Carrots and sticks for Research Data Management
There are various incentives for Research Data Management. Financial reward, continuity of research and reliable science are only three of them. So far these incentives do not seem to have enough motivational power to make many researchers practice sustainable and secure RDM. Since RDM is important for Wageningen UR, but the work has to be done by individual researchers, we argue that explicit scientific credits should be attributed to RDM. Analogue to scientific credits for publications.
Wageningen Data Management Policy
Wageningen University & Research takes Research Data Management (RDM) serious. Already in 2010 internal discussions started on RDM as a necessary part of the research process. Following a proposal from the Wageningen Graduate Schools in 2013, the Wageningen UR board announced our RDM policy. According to the policy PhD students and chair groups must make an RDM Plan (RDMP). The idea was, that writing an RDMP would challenge chair groups to practice secure and sustainable data management. Motivations for RDM were, and still are, financial and ethical. Good RDM pays back both financially and in research quality and good RDM is the right thing to do.
A Research Data Management Plan describes which data will be created or used, where the data will be stored or archived during and after research, and with whom the data will be shared.
Now that we are two years further, it is hard to tell whether RDMPs are made by all PhD student and chair groups. There is no central record of RDMPs. Even harder is it, to tell whether the RDMPs lead to good RDM where data is sustainably secured during and after research. What we see is that the adoption of data publishing is still low and that services offered by Data Management Support are under-utilized. So, although many of the Wageningen Researchers make a real effort towards RDM, my gut feeling is that we can do much better. RDM at Wageningen University and Research has not yet reached a ‘serious’ level.
Incentives for RDM
Like I said, the general motivations for RDM are financial and ethical. Incentives for RDM are different for the organisation as a whole, for research or chair groups and for the individual researchers. In the National Coordination Point RDM (LCRDM), installed by SURF on request of the VSNU SOV (Stuurgroep Onderzoek en Valorisatie), we think that incentives for individual researchers need to be made more explicit. This is work in progress, but in this blog I would like to take you through some of the identified individual incentives for RDM, some of them sticks, some of them carrots.
There is a continuity incentive: good RDM allows for continuity of research from one researcher (or PhD student) to another. It allows for cross domain research, replication and re-use by fellow researchers, or even by citizens. Continuity facilitates the supervision of PhD students and it helps in the reduction of costs where data collection consumes (a large) part of the research budget. It is good for Wageningen University and Research or for a research team or chair group. But, what’s in it for the individual researcher to document and archive his or her data, so that others can use it? RDM requires a time investment and usually data re-use is not considered to be an incentive, but a threat. Of course the other side of the coin is that RDM allows you to make new findings from existing data sets. How nice (and cheap) would that be? A carrot?
Reliable science is another incentive. Ever since the “Stapel” data scandal, the call for reliable, verifiable and reproducible science has been heard through society. RDM can contribute to a better image on science and verifiability is described in our Wageningen UR Code of Conduct of Scientific Practice (§2.3, link intranet Wageningen UR only). I think RDM can contribute to the image of Wageningen University and Research, or even for a research team or chair group. I cannot see a carrot for RDM for the individual researcher. He (she) is already convinced that he (she) works in a reliable, peer reviewed scientific environment, and behaves responsible and trust worthy.
Let’s not forget the funding incentive. If a researcher does not promise to practice RDM, his or her chances of getting researcher project funded are rapidly decreasing. EU-H2020, NWO and EZ all require RDM. Moreover they soon will require that data created during the project will be archived in a sustainable, open and secure manner for at least 10 years after the last publication of the project. It is a handicap that funders, so far, do not mention how RDM can be funded. Some funders earmark a percentage of the research funds for RDM. One can argue that this is a stick more than a carrot, it will reduce the funds available for the research.
Now the scientific credits. This is what will make a researcher’s heart beat faster. A researcher needs publications in Q1 journals, high citation rates which lead to high H-factors or other recognized impact. The library has been aware of this need since we started developing data services. We register published data sets in the research output system along with publications. The carrot here is recognized impact. Currently, publishing a dataset does not lead to much significant scientific recognition. Since last year RDM has a minor influence on the results of the Standard Evaluation Protocols (VSNU), for chair groups, but nothing for individual researchers. The Wageningen UR Data Management Support team can publish data sets in such a way that proper citation is possible, and a DOI will be assigned to the data set. This is one step towards data citation, but what we need is a standard way to cite data. What we also need is recognition, in a similar manner like recognition for publications. Simply because RDM is measurable it can be attributed to individual researchers and thus be part of evaluation protocols, part of tenure tracks and part of H-index calculations. Then RDM will have its carrot.
Good RDM is imperative for Wageningen University and Research as a whole, but it has to be done by researchers. If we want a better adoption of sustainable and secure RDM we need to reward individual researchers for RDM. These explicit incentives for researchers need to be agreed upon at a national level.