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Archive for September, 2018

What is FOI and how does it apply to researchers?

By Ruth Wainman, on 7 September 2018

The Freedom of Information Act was created in 2000 to increase the transparency of the public sector and their activities. Under the Act, research data can be requested although copyright and IP rights to the data remain with the original researcher. When a request for information is made, there are normally 20 working days to respond. In the UK, most universities are defined as public authorities and are thus legally obliged to respond to FOI requests. There are, however, some key exemptions to the Act in the UK including:

  1. Personal data about living individuals cannot be requested, unless it is about you.
  2. Information that is accessible by other means.
  3. Information intended for future publication.
  4. Information that is subject to a confidentiality agreement.
  5. Information whose release would prejudice legitimate commercial interests.
  6. In Scotland, information that is part of a finite research programme for which there is a publication schedule and clear intent to publish.
  7. If the public interest in withholding the information is greater than the public interest disclosing.

Source: Corti et al 2014

There have been a number of high profile cases in which FOI requests have been made against research data being collected by the universities. Data cannot be withheld indefinitely so you should always work under the presumption that if any information is not released the first time round, it can always be requested again. Researchers are therefore advised to detail the ways in which they plan to release their data in a data management plan in order to avoid any unanticipated FOI requests. It is therefore paramount that you plan for FOI and the implications of the Act when creating a data management plan. Writing a plan will also enable you to think more carefully through issues surrounding consent, sharing and ethics. Yet researchers should always remember that the FOI Act can often act as a useful means of data collection in its own right.

At UCL, further guidance on FOI can be found on the Research Integrity pages. If in doubt, researchers are also advised to get in contact with UCL’s specialist Legal Services team.

Further Information

What is a Format?

By Ruth Wainman, on 7 September 2018

A format is essentially the form your data will take once you collect and archive it. Researchers are strongly advised to think very carefully about the final format their data will take so that it can be preserved for future use.

There are two main two main categories of files – proprietary and non-proprietary formats. Proprietary formats are more limited as they only work with the software provided by the creator of that data. On the other hand, non-proprietary formats can be used by anyone, are usually free of charge and therefore have more utility for future researchers. Plus open formats provide instant and easy access to data. In most cases, you should aim for your data to take the following formats:

  1. Non-proprietary
  2. Unencrypted
  3. Uncompressed
  4. Open, documented standard
  5. Commonly used by your research community
  6. Use common character encodings – ASCII, Unicode, UTF-8

There will always be cases where you will inevitably need to change the format of your data during the course of your research. This is why it is important that you provide further details about the format your data will take in your DMP and any features that may be lost once you convert it for archiving. Open formats may not support all of the original functionality of proprietary formats so you must take steps to hold on to both your raw and converted data sets. Some funders may also have specific requirements surrounding the final form your data should take so be sure to check their policies before committing to any set format.

Further links