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Academic researchers worry about their open data knowledge

David Bicknell Published 26 October 2016

Figshare survey highlights widespread adoption of open datasets – but also raises questions from researchers over data sharing, licensing conditions and the costs of making data open


A report into the use of open data and data sharing practices by academic researchers has found many have uncertainty and gaps in their knowledge of open data, in particular around the licensing conditions in which they have shared their data and how it can be reused.

The survey, “The State of Open Data” by online digital repository for academic research Figshare, found that of the researchers who have already made their data open, 60% of respondents are unsure about the licensing conditions under which they have already shared their data, and thus the extent to which it can be accessed or reused.

They are also uncertain who will meet the costs of making data open and on how to cite datasets. More than half of respondents said they would welcome more guidance on compliance with their funder’s policy.

The report was conducted in partnership with Springer Nature and based around the extent of awareness around open data, the incentives around its use, and perspectives researchers have about making their own research data open.

Its key findings are that:

For the majority of respondents, open data is already a reality:  

  • Approximately three quarters of respondents have made their research data openly available at some point; a similar number are aware of data sets that are open to access, reuse, repurpose and redistribute.
  • Researchers in the social sciences demonstrate the highest level of awareness by subject area, while by geography, researchers in Asia demonstrate the least familiarity.

Researchers place value on the credit they receive for making data open:

  • Nearly 70% of researchers value as data citation as much as an article citation. A further 10% value a data citation more than an article citation.

Awareness of open data transcends age and career progression:

  • Principal Investigators (PIs) and professors consistently responded similarly to PhD students and post-doctoral fellows in their awareness of open data usage.

Researchers are uncertain of how to cite datasets:

  • Less than half of respondents say they are confident in how to cite a secondary research dataset.

There are indications that the future will be more open:

  • Researchers who have never made data openly available are considering doing so - of respondents who have not made any data open to date, 44% say they will definitely consider doing so in the future, and a further 46% might consider doing so.

Regional differences exist:

  • North American respondents who have not yet made data open are most likely to do so in the future, while Asian respondents are least likely to do so.  

Daniel Hook, chief executive of Figshare parent company Digital Science said, “Today’s findings show we have reached a key inflection point in the research community – nearly three-quarters of all researchers, whether by mandate or not, state they have made their data sets open and available, and value a data citation as much as an article citation. This clearly demonstrates researchers consider sharing data sets as core to the furthering of research.

“It is equally clear from the results of the survey that researchers also feel the need for greater support in understanding what is becoming a highly complex and nuanced activity.  Understanding copyright, licensing, contractual and ethical concerns around data sharing are key to participating appropriately in the open community. We need to provide the right education to young academics, and provide clear guidance to more established colleagues to ensure a culture change can take place, and that confusion does not prevail. ”

Mark Hahnel, chief executive and founder of Figshare said,“While the survey reveals researchers are driving adoption of open data practices – sharing and using open data far more than previously thought –  it also indicates researchers would welcome further guidance in a few specific areas. These include measuring compliance to their funder’s policies, understanding the extent in which data can be accessed and reused without infringing on licences, and thoughts and ideas on the overarching question of how to meet costs incurred enabling data to be open and accessible.”

The report gathers insights and narratives from leading professionals in the open data space and includes a foreword from Sir Nigel Shadbolt, chairman and co-founder of the Open Data Institute.


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