On SAGE Insight: Open-access policy and data-sharing practice in UK academia

From Journal of Information Science

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New forms of scholarly communication emerged with the development of the Internet and digital technology which enabled more open practices within the academic community. These new forms include open-access (OA) publishing, sharing primary research data, publishing research updates online as well as using social media for various reasons in research work, such as searching for research information, promoting publications and networking with peers. The Open Science Movement emerged in this new age. Open science not only supports the concept of OA publishing of research articles but also extends the open practice to publishing datasets, workflow, methods, details of ongoing research processes and so on,

This study aims to explore the extent of support of data sharing across all disciplines and the characteristics and factors associated with the practice of data sharing. An online survey was conducted with academics based in the United Kingdom with regards to their scholarly communication practice. The sampling frame of the survey consisted of the population of all academics based in the Russell Group universities (24 in total). Russell Group universities all have a strong research focus. As such the research would be capturing the attitudes and behaviour of academics at leading research-focused universities. In all, 12 Russell Group universities were randomly selected and an email invitation was sent to academics based in those universities using publicly available information on their university websites. The survey was conducted at summer 2013. In total, 1829 valid responses were received.

The academic community could benefit from OA to research data to validate findings and accelerate scientific progress. However, barriers such as lack of incentives and standards could prevent academics from sharing. This is especially the case for younger and junior academics who are in greater need of securing publication and funding to advance their career while sharing primary research data might jeopardise their chances of publishing before competitors. An incentive system and approach to the citing of data and databases are needed to promote data sharing in the future.  Social media could be adopted to help academics to promote their publication and shared research data and potentially increases readership and citation. Academic institutions could organise more social media training to help those who want to improve their digital skills for communicating and sharing their research outputs and data. Data policies are more established in some subject areas than the others and studies on developing strategies to encourage data sharing mainly focused on biomedical areas. As the format and volume of research data vary largely between and within disciplines, further studies of data sharing need to focus on individual discipline areas and especially those that have not been studied systematically.


Data sharing can be defined as the release of research data that can be used by others. With the recent open-science movement, there has been a call for free access to data, tools and methods in academia. In recent years, subject-based and institutional repositories and data centres have emerged along with online publishing. Many scientific records, including published articles and data, have been made available via new platforms. In the United Kingdom, most major research funders had a data policy and require researchers to include a ‘data-sharing plan’ when applying for funding. However, there are a number of barriers to the full-scale adoption of data sharing. Those barriers are not only technical, but also psychological and social. A survey was conducted with over 1800 UK-based academics to explore the extent of support of data sharing and the characteristics and factors associated with data-sharing practice. It found that while most academics recognised the importance of sharing research data, most of them had never shared or reused research data. There were differences in the extent of data sharing between different gender, academic disciplines, age and seniority. It also found that the awareness of Research Council UK’s (RCUK) Open-Access (OA) policy, experience of Gold and Green OA publishing, attitudes towards the importance of data sharing and experience of using secondary data were associated with the practice of data sharing. A small group of researchers used social media such as Twitter, blogs and Facebook to promote the research data they had shared online. Our findings contribute to the knowledge and understanding of open science and offer recommendations to academic institutions, journals and funding agencies.

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Article details

Open-access policy and data-sharing practice in UK academia
Yimei Zhu
First Published January 21, 2019 Research Article
DOI; 10.1177/0165551518823174
Journal of Information Science

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