Open Data

Digital data has become the foundation of research and scholarship, but it can mean very different things to different people. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which lays down guidance for federally-sponsored research, describes it like this:

“Research data means the recorded factual material commonly accepted in the scientific community as necessary to validate research findings, but not any of the following: preliminary analyses, drafts of scientific papers, plans for future research, peer reviews, or communications with colleagues.” This “recorded” material excludes physical objects, trade secrets, commercial information, and personal and medical information the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

This is a broad definition, but the summary of what is not considered data fit for sharing is helpful in thinking about openness and compliance, two major factors that are quickly changing the landscape of scholarship across all disciplines.

Openness as it relates to data means “data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike” (from Open Definition). Sharing data may seem like a daunting and burdensome new challenge for researchers already stretched for time and funding, but there are a lot of benefits (beyond compliance) to both the data creator and user alike. Open data sharing helps moves science forward by fostering transparency and reproducibility, allowing for the verification of results, and facilitating collaboration and cross-disciplinary inquiry. It also increases the return on investment, including that by taxpayers in the case of federally-funded research. Finally, it enhances the visibility of research efforts and can increase a project’s impact, especially as people begin to think of data - and cite it - as a scholarly output in its own right.

Funding agencies, institutions, and journals have already started requiring at least some form of data sharing as a prerequisite for funding or publication. See this website for a side-by-side comparison of requirements from some of the top funding agencies. 

There are many subject repositories that exist to help researchers share their data, and some journals are now hosting data associated with their publications. There is also an upcoming pilot project by the Texas Digital Library for a repository that will be available for data deposit by the UT Austin community.

If you have questions about how to share your data, how best to prepare it for deposit, what policies a particular funder may have, or what resources are available at UT, please see Data Management @ UT or contact our Data Management Coordinator, Jessica Trelogan, at j.trelogan@austin.utexas.edu.