Handling research data & records

On the need for data

Access to research data is a foundation on which much scientific knowledge is built. Data access facilitates new research and prevents unnecessary double work. To generate, share and preserve data is therefore a crucial part pf good research practice. It might be hard to get an overview over existant data collections. However, the Swedish National Data Service is a service organisation for Swedish research with the purpose of enabling researchers gain access to existing data. SND:s catalogue of research data consists of data from different fields; some immediately downloadable, some for order (because of restrictions). SND can also guide to other data repositories and give support to researchers throughout the whole research process. Also the National Archives of Sweden and Statistics Sweden have extensive knowledge on what data are available.

Data handled by an authority

In Sweden, when data is handled at universities, it is the university that ensures legal and ethical handling of research data, including archiving it. The data produced in public research do therefore not belong to the researcher. This has consequences for the handling of data, e.g. it creates demands for openness and for proper archiving.

Public and open data

Swedish universities are authorities and the research organisation's records and documents are often official and may therefore be considered public (the principle of public access to official records) when secrecy does not apply. This concept is defined in 2 kap. 3 § tryckfrihetsförordningen (Chapter 2, 3§ of the Freedom of the Press Act). Documents that are public ("allmäna") must be disclosed to those asking to see it. Only with reference to a rule in the secrecy act can one decide that they should not be considered official ("offentliga") documents, but rather as secret.

Open data

Scientific organizations all over the world are promoting a principle of open science and the sharing of research data and materials. A primary document is the FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship. That would mean less duplicate research, make possible new combinations of data, and save both money and time. For further policy, see especially RECODE, but also OECD Principles and Guidelines for Access to Research Data from Public FundingPanton Principles and Recommendation on access to and preservation of scientific information In Sweden, the Research Council has issued Kriterier för FAIR forskningsdata

One noteworthy initiative is the Scientific Collections International, by OECD, which aims to "increase the use and impact of scientific collections for interdisciplinary research and societal benefits" and to "expand the access, awareness and appreciation of scientific collections."

Regarding Data Management Plans, the Swedish Research Council has produced a guideline on the central parts that a data management plan should include, which provide support when you produce a data management plan.

In some areas of science, notably in "community resource projects", there is a strive for greater sharing of data through prepublication. A similar idea is found in the argument for deposition of data in postpublication databases. For example, data from NIH-financied associational studies of genes shall be made public through dbGaP. And the NSF promotes Dryad - an international repository of data underlying peer-reviewed articles in the basic and applied biosciences. Further information can be found on re3data.org, a registry of research data repositories.

A researcher should investigate whether funding agencies, one's institution, or target journals have policies on sharing data or the use of a data management plan (DMP). When applicable, data handling and sharing should be planned before the study and such a plan could also be described to ethical review committees (if doing human subjects research). Such a DMP can work as a tool for reflection over how research uses data, as expressed by Science Europe: These plans support the researcher in considering all relevant aspects of data management from the very beginning of a research project. A DMP should stimulate researchers to think about optimal handling, organising, documenting, and storing of their data (from Practical Guide to the International Alignment of Research Data Management).

Today data is commonly given a DOI number (or 'Handle') so that it is easier to refer to, find and also so that a researcher can get proper merit from having collected or created a data set or collection of material. SND gives material or data such an identifier and so do DataCite and CrossRef.

Archiving and deleting

In general, authorities' documents are public and are to be archived according to the archives law (SFS 1990:782), archives ordinance (SFS 1991:446) and the Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act (SFS 2009:400). According to The (Swedish) National Archives, a research project is an "actual handling" and documents are therefore filed and established as public documents, according to the Freedom of the Press Act's Chapter 2. The archive law's basic principle (3§) is that the authorities' archives belong to the national cultural heritage and are to provide for, among other things, the right to examine public documents as well as the needs of research.

For the authorities, storage of documents is the rule and deletion an exception. Storage or archiving in short means that documents are to be stored for as long as possible, from the perspective "for all eternity". Deletion means the destruction of public documentation, or of information therein. If a document is to be deleted it should be made clear as to the point in time at which it is to be destroyed. The principle provisions regarding deletion can be found in the archive law's 10§, which states that public documents may be sorted out.

The fundamental document for government research is the National Archives' regulations and general advice on deletion of documents in governmental authorities' research work (RA-FS 1999:1). It states:

6§ Documents containing fundamental information on the aims, methods and results of a research project shall always be exempted from deletion.

General Advice. Documents reflecting a project's context as regards, for example, economic conditions and external contacts should also be exempted from deletion, and any changes in direction during the project should also be shown… If it is not possible to distinguish individual research projects, for example in cases of continual basic research, these regulations can be applied to appropriate parts.

7§ In addition to what is stated in 6§, documents shall be exempted from deletion if judged to have a continued worth within the applicable field or other fields, to be of great scientific-, culture- or personal-historical worth, or to be of great public interest.

According to 8§, before one decides on a time for deletion, a reasonable amount of time must have passed, allowing for the possibility to review documents to verify research results.

Last modified: 2023-07-16