The value of research data to Australia and its communities
The economic value of Australia’s research data is enormous, estimated to be up to $6 billion a year (Houghton 2011) and most of this value is currently untapped. This is why the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) encourages researchers and governments to make their data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable (FAIR) so that it can be used to stimulate research, innovation and industry.
Exploring the value of research data in detail
Multiple assessment reports have been commissioned by the ARDC, CSIRO and international institutions to assess that potential and to explore the value of research data in more detail.
- Investigating the Link Between Research Data and Impact (2019) report commissioned by ARDC has identified clear public value delivered through research data.
- CSIRO report on the value of public research data ‘Understanding and unlocking the value of public research data: OzNome social architecture report (2017)’ by Todd Sanderson, Andrew Reeson and Paul Box. This report focuses on the value of research data generated and held by the CSIRO and other public research institutions.
- Open Research Data Report: Report to the Australian National Data Service (now ARDC) (2014) by Professor John Houghton and Dr Nicholas Gruen estimates the value of the data created during the research process, along with an estimate of the benefits of curating and openly sharing public research data.
- Costs and Benefits of Data Provision: Report to the Australian National Data Service (now ARDC) (2011) by Professor John Houghton examines the costs and benefits of public sector organisations making their Australian Public Sector Information (PSI) data freely available.
- The Value and Impact of the European Bioinformatics Institute report, published in January 2016, put the benefits to users and funders at £1 billion per year worldwide (approximately AUD$2 billion) – more than 20 times the direct operational cost of the institute.
- The economic impact of Open data: what do we already know? (Nov 2015) by Jeni Tennison, Open Data Institute summarises the economic arguments for Open Data and references four other reports.
Data, engagement and impact
What is ‘research engagement’ and ‘research impact’?
In 2018, Australia undertook its first national research Engagement and Impact Assessment (EIA). The assessment examined how universities are delivering and translating their research into economic, social and other benefits to industries and end-users of research. The results are presented in the Engagement and Impact Assessment 2018-19 National Report which is available via the ARC Data Portal, along with the highly rated impact studies and assessment outcomes.
In the Australian Research Council’s Engagement and Impact 2018 Framework, “research engagement” is defined as “the interaction between researchers and research end-users outside of academia, for the mutually beneficial transfer of knowledge, technologies, methods or resources”. A “research end-user” is understood as “an individual, community or organisation external to academia that will directly use or directly benefit from the output, outcome or result of the research.” Further, “research impact” is defined as “the contribution that research makes to the economy, society, environment and culture beyond the contribution to academic research.”
Similarly, the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014) guideline defines research impact as “an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia” (see page 8, Research Excellence Framework – The results).
Research data is an enabler and pathway to ‘engagement and impact’.
Research data is a critical information asset which provides an important platform for collaboration between the research sector and the business sector, as well as applications in public policy, education, citizen engagement.
Data sharing for instance can play a pivotal role in collaboration between academia, industries and communities more broadly. As such, research data is a significant enabler or pathway of ‘research engagement and impact’ for many research projects.
The companion case studies report of the Watt review, for instance, highlighted a common pattern of such engagement and impact pathways: a research group builds a trusted data resource from a combination of research and public sector sources which then forms the basis of a long term collaboration and engagement with industry, business, public sector, NGOs.
These collaborations and engagements, in turn, generate social, economic, cultural, environmental or health benefits for stakeholders beyond academia.
Case Studies: Contribution of Data to Research Impact
Open Research Data Collections
In June 2015, representatives from over 40 Australian research institutions gathered in Canberra to showcase their most recent Open Research Data Collections: easily discoverable, richly described and openly available.
The posters highlighted the huge academic and geographical diversity of Australia’s research data, and the innovative use of that data to make new discoveries.
The Australian Lesson
The ARC Impact Case Studies dataset has been released to the public after the ARC Engagement and Impact assessment exercise. The dataset is collated from submissions of Australian universities to the 2018 assessment. It provides a rich source of insights into how research has been translated into impact beyond academia.
Of particular interest are case studies where data played a pivotal role in generating research impact, which come from a variety of disciplines and universities. A sample subset can be found here.