A survey of researchers’ needs and priorities for data sharing

Authors : Iain Hrynaszkiewicz, James Harney, Lauren Cadwallader

PLOS has long supported Open Science. One of the ways in which we do so is via our stringent data availability policy established in 2014. Despite this policy, and more data sharing policies being introduced by other organizations, best practices for data sharing are adopted by a minority of researchers in their publications. Problems with effective research data sharing persist and these problems have been quantified by previous research as a lack of time, resources, incentives, and/or skills to share data.

In this study we built on this research by investigating the importance of tasks associated with data sharing, and researchers’ satisfaction with their ability to complete these tasks. By investigating these factors we aimed to better understand opportunities for new or improved solutions for sharing data.

In May-June 2020 we surveyed researchers from Europe and North America to rate tasks associated with data sharing on (i) their importance and (ii) their satisfaction with their ability to complete them. We received 728 completed and 667 partial responses. We calculated mean importance and satisfaction scores to highlight potential opportunities for new solutions to and compare different cohorts.

Tasks relating to research impact, funder compliance, and credit had the highest importance scores. 52% of respondents reuse research data but the average satisfaction score for obtaining data for reuse was relatively low. Tasks associated with sharing data were rated somewhat important and respondents were reasonably well satisfied in their ability to accomplish them. Notably, this included tasks associated with best data sharing practice, such as use of data repositories. However, the most common method for sharing data was in fact via supplemental files with articles, which is not considered to be best practice.

We presume that researchers are unlikely to seek new solutions to a problem or task that they are satisfied in their ability to accomplish, even if many do not attempt this task. This implies there are few opportunities for new solutions or tools to meet these researcher needs. Publishers can likely meet these needs for data sharing by working to seamlessly integrate existing solutions that reduce the effort or behaviour change involved in some tasks, and focusing on advocacy and education around the benefits of sharing data.

There may however be opportunities – unmet researcher needs – in relation to better supporting data reuse, which could be met in part by strengthening data sharing policies of journals and publishers, and improving the discoverability of data associated with published articles.

DOI : https://doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/njr5u