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Influencing Research Policy and Practice

Last Updated on November 15, 2022, 11:36 am ET

photo of diverse researchers in a lab working on a drone
image © iStock/gorodenkoff

ARL’s partnerships with the higher education community shape the direction of our advocacy on many topics. Lately, conversations with higher education associations and other stakeholders whose members work with research data on the ground have been critical to helping us understand challenges that researchers on campus and institutions may have with implementing federal requirements, as well as best practices that they would like to see addressed in federal law and policy. These conversations have been critical to informing ARL’s recommendations to federal research agencies on research data management and sharing policies.

My colleague Shawna Taylor and I recently shared an example of how our policy and advocacy work with higher education partners impacts research data management and sharing practice during the Digital Library Federation (DLF) Forum. The following illustrates how we advocate for campus-level strategies to influence the federal government.

In 2019, ARL, the California Digital Library (CDL), Association of American Universities (AAU), and Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) hosted a conference sponsored by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) that focused on implementing effective data practices. This conference led to a 2020 report on recommendations for effective data practices to support a more open research ecosystem. The  report identified  five core persistent identifiers, or PIDs, which are fundamental to an open data ecosystem. AAU and APLU cited this work in their 2021 Guide to Accelerate Public Access to Research Data, which focused on campus strategies to develop robust support systems to accelerate sharing of research data.

This fundamental work, which was really focused on implementation and campus practices and strategies, meant that ARL’s Scholarship and Policy Team was poised to respond to requests for information by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which was looking into how to improve federal scientific integrity policies. In 2021, ARL submitted recommendations to OSTP, which included: making research outputs available as soon as possible, engaging stakeholders from the research community around security concerns, investing in PIDs and machine-actionable data management plans, and prioritizing the upskilling of early-career researchers, graduate students, and undergraduates in these areas, with a particular focus on historically underrepresented populations. We saw many of these recommendations appear in the January 2022 OSTP report on scientific integrity, particularly the importance of open science, data management, and diverse representation in science careers.

Due to all of this work, ARL’s partnerships with higher education organizations are sustained and grow; representatives from AAU, APLU, and the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR) now serve as advisory board members for the Realities of Academic Data Sharing (RADS) Initiative, an ARL project examining the activities and costs required to support research-data sharing at six academic institutions since the 2013 issue of the Holdren memo.

To determine the costs of public access to research data, the RADS project team is surveying institutional administrators and researchers with expenditure knowledge within their departments. In order to ask the “right” questions on the survey, the RADS team had to first determine what activities across the institution were required to make public access to research data a reality. Parsing out these public-access data management and sharing (DMS) activities across the institution was particularly important, not only to meet the study’s research objective, but many of the activities are also considered part of doing research or apply to researchers not subject to public-access policies. The project team began this work and drafted an early list of public-access DMS activities. Discussions with COGR, however, brought about a common understanding and shared language on the definitions of public access to research-data life cycle phases and their activities. In turn, as the RADS public-access DMS activities are shared throughout the community, feedback on their usefulness as a guide or resource to implement new federal research and data management policies is essential.

Engagement from on-the-ground practitioners not only validates the DMS activities, but also informs ARL of which areas need targeted advocacy. This practice is true not just for the RADS Initiative, but for many issues impacting ARL’s members, such as research integrity and security, academic freedom, and privacy. Feedback from stakeholder groups, from individual practitioners to other higher education groups, influences how we advocate for new or revised policies at the federal level.