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A submission to the Digital Economy Consultation prepared by the Research Data Strategy Working Group

Ottawa, ON, July 13, 2010

Executive Summary

The flow of information and ideas amongst researchers is fundamental to 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.

A coordinated strategy would provide competitive advantage to Canada, placing it on a level playing field with other nations, including the US, Australia, China and Europe, who have begin to make major investments. These countries recognize the potential value of research data in accelerating new discoveries when they are available for reuse and repurposing. The ROI is estimated to be high (a UK example is given), and real opportunities for new discoveries have already been realized in Canada as a result of access to previously collected data.

Research Data Strategy Working Group recommendations:

  • Implement a national approach to research data.
  • Strengthen Canada's existing infrastructure of data centers, data repositories, and data libraries.
  • Encourage data stewardship policies in granting councils and foundations, government departments, and universities and colleges.
  • Form a national oversight mechanism that would provide support for data stewardship activities in Canada.
  • Launch an open data initiative in Canada.

Each of the four priority fields in the federal government‟s science and technology strategy, Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada's Advantage are hugely data dependent. A major initiative to re-use and re-purpose data would leverage the major public R&D investments to solve pressing research problems and provide economic benefits.

Submission

Canadian governments and publicly funded researchers produce huge amounts of data that hold enormous potential for additional discovery and innovation. Currently, Canada lacks any coordinated strategy to re-use and re-purpose research data to solve pressing research problems and commercialize results. We need policy regarding the public interest in these data. Currently Canada is at a disadvantage compared to other nations. In 2004, Canada agreed to the OECD Principles and Guidelines for Access to Research Data from Public Funding; however, unlike other signatories, Canada has not yet responded with concrete actions to give substance to the agreement. As a result, huge amounts of publicly funded data are being lost, along with their potential for reuse.

Major investments are being made in this area in the United States, Europe, China, and Australia. These countries recognize the potential value of research data in accelerating new discoveries when they are available for reuse and repurposing. For instance, Australia is spending $72M over 4 years further develop the Australian Research Data Commons research infrastructure program, and has additional programs that address high performance computing and other essential aspects of the digital economy. The US National Science Foundation, for example, established the Sustainable Digital Data Preservation and Access Network Partners (DataNet) in 2008, and will fund $100M over 5 years to projects that will build a national capacity. The European Commission's 7th framework has a new programme to network European scientific repositories (DRIVER-II). Canada needs similar infrastructure investment in research data management, to maximize our return on our investment in research, which totals at least $5 billion annually.

Real opportunities for new discoveries have already been realized as a result of access to previously collected data. The field of genomics with its increasing industrial applications has grown out of open sharing of data. Similarly, the widespread use of geospatial positioning devices is a consequence of the effective management of geospatial data by government and other research institutions. Other examples include „open data‟ initiatives, like those recently launched in the US and UK, which aim to expand creative use of government-generated data into the non-governmental sphere by encouraging innovative ideas, tools and web applications.

A strategy for data stewardship and use could become a major low cost initiative when the federal government‟s science and technology strategy, Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada's Advantage, is updated for the new decade. The strategy‟s four priority fields are hugely data dependent. For example, large-scale and expensive longitudinal health studies are often difficult or impossible to repeat making the preservation of data central to any further discoveries. Within energy, applying new drilling technologies to formerly "exhausted" wells has produced vast quantities of new oil as a consequence of rerunning seismic data from years gone by. Mining companies use geospatial and other data to guide new investment in the north. Examples exist in every field of study. The way that we as a nation choose to manage research data will directly impact our ability to exploit them for economic advantage.

Recommendations

Our recommendations outline what Canada can do in order to ensure full economic benefits are being derived from the research data created by governments and through publicly funded research.

  1. Implement a national approach to research data
    We support the recommendation put forward in the submission by CANARIE et al calling for a "comprehensive vision, together with an operational and management strategy" for the digital environment (pg. 9). A coordinated and national approach to managing research data in Canada is required to gain greater and longer term benefits, both socially and economically, from the extensive public investments that are made in research.
  2. Strengthen Canada's existing infrastructure of data centers, data repositories, and data libraries.
    For Canada to remain competitive in research and development, we should develop and maintain national infrastructure enabling access to and preservation of research data. This will also facilitate collaboration among Canadian researchers and support their participation in international research.
  3. Encourage data stewardship policies in granting councils and foundations, government departments, and universities and colleges.
    Data policies provide the necessary framework and incentives for those involved with data. We need a cohesive framework of policies and procedures for key agents and stakeholders in order to maximize the potential benefits of digital research data.
  4. Form a national oversight mechanism that would provide support for data stewardship activities in Canada.
    This entity would provide access to and preservation of research data. It would:
    • bring together regional and disciplinary networks
    • ensure a Canadian presence in international research data initiatives;
    • house a research data resources centre to advance skills, standards and practices; and,
    • help provide research data policy advice along with other research organizations.
  5. Launch an open data initiative in Canada
    We support the statement in the federal government‟s Consultation Paper on a Digital Economy Strategy for Canada which states that... "Governments can help by making publicly-funded research data more readily available to Canadian researchers and businesses." Open data initiatives, such as those in the US and UK, forecast large economic benefits. They will enable businesses and individuals to build new applications and services to analyze previously locked-up government data in new ways and commercialize new break-through ideas. The UK, for example, anticipates an added value of £ 6 billion (GBP) from the initiative [From: http://www.conservatives.com/Policy/Where_we_stand/Technology.aspx].

The flow of information and ideas amongst researchers is fundamental to 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.

About the Research Data Strategy Working Group

The Research Data Strategy Working Group (RDS WG) addresses the challenges and issues surrounding the access and preservation of data arising from Canadian research. This multi-disciplinary group of universities, government institutions, research libraries, funding agencies, and individual researchers recognize that there is a pressing need to deal with Canadian data management issues. Their activities focus on the actions and leadership roles that researchers and institutions can take to ensure Canada's research data is accessible and usable for current and future generations of researchers.
http://rds-sdr.cisti-icist.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/eng/index.html

The Working Group and task groups include individuals representing organizations such as: university researchers, data centers, research libraries (CARL) and CIOs (CUCCIO); granting councils; government science departments and agencies (NRC-CISTI, StatsCan); Compute Canada; and CODATA Canada. Working Group members are listed at http://rds-sdr.cisti-icist.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/eng/members/index.html.