Iowa State is exploring ways for researchers to publicly share data

By Paula Van Brocklin, Office of the Vice President for Research

Iowa State University’s mission is clear and concise: Create, share and apply knowledge to make Iowa and the world a better place. This is not a new concept. The idea of sharing scholarly information and scientific results with others has been around for centuries. Today, research findings typically are shared via conference presentations and publications. But that’s changing, too, thanks to the internet.

Data is an important scholarly byproduct of research projects, and it may have value for future investigations. Federal and nonprofit research organizations, which previously expected research publications to be shared publicly, are beginning to require scientists and scholars to openly share their research data. Iowa State intends to follow suit, and will support researchers through the data-sharing process.

“We at Iowa State recognize the value of increasing public access to research data in order to advance scientific knowledge for the benefit of all,” said Sarah Nusser, vice president for research. “In addition, publicly sharing research data promotes rigor and transparency in scholarly research, and will help increase the visibility of Iowa State’s faculty.”

As an institution, Iowa State’s visibility as a proponent of data-sharing also will get a boost during the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and Association of American Universities’ (AAU) 2018 Workshop on Accelerating Public Access to Research Data, Oct. 29-30 in Washington D.C. Nusser will be part of a panel discussing various data-sharing models, and a team of five Iowa State faculty and administrators also will attend the conference.

Laying the groundwork

One of the challenges of data sharing, Nusser said, is helping Iowa State’s researchers acclimate to the concept of sharing research data beyond their research group.

“That shift in research practice will eventually happen, but it will take some time for disciplines that do not already have a data-sharing practice to learn about the process and begin to understand the impact of shared data,” Nusser said.

Other hurdles to overcome include developing the appropriate information-sharing processes and infrastructures. That’s where the Data Sharing Task Force (DSTF) comes in.

The DSTF comprises faculty from various disciplines as well as staff from the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR), University Library, Office of the Chief Information Officer and other campus units. The group is tasked with developing a plan for implementing ways Iowa State researchers can publicly share research data. To accomplish this, the task force is creating processes to effectively manage and share research information, and determining the training, policies and information systems needed to meet this goal.

“Both at Iowa State and globally, organizations are developing data repositories that support the movement towards open scholarship,” said Kristen Constant, interim vice president and chief information officer. “An important goal of the DSTF is to create an infrastructure to share research data either by serving the data or documenting the data’s repository location so we can fulfill our obligations to our research sponsors to provide access to data.”

While Iowa State’s data-sharing model still is being formulated, the goal remains clear: making research data and knowledge accessible to the public.

“Sharing the knowledge we create is something we care about at Iowa State,” said Beth McNeil, dean of University Library. “It’s exciting to see the winds of change blowing in the direction of greater openness, greater sharing. The people of Iowa and all scholarly areas stand to benefit greatly.”