share research data only when asked for it?

Yes, but only provided that there are legitimate reasons why you cannot make your data openly available. A possible reason might be data containing personal/sensitive information. In circumstances when data is made available via managed access (upon request), data access controls and criteria for what needs to happen for the access to be granted have to be made clear in metadata description.

For more guidance on managed access to research data please see the EAGDA report on data access governance.