Research at Risk Research data metrics

Sowing the Seed – Incentives and motivations for sharing research data: a researcher’s perspective

In this blog post David Kernohan introduces a new report from the Knowledge Exchange:


Why should researchers share their data? It seems like a fairly straightforward question – after all the benefits from sharing data are becoming quite clear – funding, peer input, citation; and in an increasingly global research environment the ability to share and collaborate with data is becoming a necessity. Much work, and attention, has been focused on top-down solutions,
including platforms and funder mandates. But there has been comparatively little research into what motivates individual researchers, and research teams, to share – and it is this gap that a new report from the Knowledge Exchange addresses, shedding light on researchers’ motivations.

Sowing the Seed” is a collection of case studies, focusing on research projects across disciplines and across Europe, that examines the motivations for sharing data where project staff are already committed to doing so. It draws together these findings to make a number of recommendations.

The primary drivers in all cases are where either the design of the research itself is explicitly predicated on the act of sharing data, or where researchers are offered a direct reputational or career benefit from sharing data. Much of this is driven by cultural norms within sub-disciplines or even specific research units, and of course by the requirements of funders and institutions.

Of course, the report is based on a small and deliberately non-representative sample. In the work we chose research projects at a range of sizes and maturity, alongside a subject, methodological and geographic split. But, by design, they are all projects with a commitment to data sharing.

This report represents a chance to learn from the best European practice, and to generalise these findings to develop policy and provision. It is a chance to look, in detail, at what others are doing and to compare and benchmark.

It complements the Wellcome “Establishing Incentives and Changing Cultures to Support Data Access” report from early this year, which uses a very different methodology but reaches a number of similar findings.

Both reports recommended that research funders have an important role in adopting policies that support the sharing of data, and in recognising the contribution of those who share high quality datasets by including this as a criteria for assessing future research funding bids.  The KE report adds that research funders should actively promote the reuse of data via specific funding streams for secondary analysis.

There was also consensus on the need to recognise shared data as a research output in its own right, for the purposes of career enhancement and within the Research Excellence Framework for high quality data sets to be recognised.

One interesting difference was the perspectives on data use metrics – the Wellcome report noted that this was not yet a mature field, but suggested that the concept of monitoring data reuse should be promoted to researchers. In contrast, the researchers and teams interviewed in the KE report were found not to be “overly interested in the analytics of data reuse”, and were more interested in what they perceived as high-quality evidence of reuse such as citation and personal contact. We have found in other consultations regarding what needs to be developed in terms of infrastructure for research data there is support for the need for usage metrics for research data and we aim to take this area forward as part of Research at Risk.

As this report was commissioned by the Knowledge Exchange, a pan-European collaboration between agencies in five countries, it has a real international perspective on the issues around research data management, and will help to inform the development of practical solutions for data sharing for Jisc customers.
Analysed projects have a range of sizes and maturity, alongside a subject, methodological and geographic split.

The projects that took part are:

  • Retired men gathering in cities, Finland
  • LARM Audio Research Archive, Denmark
  • Netherlands Bioinformatics Center, Netherlands
  • Evolutionary Plant Solutions to Ecological Challenges, Germany
  • Chemistry Department, University of Southampton, United Kingdom

The research for the report was undertaken by Veerle Van den Eynden and Libby Bishop, UK Data Archive, University of Essex, the Knowledge Exchange are really grateful for their work on this. At Jisc the findings will inform Research at Risk.