By Rebecca Grant, Research Data Manager, Springer Nature

Published: 23 October 2019

Research advances are built on a bedrock of hundreds of hours of research, and any breakthrough will be based on research data carefully captured and analysed. Making this experimental research data easier to find, access and use has the potential to reduce duplication and increase productivity, impact and visibility of research.  While the majority of researchers want to make their data more discoverable, they experience real challenges in practically doing this, and have questions about how to do so responsibly.

In our conversations with research funding organisations around the world, biomedical and medical research funders and charities including Wellcome and CRUK have been quick to share our view that these are essential problems to solve.  Medical research data is often difficult to share.  Where patients are participating in trials or studies, their privacy needs to be protected. At the same time the stakes are high - everything these organisations can do to help speed the pace and efficiency of research has a real impact on people and human health and well-being.

Since 2016, Springer Nature has been rolling out standard research data sharing policies at its journals, and providing a free research data helpdesk and a list of recommended data repositories to assist authors in sharing their data in the most appropriate way. Building on what we’ve learned from interacting with our authors, and by surveying authors about their own practice, we’ve continued to expand the ways that we support researchers and institutions in sharing their data.

Researchers are often unsure about how to share their data appropriately, and this is even more common when sensitive data is involved, as is often the case in medical research. Data may be considered sensitive for a number of reasons including the presence of information which would identify human research participants, the location of endangered species, or commercially sensitive information. In order to assist researchers in processing and sharing their sensitive data appropriately, we’ve begun to roll out a number of initiatives and services. Our Helpdesk provides guidance on self-assessment and controlled-access repositories, while our Nature Research Academies data training empowers researchers to process their data and share it safely.

In the last year we’ve had great success in partnering with institutions and funders to aid their researchers in gaining the knowledge and skills they need to apply best practices in data sharing. Our research data editors provide training workshops and a curation support service to institutions and funders, with partnerships including: 

Research data experts at npj Breast Cancer

At the Nature partner journal npj Breast Cancer, we are working with the journal partner BCRF (the Breast Cancer Research Foundation) to provide the assistance of our in-house research data experts to every author. During the manuscript submission process, we work with the author to ensure that every dataset underpinning their research project is described and linked appropriately. Advice on anonymisation or controlled access repositories is provided, and the editor also creates a rich metadata record describing all of the relevant datasets. 

CRUK Training Workshop Series

In 2019 we’ve partnered with Cancer Research UK to provide a series of in-person training workshops to their funded researchers. Over the course of two days, researchers are given an introduction to the key principles and practices of research data sharing, including methods for processing sensitive data for sharing. 97% of researchers have reported that they are more confident in their data sharing skills following the training. 

Research data expert support for Wellcome researchers

Beginning in 2018, the Wellcome Trust have offered their researchers data support via Springer Nature’s Research Data Support service. Researchers have the opportunity to work directly with a research data expert who will assist them in publishing the dataset associated with their research paper, regardless of where they are publishing.

We’ve previously blogged about sensitive data and our experiences of working with authors on data sharing on our Research Data Community. If you’d like any further information about the work we do, please visit our website and get in touch for more details.