Researchers’ challenges in sharing data cross geographic borders and disciplines

(21 March 2018, London) A report from Springer Nature published today reveals strong support for data sharing globally, yet identifies a number of common problems amongst researchers when they endeavour to share their data. However, the report also shows variations between nations and disciplines in the proportion of researchers sharing their data.

Practical Challenges for Researchers in Data Sharing, based on one of the largest surveys on the subject of research data, reinforces previous findings on the challenges faced by researchers in sharing their data. The survey of 7,700 researchers at various career stages and working across different fields explores behaviours and attitudes towards data sharing at the point of publishing a research article, including analysis by subject, region and seniority.

The main findings of the report include:

- Three-quarters (76%) of researchers rated the importance of making their data discoverable highly.

- When submitting to a journal, nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents generally submitted data files as supplementary information, deposited the files in a repository, or did both.

The challenges to data sharing were identified by respondents as:

- ‘Organizing data in a presentable and useful way’ – 46%

- ‘Unsure about copyright and licensing’ – 37%

- ‘Not knowing which repository to use’ – 33%

- ‘Lack of time to deposit data’ – 26%

- ‘Costs of sharing data’ – 19%

Biological sciences had the highest proportion of respondents who shared data relating to publications (75%), followed by the Earth sciences (68%), medical sciences (61%), and physical sciences (59%). The problems facing researchers in medical sciences differed the most from other subject areas. The most often cited issue for medical researchers was being unsure about copyright and licensing (44%), the only subject area for which organising data was not the biggest challenge.

Even within subject areas with established norms for data sharing (in the form of funder mandates and availability of community repositories), the survey revealed a lack of awareness where data sharing was concerned. Only 54% of respondents who produced specific biological and medical data (e.g. DNA and RNA sequences), where dedicated repositories exist, were using these repositories.

In every region, ‘Organising data in a presentable and useful way’ was the most often stated reason for not sharing data. However the number of researchers sharing their data varied by more than 20% across countries: the proportion of respondents stating that they share data when submitting a manuscript ranged from 76% (Poland) followed by Germany (75%), to 55% of respondents from the United States and Australia, and 50% of respondents from Canada.

The report recommends two areas of focus to increase data sharing amongst researchers: greater support and education on good data management for researchers, particularly for those at the early stages of their careers; and faster, easier routes to sharing data by developing and providing readily available solutions to organise and share data.

Grace Baynes, VP, Data and New Product Development, in Springer Nature’s Open Research Group said: “This survey and others confirm researchers are convinced of the importance of making their data discoverable. The question now is how do we move from positive attitudes to a change in behaviour where data sharing becomes the norm?”

“Funders are increasingly mandating good data practice, including data management plans and data sharing, and recognising the need for global collaboration on infrastructure and best practice. While not all research data can be open access, momentum is gathering to achieve a future where research data are widely Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR). To their credit, US and UK funders have moved early to encourage and require data sharing through policies, pilots and infrastructure, and yet researchers in the UK and US report lower percentages of data sharing than the global average.”

“While funder mandates continue to be an essential factor, our findings suggest that policy must be coupled with greater support and education for researchers, and faster, easier routes to sharing data optimally. This challenge requires the whole research community’s concerted attention and needs collaborative solutions from funders, institutions, libraries, publishers and researchers themselves.”

The announcement is here.