Authors: Kacy Redd, Associate Vice President, Research and STEM Education, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities; Tobin Smith, Vice President for Science Policy & Global Affairs, Association of American Universities; Emily Miller, Deputy Vice President for Institutional Policy, Association of American Universities; and Sarah Nusser, Professor Emerita of Statistics at Iowa State University and senior fellow with the Association of American Universities.
APLU and the Association of American Universities (AAU) with our member institutions and key partners have been working since 2016 in a collaborative network to support public access to research data. One of our key approaches to increase data access has been to share information and effective practices across institutions on opportunities, challenges, models, methodologies, successes, and collaborative strategies concerning data sharing. We have also worked to promote new communities of practice and internal and external campus networks to support data sharing.
Public access to research data for findings published in peer-reviewed journals is essential for rigorous science, discovery, and the reproducibility of research. While research universities are committed to sharing the results of their research whenever possible, institutional transitions are needed to embrace this critical requirement in federally funded projects. To help our members, APLU and AAU undertook the Accelerating Public Access to Research Data (APARD) initiative, with support from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health. Drawing upon the experience and insights of our member institutions concerning data access, AAU and APLU issued reports outlining initial steps research universities could take to increase public access to research data. The ultimate goal of the APARD project was to advance progress in public access to research data by generating a coherent set of guidelines to help institutions develop and implement relevant and actionable policies, practices, and procedures. The culmination of this work is the Guide to Accelerate Public Access to Research Data, which builds on many prior efforts and is consistent with national and global open science efforts as well as international declarations, such as the Sorbonne declaration on research data rights.
History of AAU and APLU Data Access Efforts
In 2016, AAU and APLU formed a working group to examine issues relating to public access to the results from federally funded research. This working group examined how to improve public access to data resulting from federally funded research. In 2017, the group issued a report with a series of recommendations on how universities could increase public access to research data, how universities might work together to advance these efforts, and how federal agencies could help facilitate the sharing of research data at universities.
In 2018, APLU and AAU hosted a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded workshop (NSF #1837847) that convened 30 cross-institutional teams with the goal of developing campus-specific strategies for making federally funded research data publicly available. The two associations issued a report chronicling lessons from the workshop. The most common actions in the campus road maps included: updating the campus data policy to support research data sharing; improving graduate student and faculty training on data management and sharing; and engaging in communication and outreach to make the campus community aware of existing resources for data management and data sharing.
In 2019, APLU and AAU joined the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the California Digital Library in convening an NSF-funded (NSF #1945938) conference and releasing a report with recommendations for data practices supporting an open research ecosystem. The report recommended that we center the researcher by providing tools, education, and services that accommodate the scholarly workflow; create closer integration of library and scientific communities; and unbundle the Data Management Plan (DMP) to allow for different parts of a DMP to serve distinct and specific purposes. The report also encouraged the academic community to provide sustaining support for the open Persistent Identifier (PID) infrastructure that is a core community asset.
Further deepening our joint efforts, as part of the NSF-funded (NSF #1939279) and NIH-supported Accelerating Public Access to Research Data Initiative (APARD), AAU and APLU reconvened representatives from the 30 cross-institutional teams at an Acceleration Conference in 2020 to share progress, successes, and challenges. The associations also facilitated two national Summits to help universities create robust systems for ensuring effective public access to high-quality research data and develop the Guide to Accelerate Public Access to Research Data. The Guide was informed by 261 campus representatives from 111 institutions, representatives from several federal agencies, and other key stakeholders.
Guide to Accelerating Public Access to Research Data
The Guide is a resource to help university administrators develop robust support systems to accelerate sharing of research data. It provides recommendations to universities concerning actions they can take, as well as the infrastructure and support that may be required, to improve access to research data on their respective campuses. It also offers examples of how institutions are approaching specific challenges to providing public access to research data and results.
To help with the dissemination and translation of the Guide, AAU and APLU held a webinar series with illustrative campus examples to help contextualize the recommendations and guidance. Additionally, AAU, APLU, and the American Geophysical Union (AGU) held a workshop in March 2022 to engage representatives from professional/disciplinary societies and universities to share the Guide and discuss our collective and complementary role in research data access. The workshop report outlines possible next steps for coordination between scientific societies and higher education associations.
Achieving Culture Change in Support of Data Access
To support the cultural changes necessary to promote increased data sharing, AAU and APLU focused on their primary levers for facilitating institutional change. One of these levers is our ability to share effective practices across our institutions. Sharing effective practices was a central element woven into the APARD initiative both at the two national summits as well as in the Guide itself. A second lever is our associations’ convening power. Through the many workshops and summits, we were able to convene representatives from across campuses to engage with one another on the challenges and opportunities surrounding data sharing. We were also able to bring partner organizations to these convenings to provide them with better insights into some of the challenges our campuses face when it comes to data sharing.
Additional outcomes of the APARD initiative that helped facilitate culture change were the new internal and external campus networks, working groups, and related efforts that were developed through multiple convenings of a broad range of institutions (including campuses beyond our membership), funders, and policymakers who participated in the APARD workshops, national summits, and follow-on webinars. For example, as a direct result of the APARD convenings and in response to the guide, campuses have convened cross-campus working groups to develop and advance new data access policies and practices on their respective campuses. Additionally, North Carolina schools developed a virtual regional conference that not only served their state’s institutions but was attended by colleges and universities throughout the United States.
Advancing public access to research data is important to improving transparency and reproducibility of scientific results, increasing scientific rigor and public trust in science, and -- most importantly -- accelerating the pace of discovery and innovation through the open sharing of research results. Additionally, it is vital that institutions develop and implement policies now to ensure consistency of data management plans across their campuses to guarantee full compliance with federal research agency data sharing requirements. Beyond the establishment of policies, universities must invest in the infrastructure and support necessary to achieve the desired aspirations and aims of the policies. The open sharing of the results of scientific research is a value AAU and APLU have long fought to protect and preserve. It is also a value we must continue to uphold at all levels within our universities. This will mean overcoming the various institutional and cultural impediments which have, at times, hampered the open sharing of research data. APLU and AAU hope that the convenings, reports, and the Guide generated by the APARD initiative will play a useful role in helping universities tackle the ongoing institutional challenges associated with ensuring public access to research data and will accelerate progress toward making research data widely and freely available to those who can benefit from it.
We thank Katie Steen, Manager of Public Policy & Advocacy at SPARC, who was instrumental in the early and middle days of the APARD initiative at AAU. We thank the APARD Steering Committee for their expertise and guidance. We thank Robert Samors for his monumental contribution to the Guide to Accelerate Public Access to Research Data.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. (#1837847, NSF #1945938, and #1939279). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. We thank the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for their support.