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Archive for February 10th, 2021

Love Data Week – Sharing data? Your questions answered

Kirsty10 February 2021

Guest post by James Houghton, Research Data Support Officer


Dealing with research data, and the associated legal and administrative issues, can be confusing. This article responds to some of the frequent question and confusions people have regarding research data management.

Do I always have to share data?

Not always – but in general data sharing is required unless you have a very good reason not to and UCL expects research to be shared as widely as possible. Data sharing is possibly inappropriate in the following situations:

  • The project contains personal data which could compromise the privacy of individuals. In this case the Data Protection Act (2018) applies and the data cannot be shared.
  • There is a possibility that the research could be commercialised. In this case, data should not be shared before obtaining necessary patent protections.
  • Other ethical concerns for which a justification can be created. For example, data on an endangered species might be used by poachers so it would be reasonable not to share this data.

If you are ever unsure about releasing data, speak to someone before you proceed. The Library RDM team and the Data Protection Team can advise on this.

Does UCL have a data sharing policy?

Yes, and it specifies the expectations placed on all UCL staff and students on making data available.

Be aware that in addition to the UCL policy, funding agencies will have their own requirements. You need to be compliant with all policies that might apply!

So, I need to share my data. Does UCL have a platform for data sharing?

Yes, we do! UCL has its own data repository service, the UCL Research Data Repository

I don’t have any data.

The term “data” is used as a shorthand to cover all research outputs, so even if you think you don’t have data, you probably generate something during the course of your research that should be preserved and potentially shared. Even if your field uses a different term you are probably still bound by the data sharing policy.

Here’s is a wide-ranging list of what could be considered “research data”

  • Research notebooks, detailing progress of research and experiments
  • Responses to surveys and questionnaires
  • Software, code, algorithms, and models
  • Measurements from laboratory or field equipment
  • Images (such as photographs, films, scans of documents)
  • Methods, protocols, and experimental procedures
  • Databases of collected information
  • A corpus of writings
  • Audio and video recordings
  • Interview Transcripts
  • Physical samples and objects

If you have an output not included in this list, it could can still be classed as research data!

What on earth is metadata?

Metadata is simply data that describes other data. Here are a few examples:

  • A description of the inclusion criteria for enrolling participants in a study
  • The set of questions used in interviews
  • Any file naming conventions used to keep track of data
  • The parameters used by any equipment used to make measurements
  • The dates and times images were taken
  • Details of quality assurance steps to explain why some data points were deemed to be erroneous and unsuitable for analysis
  • Administrative information such as dates of interviews, experiments or visits to a location

This is not an exhaustive list by any means! Metadata can vary considerably between projects and research fields.

In the same way data might underpin the results of a project, metadata could be said to underpin the methods of a project. If you need to address the issue of metadata, think about what another researcher would need to know to replicate the data as closely as possible.

What resources can I access at UCL to store data safely?

All UCL IT managed storage services have automated backups in place to protect data and are recommended over using your own personal devices or individual cloud storage accounts. There are a few different options depending on your needs:

  • The personal N: drive or S: drives are fine for day-to-day storage of PDFs, office documents and non-sensitive materials.
  • The Research Data Storage Service supports high speed file transfer for large quantities of data and is extremely useful for anyone who want to work with the high-performance computing clusters.
  • The Data Safe Haven is specifically designed to store personal data covered by the Data Protection Act 2018. This secure service helps you meet legal obligations on data security when relevant.
  • Services such as SharePoint and OneDrive can be useful for collaboration with colleagues and allow for functionality such as simultaneous editing of documents.

Need more information?

We have extended guidance on research data management available on our website and the library research data management team can be contacted to discuss specific issues at: lib-researchsupport@ucl.ac.uk