The FAIR life of an academic community. What does it mean? 

Last year saw the publication of The Declaration for Open Science and Research 2020-2025 for the Finnish research community. According to this Declaration open science and research should be integrated into researchers´ everyday life. At the University of
University of Oulu, 2017

Last year saw the publication of The Declaration for Open Science and Research 2020-2025 for the Finnish research community. According to this Declaration open science and research should be integrated into researchers´ everyday life. At the University of Oulu we have subscribed to the national declaration as well as international statements on open science such as the DORA Declaration committed to responsible use of metrics in research evaluation. Moreover, this spring we published our own Declaration on Responsible Science whereby we promote the freedom of scientific research, open and responsible science, good scientific practices, sustainable development, equality and non-discrimination in research, as well as responsible research evaluation.

An important step in the national declaration is to provide more detailed instructions on the various areas related openness. Following detailed preparations by the Open Science Coordination in Finland during last year, including open consultation and strong involvement of the Finnish researcher community, a policy component tackling open access to research data was published at beginning of May 2021. Preparation of other policy components are under way, including those for research methods and openness of theses related to basic and doctoral education.

The three strategic principles of the new national data policy are

  1. Research data and methods shall be managed, opened and used responsibly and appropriately;
  2. Researchers have access to infrastructures and services that enable responsible data management, and these are developed further in an economically sustainable way, taking into account the researchers’ needs; and
  3. The researcher’s merits in the promotion of good data management, work related to research data and methods, and the appropriate opening of research data and methods are valued and can support the researcher’s career.

Who benefits the most?

Sharing of research data can be highly beneficial for the researchers as they may gain global recognition for their efforts and hence unprecedented new collaborations. Valuable work will become available for other users and unnecessary duplication of the work needed to obtain the data is avoided, and the quality of the data is increased through transparency.

Concerns have also been raised with respect to potential unevenness in benefitting from the open access to research data; those that produce the data carry the bulk of the costs, typically via their competitive research grants, while others may reap the benefits. Research has always relied on responsible and ethical practices, and such should also be formed regarding open research data, including, e.g., considering in researchers´ assessments their open access contributions as independent research outputs.

The degree of data openness may vary, ranging from fully open to strictly confidential. Hence, the new national policy stipulates that data should be as open as possible and as closed as necessary. Sensitive data with respect to personal information or IPR issues always needs special considerations. Moreover, data producers may need a grace period for developing and publishing their own results on the data, however, not forgetting to make the data open in due course and to provide metadata, an open overview that describes the data.

The societal impact of openly sharing research data is huge as witnessed by the corona virus pandemic. The virus genomes have instantly been made openly available to the whole world, greatly speeding vaccine development, and understanding the properties of variants of the virus.

From principles to daily practices

The national open research data policy outlines rather strict timetables for carrying out all the necessary requirements that management of open access data entails – training of students and supervisors, establishing expert support personnel, building both hardware and concepts for data storage and curation, figuring out sustainable models for economically support openness etc. Openness carries costs, but once we learn new ways to deal with data, both providing our own in open repositories as well as using data produced by others, I believe that the benefits will outweigh the extra costs of data openness.

Indeed, we are fast in the middle of executing the new policy. As of this spring, according to the process decided at the University of Oulu a researcher who will receive a positive funding decision from the Academy of Finland, including the various grant applications submitted last fall, must submit a data management plan (DMP) within eight weeks of the funding decision. The University of Oulu will acquire information about all funding decisions, which initiates the process for making the DMP with advice from our data support services. According to the requirements by the Academy, the site of research commits to ensuring that the DMP can be implemented at the site of research, and that the measures to be taken comply with good data management practice. The funds can be paid only after the applicant and the representative of the site of research have accepted them. At the University of Oulu the acceptance is provided by the respective deans, or in the case of research institutes the respective vice rectors. EC grants will follow the same process.

Altogether, it is easy to see that managing data in a well-considered manner, encapsulating the FAIR principles (findable, accessible, inter-operable, responsible) is becoming a basic staple of students´ curricula at all study levels, bachelors, masters and doctoral. Indeed, openness will become integrated to the daily life of an academic community.

Taina Pihlajaniemi
Vice Rector for Research, University of Oulu