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Research Data and Responsible Publishing | Introduction to Research Data: What is Research Data and How is Ownership Defined?

By SRAI News posted 01-12-2023 08:36 AM


Research Data and Responsible Publishing | Introduction to Research Data: What is Research Data and How is Ownership Defined?

The Catalyst begins 2023 with a three-month look at various aspects of research data and responsible publishing in view of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) upcoming release of its Data Management and Sharing Policy. This month’s Spotlight focuses on defining research data – what it is and is not, as well as who owns it. Additional research data topics will be explored in the February and March issues. 

Much discussion has been circulating about research data and its associated responsibilities. With the implementation of the NIH Data Management and Sharing Policy scheduled to be released Jan. 25, 2023, it is imperative that research administrators understand what research data is, what it is not, and who owns the data generated from research projects. Many of us have been involved in the creation of institutional procedures surrounding the NIH policy and updating existing policies to match what is being implemented. However, we may or may not have a clear understanding of what the policy means and how to operationalize its details. I learned a lot about research data when participating in the development of an internal data ownership policy for our School of Nursing. Our policy was implemented before the NIH policy was digested by all involved and had to be updated to reflect all the NIH requirements. My work on that data ownership policy fueled a need to learn more about research data, ownership, and what institutions intend to do with the data now and in the future. 

Research data are any records necessary for the reconstruction and evaluation of reported results of a research project (2 CFR 200.315(e)(3)). This includes, but is not limited to, documents, spreadsheets, databases, transcripts, audio/video recordings, samples, and models. For the purposes of generating an internal policy for an institution in the state of Louisiana (LA), the state defines records as any material regardless of physical form or characteristic, generated or received under law or in connection with the transaction of official business, or preserved by an agency or political subdivision because of other informational or legal value (LA Revised Statute 44:402). Records under this statute include campus-education records, clinical records and patient communications, human resources records, research records, and public records of the university.  Research data are not considered to be a trade secret, commercial information, materials necessary to be held confidential until publication, plans for future research, peer reviews, or personally identifiable information that could be used to identify someone participating in a research study. 

Ownership of the data depends on a number of factors. The data are owned by the university or organization that generated the work. There is an exception only  when the data are precluded by terms of sponsorship or other agreements. Custody/stewardship is usually given to the principal investigator (PI) of the project that generated the data but is ultimately the responsibility of the university or organization. Since the custody falls with the PI in the majority of cases, PIs and other researchers on the projects are free to publish the data derived from their projects. Researchers should confirm with the publisher if a copyright assignment is needed at the time of submission. At our institution, our Office of Innovation and Partnerships assists with copyright for researchers; similar offices at other institutions should be able to do the same. 

Ownership of student data follows other protocols. Students own data that is generated when conducting independent research unless the data: 1) are generated as a scope of employment with the organization, 2) are generated using substantial resources of the organization, 3) are generated as part of a sponsored project that is held by the organization, or 4) are subject to other agreements and regulations that supersede this right. If a student decides to abandon independent research, ownership may default to the PI associated with the project. In dissertation research, the PI is usually the chair of the student’s committee. 

Data ownership does not end here and comes with responsibility of sharing and management as it pertains to research projects. In February, the Catalyst will spotlight data retention, transfer, and repositories. Also highlighted will be the NIH Data Sharing Policy and publication open access. In March, the Catalyst will highlight topics surrounding responsible publication, including the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) background and standards, NIH guidelines for credible journals, and compliance implications for publishing. 

Authored by Carly Pigg, CRA, Coordinator of Grants and Development
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center