New Data Requirements and How To Meet Them

Around the time when I started this blog in 2013, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) decreed that all major federal funders would soon have to require data management plans and data sharing from their grantees. It’s been almost two years since the OSTP memo came out, but we are finally starting to see the funder’s plans for enacting public access requirements.

The biggest recent announcement came from the NIH. NIH previously had a data sharing requirement for grants over $500,000 per year, but the new policy requires data management plans and data sharing from everyone. This matches the NSF policy on data, which will not change significantly under the new mandates.

In addition to NIH and NSF, other US funding agencies have new data policies. DOE, for example, now requires a data management plan with grant applications and data sharing from funded researchers. Similar requirements now exist for NASA, the CDC, and others. Basically, if you are getting research money from a US agency, you should now plan to write a data management plan and share your data.

So, given these new requirements, how do researchers meet them? In terms of data management plans, I’m pushing people at my university toward the DMPTool. The tool is regularly updated with new policy requirements/templates, contains helpful information for writing a plan, and has features that enable collaboration and review. It’s a great resource for anyone writing a data management plan for a US-based funding group.

The harder part is on the data sharing portion of the new data requirements. This is because a significant number of researchers will have to share data that were not required to do so before. Additionally, funders haven’t been very good about specifying where to share data. So we have a huge need to figure out where to put data and not a lot of recommendations on where that actually should be.

In terms of what I’m doing on my campus, I have three recommendations. First, look for where your funder, journal, or peers recommend you put data. This is likely the best place to put your data. Second, look for lists of data repositories by discipline. I particularly like this one from the new journal Scientific Data and the master repository list at re3data. Finally, you can always contact your local data librarian. I expect finding repositories for people’s data is going to be a big part of how my university is responding to these new requirements.

Overall, I’m very excited about these new requirements as I think that data management will really help researchers take care of their data and data sharing will promote transparency in research. Still, there is not a lot of infrastructure or support behind these new demands. This makes it difficult for both those who support research data and those who generate it.

The good news is that this is an evolving process and that, over time, systems and workflows will develop to make it easier to comply with these requirements. Things will get better. Until then, remember that you likely have assistance at your institutional library.