Infrastructural and technological challenges and potential solutions

TitleInfrastructural and technological challenges and potential solutions
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsBigagli, L., Sveinsdottir T., Wessels B., Smallwood R., Linde P., Tsoukala V., & Sondervan J.
Date Published2014/03//
InstitutionPolicy RECommendations for Open access to research Data in Europe (RECODE)
Keywordssg_data_infrastructure, sg_data_policy, sg_data_value


Gap Area Study Type:

Investigated infrastructural and technological barriers to Open Access and preservation of research data in Europe. This work was conducted within the EU FP7 funded project RECODE, which focuses on developing policy recommendations for Open Access to Research Data in Europe. In particular, this work is coordinated by RECODE Work Package 2 (WP2), Infrastructure and technology. It distinguishes between different categories of stakeholders in terms of how the experience and respond to these challenges
Conducted desk research, an online survey, interviews, and a validation workshop
WP2 takes a broad definition of infrastructure, including: technological assets (hardware and software); human resources involved; all the procedures for management, training and support to its continuous operation and evolution. The WP team conducted a literature review and consulted and analysed a large number of sources to scope the known technological and infrastructural challenges to Open Access and preservation of research data, and the possible existing solutions for their mitigation. The literature review tells us that technical issues are being discussed in a relatively small grid of reoccurring problems. If we talk about open research data, questions around standardization, interoperability, reuse and preservation are prevalent. In contrast, relatively few issues arose in relation to bandwidth, storage capacity or usability. On the basis of the document review, infrastructure and technology challenges are not considered as the most important obstacles to Open Access to research data, compared to financial, legal, and policy challenges. Further to the literature review, the WP team sent out a scoping questionnaire to the broader stakeholder communities, to further explore the prevalence of the key issues that had been identified in the literature review, i.e. areas of data heterogeneity, accessibility and discoverability, preservation and curation, quality and assessability, and security. Although the survey was completed by a small number of people, and hence we do not intend to generalise over a whole population, the findings do give an insight into what are considered major barriers to implementing Open Access to research data (heterogeneity and interoperability, data documentation and quality assessment) and also which stakeholders are considered most reliable when it comes to preserving data and storing it (national institutional repositories or digital libraries). Interestingly, in light of the scope of this research work, technological issues seem to be rather low on the priorities of those who replied to the survey. The WP team obtained further inputs by means of targeted interviews with key individuals from each of the five RECODE case studies (physics, health, bioengineering, earth sciences, and archaeology), in order to elaborate on the infrastructural and technological issues they encounter in their research practice. Again, one interesting finding emerging from our interviews is that technological barriers are not reported as of high concern to implementing Open Access to research data, whereas financial, cultural and legal challenges are higher on the list of concerns. Overall, respondents reported more experience with Open Access publications rather than Open Access to research data, and data preservation. In most instances we found data management plans at an early stage. Technical solutions for data management and preservation are fragmented, often designed for a narrow purpose, rather than centralised. As we found in the literature review and the survey, most respondents mentioned issues of documentation and metadata as a key challenge to enable retrieval, re- use and preservation of research data. However, the technological challenges mentioned by respondents in the case study interview differ somewhat between disciplines. The WP team held a validation and dissemination workshop as an official side event of the 10th Plenary Session of the Group on Earth Observations & 2014 Ministerial Summit. The workshop attracted over 40 attendees from 14 countries, including policy makers, funding bodies, libraries, data management organisations and researchers, along with representatives from the RECODE case studies and RECODE team members. The workshop sought to validate and discuss the research findings, as well as to obtain additional feedback and insights from representatives of the RECODE case studies and major international initiatives, to share their perspective in understanding Open Access to research data, in relation to infrastructure and technology challenges. The workshop discussion overall validated our survey and case study results. Data heterogeneity was picked up as a very important challenge, and options for making the data accessible and useable are deemed as somewhat lacking. With regard to accessibility, the workshop attendees agreed with our findings from the survey, in that the preference expressed is for the enhancing of digital libraries, and specialised repositories to store and curate research data. Data preservation, in terms of long- term storage solutions and curation options, remains a key challenge. Quality and security have a prominent importance in Open Access. This was highlighted especially during the workshop, especially for some scientific communities, such as health and archaeology. It is clear from the combined results of the survey, the literature review, the case study interviews and the workshop that stakeholders in general have a limited knowledge about research data management and how to make data openly available in a multidisciplinary way. To reiterate, technological barriers were not reported to be of high concern in implementing Open Access to research data, when compared to financial, cultural and legal challenges. We maintain that Open Access to research data is still at an early stage within Europe and internationally. On the basis of our research, we indicate possible recommendations on infrastructure and technology for Open Access to research data. These recommendations are intended as an input to be further discussed in the framework of RECODE WP5, which, based on the findings of the other work packages, will develop a set of good practice policy guidelines targeted at significant stakeholders and key policy makers. In summary, we can say that, on the basis of the literature review, infrastructure and technology challenges are not considered the most important obstacles to Open Access to research data, compared to financial, legal, and policy challenges. This finding is furthermore echoed in our online survey results and in our case study findings, which are presented in chapters 4 and 5 respectively. (p.36)