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October 2008

Open Access and Reuse of Research Data in Finland

In 2006, motivated by the OECD Open Access guidelines, the Finnish Social Science Data Archive (FSD) carried out an online survey targeting professors of human sciences, social sciences and behavioural sciences in Finnish universities. Professors were asked, for example, whether their department had any guidelines on the preservation of digital research data. A great and alarming majority (90%) said no. The survey also charted what actually happens to research data and what are the barriers to and benefits of open access to research data.

In 2006, motivated by the OECD Open Access guidelines, the Finnish Social Science Data Archive (FSD) carried out an online survey targeting professors of human sciences, social sciences and behavioural sciences in Finnish universities.

Professors were asked, for example, whether their department had any guidelines on the preservation of digital research data. A great and alarming majority (90%) said no.

What then happens to research data? Most common practise seems to be that the data remains in the hand of the original researcher(s). Even if the data are stored in the department or research insitute, no further processing nor documentation takes place. FSD's influence could be seen in social sciences, making archiving at a data archive a bit more frequent than in other sciences.

The survey also charted barriers to open access. Professors were concerned about inadvertent misuse of data and consequent mistakes. Of course, without detailed documentation, data reuse may indeed result in inaccurate interpretations. Lack of agreements regarding data ownership and IP rights were also mentioned as barriers, as well as loss of competitive advantage, IT problems, and confidentiality issues.

On the other hand, the professors saw many benefits in open access to research data. The most significant was enhancing the diversity of research designs with the use of archived data. All in all, the benefits were estimated to be more significant than the barriers. The survey also showed - not surprisingly - that it is usual to a researcher to have a positive attitude towards open access in general but a less-than-enthusiastic one to open access to his/her own data.

The report concludes that from the viewpoint of long-term preservation and reuse, it is definitely less recommendable to leave the responsibility for the preservation and dissemination of data to individual researchers. Changing this practice that still prevails in Finnish universities and other Finnish research organisations constitutes one of the key goals in the national implementation of the OECD Recommendation.

An abridged version of the report is available in English:
Arja Kuula & Sami Borg (2008). Open Access to and Reuse of Research Data - The State of the Art in Finland. University of Tampere. Finnish Social Science Data Archive; 7. ISBN: 978-951-44-7479-8.

Download the report as a PDF file.

The survey data is naturally available, too:
FSD2268 Open Access to and Reuse of Research Data 2006

Mari Kleemola
Finnish Social Science Data Archive
IASSIST European Regional Secretary

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