The Research Data Canada Working Group is a collaborative effort to address the challenges and issues surrounding the access and preservation of data arising from Canadian research. This multi-disciplinary group of universities, institutes, libraries, granting agencies, and individual researchers are bonded by a shared recognition of the pressing need to deal with Canadian data management issues.
The research process generates huge amounts of data that are an important part of Canada's scholarly record and contribute to a worldwide body of knowledge. There are, however, no nationally adopted standards or policies governing how this data is collected, catalogued, or preserved. As a result, this data is often inaccessible by other researchers or structured in such a way that it cannot be fully exploited for other uses. This means researchers are missing out on opportunities to re-analyze or re-evaluate the data in the context of new knowledge and essentially losing the chance to get additional value from the data.
The flow of information and ideas amongst researchers is a fundamental element of the discovery and innovation process. Making certain Canada's research data is accessible and usable for current and future generations is imperative to ensuring that Canadian researchers remain at the leading edge of R&D in Canada and around the world.
Over the last several years, pressure has been mounting to preserve and archive Canada's research data to ensure long-term access. A number of drivers have precipitated this, including the risk of losing significant collections of data due to the inability of the current infrastructure to effectively manage what is being produced and the lack of sufficiently descriptive metadata to make it accessible by other researchers.
In addition, there is growing recognition of the value of data beyond what is published in research papers. This recognition stems in part from the increase in large databases and data sets and new ways of re-using and extracting value from the data. The research process is being transformed by information technologies and networking capabilities that facilitate searching, organizing, analyzing and integrating research data to discover new knowledge. With broad access to this wealth of data, researchers will have a powerful tool that will enhance their ability to collaborate across disciplines and sectors and accelerate the innovation process.
The challenges of implementing a system to collect, preserve, and facilitate and control access to research data are substantial, encompassing the following issues:
Given the scope of the challenge, it's clear that these issues cannot be solved in isolation. They must be addressed collectively from a national perspective with the participation of all parts of the research community, including researchers themselves who create and use this data. As a start, the Working Group has established three task groups:
These task groups will build on the foundation of past work in this area, including the recommendations of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's (SSHRC) National Data Archive Consultation, the National Consultation on Access to Scientific Research Data (NCASRD), and, most recently, the Canadian Digital Information Strategy recommendations on data and e-research.
Advances in technology are opening doors to a whole new world of possibilities for data arising from the research process. Over time, as technologies continue to develop, the ability to rapidly search, manipulate and cross-link this data offers tremendous potential. With the ability to access and integrate research data from many diverse sources, researchers will be better positioned to translate research into discoveries and innovations to address important Canadian scientific, social and economic issues.