PASTEUR4OA/Open Access to Research Data


Open Access and Open Access to research data are well aligned concepts related to enabling access to publicly funded research.  In this blog post Marieke Guy of Open Knowledge will take a closer look at the Horizon2020 requirements that publicly funded research publications should not only be Open Access but that the data behind them should also be shared and openly available.

Opening Up Research Data


In the past much publicly-funded research has been carried out in a vacuum; research data is created but rarely shared and often lost relatively quickly post-project. This approach is not only costly but also stunts collaboration and progress.


Image CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay


Put simply, research data is whatever is produced in research or evidences its outputs. The European Commission defines these units of information as being “in particular facts or numbers, collected to be examined and considered and as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation.”. The University of Bristol goes one step further and describes research data as “often arranged or formatted in a such a way as to make them suitable for communication, interpretation, and processing, perhaps by a computer.”  However while research data may generally be quantitative data, such as numeric facts and statistics, it may also take the form of qualitative data such as interview transcripts, or digital content including images and video, and it tends to be discipline specific. The uniting factor is that research data is not published research output. It is the raw material that leads to research insights and as such it ultimately contributes to our combined stock of knowledge. It is not only an incredibly important resource but essential for academic progress.


For anyone working on a research project, managing the data produced is an essential part of research practice that ensures research integrity. Good research data management makes for good data, good researchers and good research. For an overview of the drivers for research management see the Digital Curation Centre guide on Making the Case for Research Data Management by Angus Whyte (DCC) and Jonathan Tedds (University of Leicester). However research data management is not only best practice, it is also becoming a legal requirement driven by funder policies. The Digital Curation Centre offers an overview of funder policies in the UK; Sim4RD provides a wider overview of the European situation in the European Landscape Study of Research Data Management.


European Commission Framework for Open Access to Research Data


In the 2012 communication Towards better access to scientific information the European Commission announced that it would “provide a framework and encourage Open Access to research data in Horizon 2020”. In recent years the EC have been driving change in this area fuelled by significant research reports such as the 2010 Riding the Wave,  which outlined a series of policy recommendations on how Europe could gain from the rising tide of scientific data. The recent follow up report entitled The Data Harvest: How sharing research data can yield knowledge, jobs and growth targets policy makers in particular and sounds a warning on how Europe must act now to secure its standing in future data markets. In response to growing recognition of the need to better manage and share research data the Guidelines on Open Access to Scientific Publications and Research Data in Horizon 2020 acknowledge that “information already paid for by the public purse should not be paid for again each time it is accessed or used, and that it should benefit European companies and citizens to the full.”


Open Access to research data is a high priority for the European Commission. The term Open Research Data (as a subset of the broader term Open Data) becomes relevant here. To clarify, when we at Open Knowledge talk about Open Data the term ‘open’ has a specific meaning as defined in the Open Definition which sets out principles that define “openness” in relation to data and content. “Open means anyone can freely access, use, modify, and share for any purpose (subject, at most, to requirements that preserve provenance and openness).” Horizon2020 documentation supports this definition by stating that openly accessible research data “can typically be accessed, mined, exploited, reproduced and disseminated, free of charge for the user.”

Open Data Pilot


To ensure that projects the European Commission funds become party to opening up research data Horizon2020 has launched an Open Data Pilot. Full details are provided in the aforementioned Guidelines on Data Management in Horizon 2020.


The programme areas participating in the Open Data Pilot are shown below. Projects in other programme areas can participate on a voluntary basis.


Image taken from OpenAire factsheet on the Open Data Pilot


Projects taking part in the open data pilot are expected to deliver a data management plan (DMP) in the first 6 months of their lifecycle outlining their open research data strategy. The DMP should offer details regarding the two main Horizon2020 mandates: that research data should be deposited into a research data repository and that measures be taken to enable third parties to access, mine, exploit, reproduce and disseminate (free of charge for any user). Note that the pilot applies to two defined types of data:

  1. the data, including associated metadata needed to validate the results presented in scientific publications - which should be deposited as soon as possible;

  2. other data including associated metadata, as specified - which should be deposited within the deadlines laid down in the data management plan


Tools such as the Digital Curation Centre’s DMPOnline can support the writing of DMPs, services such as Re3data can provide information on the research data registries available.

Open Research Data and PASTEUR4OA


While the PASTEUR4OA Project is primarily focusing on Open Access strategies and policy alignment among all EU Member States it is clear that work in this space should not fail to observe activities pushing for Open Access to research data, especially those carried out by European Commission funded projects or European Universities. Through building an international network of nodes (Knowledge Net) PASTEUR4OA has well-established connections with those who are responsible for research data within Higher Education institutions across Europe.  It is in an excellent position to observe those working in this space and inform those wishing to embark on sharing research data.

A recent workshop organised by the UK Westminster Higher Education Forum at which PASTEUR4OA was represented looked at The Future for Open Access and the Move Towards Open Data (see this blog post for a review of the event). During his opening Chris Tyler, Director of the UK Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology, pointed out that Open Access and Open Data have in the past been two big topics that continued to exist as part of separate tracks and debates. He reflected that the occasion of a joint workshop showed that these tracks were now beginning to converge offering great opportunities for more joined up thinking.

PASTEUR4OA is in full support of other noteworthy projects working for Open Access to research data. The Policy RECommendations for Open Access to Research Data in Europe (RECODE) Project looks at leveraging existing networks, communities and projects to address challenges within the Open Access and data dissemination and preservation sector and produce policy recommendations for Open Access to research data based on existing good practice. The project is soon to come to an end but has recently published a series of recommendations the first of which is to ‘Develop aligned and comprehensive policies for Open Access to research data’. One might argue that PASTEUR4OA is making the first steps towards a framework that could ensure that this happens.


One other initiative worth mentioning here is the PASTEUR4OA sister project, FOSTER (Facilitate Open Science Training for European Research), which is facilitating a training programme on "Open Access and research data management: Horizon 2020 and beyond”.  A 2-day workshop will take place in Ireland in mid April looking at “Open Access in H2020 – how to increase your chances of success with a strong data management and Open Access plan”.


As the Horizon2020 programme progresses it is likely that Open Access and Open Access to research data will become further entwined as the two stalwarts of European Commission funded openly accessible research.


PASTEUR4OA will deliver a briefing on Open Access to research data that will include a current overview of funder and institutional policies across Europe and further afield.