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ESRC expectations on Research Data Management and Sharing

As of March 2015 ERSC grant applicants and grant holders have to comply with the council's updated Research Data Policy.

ESRC expectations arise from nine core principles, the key messages are:

  • Because "publicly-funded research data are public good" they should be made publicly available and re-useable for secondary analysis, "with as few restrictions as possible in a timely and responsible manner" and "in general… at the same time as the published outputs themselves";
  • Research data management and sharing activities should always be anticipated and carried out so as to respect ethical standards, privacy, intellectual property as well as the research process and researchers' period of privileged use;
  • ESRC can fund activities necessary to reach these principles as part of research grants.

Implementation notes for these principles are explained below.

ESRC Research Data Policy - Definition of research data

"Research data are defined for the purpose of this document as information relevant to, or of interest to researchers, either as inputs into or outputs from research. They are research materials resulting from primary data collection or generation, or derived from existing sources intended to be analysed in the course of a research project."

Developing your project & writing up your grant application

Writing up a Data Management and sharing plan as part of your grant application
  • this plan should be submitted as part of the grant application if data will be generated during the project;
  • it should match "relevant standards and community best practice";
  • and it should detail all the elements listed by the UK Data Service.

"Where relevant [ESRC Data service providers will] contact grant holders to ascertain the quality of the data management and sharing plan and offer guidance on its improvement".

In our guide on Data Management Plans you will find examples of ESRC Plans and information on how to ask for a review of your draft.

Deciding and explaining if your will be creating and/or re-using data

The re-use of data is encouraged by ESRC and should be considered "before committing to primary data collection": all grant applicants "must demonstrate that no suitable data are available for re-use."

However, "ESRC evaluate equally all proposals for funding on the basis of the scientific quality of the research proposal regardless whether the research is going to re-use data or collect new data."

Costing Data Management as part of your grant application

An ESRC costing tool is available.

ESRC funds can be used to support data management and data preparation for sharing costs, as long as this use is "efficient and cost-effective".

However, costs for long-term preservation of data cannot be included in the grant proposals as ESRC already funds its data service providers for that objective.

Anticipating exceptions to release data as part of your grant application

When?

All legal, ethical and commercial constraints should be "considered at the initiation of the research process and throughout both the research and data life cycle"

How?

Curation and sharing of potentially restricted data can be anticipated:

  1. by addressing these restrictions in the Data management and sharing plan,
  2. when writing and explaining the consent forms for research participants (a section on data sharing should always be included),
  3. and by anonymising data to protect their identity where needed.

When it is not possible to gain individual informed consent, your must seek "data sharing approval as part of [your] ethical review" at UCL (contact the UCL Research Ethics Committee; the IOE Research Ethics Committee if you are based at the IOE; or the Joint Research Office for medical research).

If such "issues of confidentiality are foreseen, the grant holder/applicant is encouraged to contact … the UK Data Service at the earliest opportunity."

"The ESRC regards non-deposit of research data as an exception and reserves the right to request deposit where there is insufficient evidence to prevent data sharing, or to explain why sharing was not considered prior to data collection. Only where researchers have demonstrated due diligence in all three areas [listed above] will exceptions be granted."

"Sufficient evidence [should be] given demonstrating that data cannot be shared, and every attempt to overcome any problems has been made. Not asking for consent to share data is not an acceptable reason unless consciously approved during ethical review"

Anticipating long-term sustainability of datasets as part of your grant application
  • if of "prospective long-term value", data should be "properly curated to remain accessible and useable for future research";
  • in the Data management and sharing plan you should plan for the sustainability of "formats, documentation, storage, backup and security" (following the UK Data Centre's standards).

Starting your project

Knowing your responsibilities as a grant holder

ESRC grant holders should:

  • read the ESRC Guide for grant holders;
  • remember that they are liable for "complaint or legal action taken … for infringements of copyrights, defamation or any other data protection requirements.";
  • "adhere to the Data Protection Act 1998 which contains eight (enforceable) principles of good practice, applying to anyone processing personal data (and data pertaining to organisations), including the use of personal data in research. Obtaining the data subject's consent is one of those principles; or meeting at least one of the 'necessary' conditions described in the Act.";
  • discuss their Data management and sharing plan with the UK Data Service;
  • implement their Data and sharing management plan as early as possible and report on progress where relevant;
  • "address potential issues that could limit data sharing opportunities from the very start of the project, eg ownership, confidentiality, time constraints for data preparation and deposit, etc"; the ESRC Case Officer can be contacted for guidance and support;
  • and, if they are managing large grants, research centres and long-term investments, grant holders should also keep track of all data assets generated, coordinate data management and data deposits.
Asking for help and training

ESRC Data service providers (e.g. UK Data Service) "provide guidance, advice and training… on implementing good data management and sharing practices, in particular on issues related to confidentiality, security and ethics in data sharing and re-use, how data archiving can be discussed with research participants and data preparation standards for re-use".

Additionally, we can provide help with Research Data Management and Sharing questions at whatever stage of your project. Please contact your Research Data Support Officers.

Intellectual property

"In respect of research grant funding, unless stated otherwise, the ownership of intellectual property and responsibility for its exploitation rests with the organisation carrying out the research.

ESRC may, in specific cases, reserve the right to establish alternative ownership arrangements and to arrange for it to be exploited for the national benefit in other ways. If exercised, this condition is included in the terms of the relevant grant."

UCL's Staff IPR Policy outlines local ownership arrangements.

Managing research data throughout your project

Meeting high ethical standards

The ESRC Framework for Research Ethics should be followed at all stages of the project and data lifecycles.

Anticipating exceptions to release data

All legal, ethical and commercial constraints should be "considered at the initiation of the research process and throughout both the research and data life cycle". Guidance to anticipate such issues is available above in "Anticipating exceptions to release data as part of your grant application".

Re-using research data

Your sources should always be acknowledged by "formally citing the data used, and abide by the terms and conditions". Examples are available.

Creating metadata of datasets

Why?

Both metadata and documentation should accompany data to enable that these are effectively discoverable, understandable and re-useable by other researchers without the help of the data creators

When?

Metadata of data should be published "at the earliest opportunity"; no embargo periods are accepted.

Metadata schema to use: "standardized, structured metadata" following a "standard such as Data Documentation Initiative (DDI), SDMX, or INSPIRE, explaining the purpose, origin, time references, geographic location, creator(s), access conditions and terms of use of the data. (Sometimes multiple metadata standards are required.)"

Your metadata should include persistent information (i.e. a persistent URL such as a Digital Object Identifier) to make datasets citable. Guidance is available below in "Creating metadata and documentation of datasets".

Sharing research data and findings

General principles

Data should be shared "with as few restrictions as possible" & free of charge, by meeting "high ethical standard" and respecting privacy and intellectual property laws.

Data should be managed to enable their future scientific exploitation "to the maximum potential".

When to share data?
  • normally, "within 3 months of the grant ending";
  • once the research data have been deposited, an embargo of maximum 12 months (from the end of the grant) can be applied if needed "to allow grant holders to publish their research findings". This embargo "may be longer depending on circumstances" (forthcoming ESRC guidelines); it can't be used for metadata of data (see below);
  • data supporting research outputs should be "findable and accessible at the same time" as the outputs.
Where to deposit data?

Researchers can choose to store their data:

  • in the ReShare repository (infrastructure maintained by ESRC's UK Data Service). Guidance is available. 
  • OR In a UCL repository. Guidance is available.
  • OR in any other "responsible digital repository", i.e. that "takes responsibility for data assets according to the FAIR data principles: findable, accessible, interoperable, and re-usable" and provides you with "adequate and persistent information" (i.e. metadata and a DOI) for your data. A list of external repositories and their characteristics can be found in the international registry Re3data.org. It is a good idea to ask your departmental IT specialist for advice.
Anticipating exceptions to release data

All legal, ethical and commercial constraints should be "considered at the initiation of the research process and throughout both the research and data life cycle". Guidance to anticipate such issues is available above in "Anticipating exceptions to release data as part of your grant application".

Deciding how to protect your research datasets when publicising them
  • You should use the ESRC's definition of Access Levels "to classify data to determine the conditions under which access will be permitted. Data is classified based on their level of detail, sensitivity and confidentiality" "to minimise the risk of disclosing personal information".
  • There are 3 levels of access: data can be open, safeguarded or controlled.
  • If you chose to deposit your data in the UK Data Service's repository under the Access Level "controlled", access to data will be secured via the infrastructure Secure Lab.

"The ESRC data service providers' secure access facilities may enable secure remote access to data too sensitive, confidential or potentially disclosive to be made available as open or safeguarded. Data which pose a disclosure risk after anonymisation may still be suitable for secure access infrastructure."

Creating metadata and documentation of datasets

Why?

Documentation, like metadata, should accompany data to enable that these are effectively discoverable, understandable and re-useable by other researchers without the help of the data creators.

Metadata schema to use: "standardized, structured metadata" following a "standard such as Data Documentation Initiative (DDI), SDMX, or INSPIRE, explaining the purpose, origin, time references, geographic location, creator(s), access conditions and terms of use of the data. (Sometimes multiple metadata standards are required)"

The UK Data Service has published a list of elements required when you deposit your datasets.

Your documentation "should describe at least the origin of data, fieldwork and data collection methods, processing and/or the researcher's management of the data. Individual data items such as variables or transcripts should be clearly labelled and described."

Publishing your findings in Open Access
  • ESRC expects researchers to follow RCUK guidance on Open Access publications: papers should be freely available maximum 12 months after publication; an embargo of up to 24 months is accepted. Guidance is available.
  • to be eligible for REF submission, papers accepted for publication after the 1st April 2016 must be deposited in your chosen Open Access repository within 3 months of acceptance. Guidance is available.
Creating a link between your publications & supportive datasets

To enable the effective re-use of data your publication of outputs and of supportive data should be simultaneous.

You should explain in a formal citation how and where supporting data and/or metadata can be accessed (the mention "contact author" is not sufficient).

Guidance to write a formal citation and exemples of Data Access Statements (for restricted and non-restricted data) in your papers are available.

Finishing your project

Anticipating the long-term sustainability of your datasets
  • If of "prospective long-term value", data should be "properly curated to remain accessible and useable for future research"; you should make sure that your plan regarding the "formats, documentation, storage, backup and security" of data produced as part of the project have been implemented (following the UK Data Centre's standards).
  • UCL is responsible for funding long-term preservation of data deposited in its data repositories and for providing DOIs for datasets deposited in its repositories.
Depositing your data at the end of the project

ESRC "applies sanctions, eg withholding the final payment of a grant, if data have not been deposited for archiving to the required standard within three months of the end of the grant".

See options to deposit your data.

Reporting
  • outcomes of your project should be updated in Researchfish.com
  • when the data repository has been chosen and if it is NOT one of ESRC's data service providers, you must submit metadata (including the published location) to the UK Data Service to enable the discovery of the datasets.
PhD students are encouraged to deposit copies of data created

Copies of data created as part of PhD projects can be deposited in the UK Data Service repository (see p.34).

More help

Information regarding the grant application process is available on the ESRC website.

FAQs on research data management in Economics and Social Sciences research are also available.

To understand more about Research Data Management and your responsibilities you may find it useful to read UCL Research Data Policy and the ESRC Research Data Policy.

If you have any difficulty in meeting these expectations, and at whatever stage of your project, please contact your Research Data Support Officers.