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The Impact of Open Data

by Trent Warner on 2024-02-12T16:29:31-07:00 in Open, Research | 0 Comments

Brian Jackson | Posted February 12, 2024

The Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) is a long-standing initiative organized by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. ICPSR hosts highly-curated, well-documented data collected from a wide range of academic and government sources internationally. On its website, the organization maintains a bibliography of publications stemming from ICPSR data. The number of publications in that list sits at more than 111,000.

While relatively few repositories track secondary use of data, with some digging one can find the occasional study, bibliography, or boast about the impact of open data. A few examples: the US-based National Institutes of Health lists more than 7000 manuscripts citing data from its Database of Genotypes and Phenotypes; the Canadian Research Data Centre Network, which provides restricted access to Statistics Canada data for Canadian researchers, hosts a bibliography of more than 5000 publications using its data; and one study found that just 79 datasets held by the Biologic Specimen and Data Repository Information Coordinating Center were reused in 987 published studies.

None of that is to say that all open datasets will be put to future use - many won’t. But we shouldn’t underestimate the ingenuity of others who may see new questions in our data or combine data in ways yet to be imagined. Sharing research data creates potential. That potential has been realized in some large endeavours such as the massive Human Genome Project, which would not have been possible without data sharing. In fields like astronomy and oral history, open data archiving has been common practice for decades, while other disciplines incorporate norms around collegial data sharing upon request, all with the understanding that research data has value to others.

Even if we think we’ve squeezed all the value out of our own data or that there is no value outside of the original context of data collection, there are other benefits to sharing research data. Open data increases transparency in scientific reporting at a time when expertise is often met with disbelief. Distrust of experts may be amplified by legitimate problems in research, exemplified by the replication crisis which was in part a catalyst for the growth of open science. There is also evidence that publications for which the underlying data is openly shared are cited more frequently. And while the link between open data and publication citations may be as much correlation as causation, what isn’t in doubt is the great feeling that comes from making impactful contributions to the scholarly record.

So what do you need to do to make your research data open?

  • Plan to make your data open at the start of your research project. Your plan should include details about how you will collect, store, organize, de-identify, and document your data. Consider what other researchers in your field would need to know in order to reuse your data.

  • Seek broad consent for unspecified future use of your data from research participants. Broad consent for data reuse cannot be a condition of participation.

  • Choose an appropriate repository. Datasets deposited in the MRU Data Repository are widely discoverable, but there may be other options in your discipline.

  • Not ready to open your dataset? Consider archiving your dataset in the MRU Data Repository with access restrictions. That way, your data will be preserved securely.

  • Advocate for the recognition of data sharing activities when research is assessed during tenure and promotion or funding processes.

  • Contact MRU’s Data Librarian for more information or support.

From February 12-16, 2024, ICPSR will promote events for Love Data Week, a week celebrating data management practices that enhance research. Consider attending Love Data Week events or use the week as a reminder to reach out to learn more about making your data open. 

Join Brian Jackson, Data Librarian at MRU Library, for his online workshop “Finding Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Data” on Thursday, Feb. 15 from 11 to 11:30 a.m. online. Register here.

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