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Research Funders | Context

Funding bodies are key stakeholders in the open access ecosystem: they develop and mandate policies that affect how data is managed, accessed, disseminated and preserved and how funds are allocated in the various phases foreseen in the process of making research data open. Research funders include the European Union (EU) and national governments, individual public funders that distribute competitive funding, non-profit institutions and private funders. This variability in the types of research funders, depending - among others - on their public or private nature, the size and effect of funding they mobilize for research and the country circumstances impacts on the measures and strategies they adopt.

The drive for open access to research data, especially those produced as a result of public funding, is justified by reference to the public interest, yet funder policies for open access to research data remain limited, especially when compared to those for peer-reviewed publications. At the EU level, the most important funder is undoubtedly the European Commission (EC), representing an important source of competitive funding for some member states. On the basis of the size of allocated funds, the EU can have a catalyst role in the formulation of open access policies for publications and research data among member states. Setting the example as a major European public funder, the EC has elaborated a comprehensive framework to support open access to scientific information, including research data. In 2012 it passed the “Recommendation on access to, preservation of and dissemination of scientific information” and formulated a pilot action on open access to research data in the context of Horizon 2020, the main EC funding program for research for the period 2014-2020. The Recommendation calls on member states to develop comprehensive and aligned policies and strategies that will ensure open access to publications and research data from publicly funded research. The Open Data Pilot is implemented in seven areas with the aim to improve and maximize access to and re-use of research data generated by the projects.

At member state level, UK research funders are global pace-setters in policy development for research data and in comprehensively developing relevant services. In the rest of Europe, a great number of funding bodies have yet to develop policies on open access to research data or have no immediate intention of doing so, while most governmental policies and strategies concentrate in the field of governmental rather than research data. Beyond the EU, the White House issued a Directive in 2013, whereby all federal funding agencies with a $100 million/year funding for extramural research or development should require open access in their policies, both for research publications and research data.

The most significant and effective funder policies set open access to research data as the default requirement for the funded research with provision for possible exceptions. They require deposit of research data supporting publications and other important research data in certified repositories within a specific timeframe (either simultaneously with publications or by the end of the project). They require researchers to describe these and other provisions (e.g. evaluation of their data; long term preservation provisions) in mandatory Data Management Plans (DMP), which are submitted with the grant proposals and evaluated. The costs for data management are usually eligible for projects. To secure the reusability of research data and the ability to identify and measure policy compliance, funders have introduced technical specifications in their policies (e.g. digital object identifiers (DOI), specific metadata standards etc.) as well as provisions on appropriate licensing. Most importantly, efficient policies include clear descriptions of responsibilities/ expectations for the main stakeholders involved: funders, researchers (either under their capacity of grant applicants or grant holders), research institutions, data centers and repositories, and publishers. With regard to monitoring some funders include provisions on the monitoring of their policies.

Current practices demonstrate that there is no one-size-fits-all solution: different countries have different approaches towards developing such strategies and policies, dependent upon local conditions. In developing related policies, research funders are encouraged to study the policies and practices of other countries and have a solid knowledge of important issues in their own country such as (but not limited to) the available infrastructures and support services, the diversity of scientific and scholarly practices.