The 2020 report would be incomplete without commentary on the impact of COVID-19 on data sharing. Of all survey respondents, 90% reported that their work had been affected, with around one-third indicating that they were unable to do most or all of their work. However, Dr Leslie McIntosh (Research Data Alliance US) emphasises that 2020 has afforded some benefits. Because of the urgent need to share data globally in the fight against COVID-19, the report notes a heightened awareness of the role and need for data sharing and positive changes in attitudes and practices.
“COVID-19 has illuminated the needs and capabilities in making science open and accessible and perhaps surprisingly, in doing so, suggested that science truly can be accelerated.” –Dr Leslie McIntosh
The report also focuses on the role of libraries, funders and institutions in supporting open science. Librarians are uniquely qualified to advise researchers on metadata standards, copyright considerations, and data repositories. Despite this, survey respondents reported that they are more likely to ask publishers, instead of librarians, for help making their data openly available. Funders are well positioned to influence researchers’ activities as they can advance data sharing by making it part of their policies – for example, through requiring data management plans (DMPs) to be developed upfront. Institutions can implement their own policies and further support data sharing by educating researchers and providing tools to help them create DMPs. Journals can also contribute by allowing data citations, facilitating uptake by authors.
The ultimate goal is to create a cultural shift in which data sharing becomes the default. While barriers to achieving this still exist, considerable progress was made in 2020. Survey respondents were increasingly familiar with the FAIR principles and half reported that they could develop a practical DMP if needed. The report concludes that it is up to all stakeholders to capitalise on recent advances and encourage open science to progress further as we move to a ‘new normal’.