In this section, the results are presented without applying the Mertonian norms, and descriptive headings are used.
The respondents’ awareness of open research data
Familiarity with open data varied mostly among the universities, where six can be said to be very familiar and four acquainted with open research data. Among the actors, all respondents can be considered familiar with open data. It is not surprising that the concept of open data is known to many of the respondents; several of the participants in this investigation had been recommended for the study. We were sometimes referred to different people at the institutions and universities who said they were not familiar with open data. This reveals an ambiguous organization in which it is not always obvious who is responsible and who should be contacted and demonstrates a need to raise awareness within the organization.
It was clear that the actors and the university librarians generally had a higher understanding and experience of working with open research data than the university archivists had. However, this experience was most often limited to providing information about open science and research data. Only two of those interviewed (both actors) had worked with publishing open data (but not research data). The general pattern was that the archivists had not worked with open data, since open science was the library’s responsibility. The archivists focused on archiving and storage of data, regardless of whether it was to be made open access or not. It is probably easier to motivate researchers and the professions working with data at the universities if the actors themselves have experience with making research data open. It was evident that the archivists did not work as actively with research support as the librarians did. The librarians had campaigns where they invited researchers, arranged workshops and lectures and had more digital channels for their support systems than the archivists had. The sample is too small to draw definitive conclusions, but it seemed that the more active the library, the more active the archive. In the universities where the librarians were running active campaigns in open science, the archivists were giving lectures on archiving data. While the archivists did not provide information about making data open access, they at least informed the researchers about the necessity of archiving.
Another problem is archivists who refer researchers to the library, i.e., not taking a more active role. It is notable that none of them had worked with open research data and seemed to believe that the library should be in charge of this process.
There was no clear connection between the university’s location, or orientation, and the employees’ experience of open data—except in one case. One of the universities specializing in, among other things, geospatial data, had a collaboration with two public authorities, which meant that the authorities owned the data, but the university was charged with archiving the data and making it open access. This is not surprising as the data is comparable to public data that has been made open for years. That is, it seems there is a greater tendency to make data open when it is not sensitive data, and when the accessibility could benefit many. This is in line with previous research. It could be assumed that universities with sensitive research data, or data that is difficult to define, such as artistic objects, would have less experience or be more negative than universities with data that is easier to make open access, but no such patterns were found. Nor were there any patterns of larger universities, or universities with a lot of quantitative data, having more experience of open research data and more trained personnel than smaller universities or the medical university. This could be because the sample is small. Interestingly, the medical university had more experience than many of the other universities. It is likely that this was because they had a lot of funding and register-based research. But the archivists had not helped or worked with the databases that collected and made the medical data open and sharable. Instead, the researchers had employed external consultants from the IT community, or hired people with the right competence to their research group, that is with the money they received from funding agencies. This poses a great risk—what happens when there is no more external funding? Who will archive the databases? It also illustrates how the university has failed to employ staff to help the researchers to build databases or use a shared university-owned infrastructure.
Archivist 4 and Actor 3 commented that the concept of open data is not entirely obvious. Actor 3 noted that open data can have two meanings: open government data, i.e., an authority provides open access to their data, it can be downloaded freely, or it can mean open research data. These two things are not the same, which can cause problems.
It is remarkable that different professions at the same university can have such different experience of open research data, considering that only professional groups with a clear link to research data were interviewed. The results have shown that the libraries and research coordinators of various types of research, innovation and funding agencies at the universities generally have a greater insight into the university’s work with open research data than the archivists.
Respondents’ attitude to open research data and open science
The respondents were mainly positive about open science and open research data. At the same time, the interviewees pointed out that there are challenges that must be solved, and that maybe not all research data should be made openly available. The respondents were generally more positive to open access of publications than data since it is easier to make publications open access than make data open access. The librarians were the most enthusiastic about open research data and the archivists the least. While both groups had nothing but positive words, and more or less identified the same opportunities and the same difficulties, the level of enthusiasm and propensity to see the positive differed, for instance in Archivist 2’s comment “Positive really but difficult to implement.” The reason could be that the librarians are more used to open science and open access, and therefore apply their experience on open research data. The archivists, who often seemed to have had difficulties receiving research material for archiving, might transfer this experience to the question of open data. It is also possible that they have more knowledge about laws regulating personal data and confidentiality, which could be a basis for their standpoint.
Archivist 3 thought a positive effect of the open science movement could be that more research material is archived as a result of increased awareness. This university had not archived any research data. Some highlighted that there may be a historical interest and that materials can be reused for completely different surveys than originally intended, for example, Actor 3: “What may be a failed research material today could be extremely valuable as research material in 50 years.” Librarian 4 stated that it is very valuable for researchers to think about how to handle their data because it will increase the quality of the work. The respondents’ reflections highlight the importance of involving archivists at the beginning of a research project. By organizing metadata, classified information, anonymized data and general data at the start, archiving at the end of the project will be much easier and might highlight if some of the data could be made open access.
Researchers’ attitudes to open research data
Whether the respondents had been in contact with researchers about open research data varies, but the majority stated that they did not know since they were not familiar with the researchers’ attitudes or worked close enough with them to know. Here, a potential conflict of interest can be seen: the respondents represent professional groups responsible for the implementation while not having enough knowledge of opinions of those most affected by the implementation. Many respondents seem to be aware of this problem. At the same time, the respondents in this study gave more or less the same answer: namely, attitudes differ from researcher to researcher. Some are very familiar with open research data and have or want to make data open, others do not. However, most respondents’ experience is that the researchers generally have little or poor knowledge of open data. A reason could be that the researchers who are familiar with open data do not contact the support units for help. The universities’ experiences are that it is primarily the researchers who are forced to publish open access who do it. That is, the inclination to publish open data increases when there is an external requirement. Many of the respondents emphasized that there cannot be too much administration if the aim is to make the researchers participate. The archivists’ experiences were that the researchers are not involved in archiving, regardless of whether it was analogue or digital—but the librarians had a positive experience where many researchers wanted to publish their data open access. Here, once again, we see differences between archivists and librarians. The difference could be based on the differences in mission. The librarians only provide information about the options available, without making any demands about collecting the data for storing and preservation. The archivists, however, are supposed to archive the data, which may make the researcher feel a loss of control. All the archivists agreed that some researchers understand the importance of archiving while others do not, but the archivists were not sure if some research fields were more positive than others. They guessed it was possible, because some fields are likely to be more accustomed to sharing data. Different datasets need different preparation, which is why it is important that the support units work closely with the researchers so they can give the scientists the right support in structuring their data. Also the actors were aware that very little research data is archived in Sweden, which is why they considered it a big step to making data open access. The reasons identified as to why it was difficult to collect research data for archiving were complicated administration and a lack of infrastructure. Archivist 1 also noted that one Italian researcher equated it to spying. Librarian 4 mentioned that most researchers who turned to them were positive about open research data, but those researchers could be met with resistance and doubt from their own institution.
The respondents’ answers can be summarized as follows: (1) The universities in the study have no information about the researchers’ attitudes or knowledge about archiving and open research data; (2) the researchers are not involved in archiving or making research data open access; and (3) there is a lack of knowledge among researchers, some of whom have not understood that research data belongs to the university and not the researcher. The third point is in accordance with findings reported in previous research.
Differences between research fields and scientific disciplines
While the respondents are unfamiliar with what the research community thinks about open research data, their experience was that attitudes toward and experience of open research data is dependent on the scientific discipline and research. The same answer was given regardless of profession or workplace. Some of the respondents argued that it is a linguistic issue where some research fields are not used to the concept of data.
In addition to the concept of definitions, it is not always clear exactly what data is. Librarian 1 was told by a researcher, “But I’m just doing mathematical reduction.” What is the data in a mathematical formula? How does it represent the work process? Another question is, for example, what constitutes data in artistic research? What constitutes data when a new item is created? What will be documented and saved? Librarian 1 reported that some researchers questioned the benefit of making data open access; if the researcher has worked in a specific program and if the data is removed, it loses its context and then what is the use of it? The respondents were also told that researchers wanted to ensure that the next person used the same ethical guidelines. All of the respondents also felt that personally, they did not always have the answers, and more education was needed. This was especially the case among the universities. The actors, however, felt they needed more input from researchers. A solution could be that the same ethical permissions are required from studies using open research data collected by other researchers.
Several of the interviews make it clear that physics, astronomy, mathematics and various natural sciences are often more positive and used to making data open access, while researchers who work with personal data are more skeptical. Librarian 2 said that “And they just say no, no it does not work and then they close that door and do not want to talk.” The more structured the data the easier it is to make it open and understandable for others. Research with sensitive or qualitative data might learn from the various natural sciences how to make parts of their data open access. For example, studies with sensitive data might benefit from making parts of the data open access to register-based research. That way they might find results via multidisciplinary research they would never have found if researchers kept the data for themselves. What is important is to give credit in publications to the researchers who collected the data. It is also important that their method of collection is transparent and clear to facilitate credibility.
Librarian 4 mentioned an example where a researcher in psychology claimed that he was prepared to destroy his data rather than make it open. The researcher stored an encrypted version of his data on a hard drive. The researcher remarked that colleagues at his institution did not share his attitude, and that some might even have made data open access. It is evident from the librarians’ example that the researchers have not understood that the data does not belong to them, and that transparency is in conflict with the aim to protect those participating in the study. Maybe parts of the data could be made open access, but it should at least be archived.
What are the opportunities and challenges of open research data?
The opportunities identified by the respondents are summarized in Table 3 and correspond with what previous research has found to be positive about open research data. That is, open research data enables reuse of data, which could make it time and cost effective, since it will not have to be collected again. This makes it easier to verify and validate research results, which could prevent research fraud. The respondents also mentioned increased accessibility and more possibilities to learn about other researchers’ results; through digitization a lot could be done with the data. Comparative studies could be done nationally and internationally and through the collaboration and combination of data, facilitating interdisciplinary research, new discoveries and research fields can emerge, leading to increased quality. At the same time, it is pointed out that there are challenges that must be solved, and that all research data may not be made openly available. Archivist 2 had not thought about open research data to any great extent and replied that there might be great opportunities but provided no examples.
Table 3 presents a summary of the opportunities and challenges based on the analysis of the words used by the respondents, and the meaning of their words and sentences. In conclusion, there is no doubt that open research data is regarded positively—the problem is that it is difficult to achieve.
The respondents agreed that there are many challenges with open research data that must be solved. What they mentioned was very similar; their different backgrounds did not seem to affect opinions on possible obstacles or opportunities. The three things listed as the greatest challenges were insufficient resources and infrastructure, metadata standards and nomenclature. Indirectly, it also appears that information efforts are required from everyone involved. One challenge is not only that the infrastructure is not yet in place, but also how the infrastructure should be designed. Some respondents have suggested that maybe it should not be a single infrastructure, or one e-archive, but several. Archivist 3 summarized it as “if you have no research support and no e-archive, what you do have are challenges.” Another problem that both the universities and actors acknowledged is that data is not being archived, and it is not evident how to archive a research project (should you follow provenance?)—or even what a research project is. Funding from numerous agencies can lead to several different publications where different ethical permissions apply. Therefore, the archivists and researchers need to collaborate. The university archivists, however, felt the researchers often lacked the time, and the archivists could not make sense of the data on their own.
Librarian 4 had the opportunity to attend a course on open data given by a researcher for PhD students. Librarian 4 found the course quite useful, as the PhD students really addressed the questions, and Librarian 4 left feeling hopeful that this is a generational issue, at least in part. If today’s PhD students are provided with information and training on data management plans, their attitude to open data could be different from that of the older researchers.
Interestingly, one of the identified challenges is also identified as an opportunity: increased globalization and collaboration with other countries. All the respondents identified the legal issues relating to sharing data. This is an international question where countries need to facilitate cross-border research by making laws that do not prevent this development, but instead make it easier to share data between countries at the same time as ensuring the integrity of the research subject. This could be done by developing common metadata standards and infrastructure in order to facilitate administration. The overarching laws in Sweden differ from those of many other European countries, making the processes very complex, particularly in international projects, not to mention the issues of storage and many different systems and programs. Once again, it becomes clear that archivists alone cannot solve this. The research community together with various types of information specialists also needs to find a solution for how to define a project, as well as how to define when it is finished; consensus is needed. Defining a PhD project is quite simple, but how should other, larger projects be defined? When the funding stops or when a larger publication has been made?
Many of the challenges really involve a lack of communication and information, rather than significant obstacles for open access. The gap between department and administration could be addressed by employing archivists or research coordinators. Major advances could be achieved by informing researchers about how to store data, how to name it and which file formats to use. Collaboration between the universities and the public authorities could help solve the problems caused by a lack of metadata standards and infrastructure. In this way, costs could be shared and duplication of effort avoided. Researchers might be more willing to share if they were aware that in cases with sensitive or unique findings, their entire dataset does not need to be made available immediately, nor would it have to be made open at the same time.
Infrastructure, coordination and cooperation
The majority of the respondents believe that the infrastructure is currently unsatisfactory; some going as far as saying that there is none. Actor 1, however, believes that there is quite a lot, but it is not widely known. Actor 1 thinks it is as much a technical as methodological issue. The majority also connect the insufficient infrastructure with a lack of financial resources. The costs of long-term preservation and open accessibility of data should probably be divided between the public authorities and universities. Either the authorities should provide the universities and researchers with funding—or create their own centralized data repository infrastructure in which the researchers could deposit their data.