In 2021, the Department of Library Services (DLS) approached leading research data depositors to enter the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Data for Research Award which recognises excellence and outstanding contributions to science, engineering, and technology (SET) and innovation in South Africa. Only two researchers accepted the challenge, namely Prof Nigel C Bennett, Professor in the Department of Science and Innovation/National Research Foundation South African Research Chair in the field of Mammalian Behavioural Ecology and Physiology; and Austin Roberts Chair of Mammalogy at the University of Pretoria (UP) and Prof. Yves van de Peer, Full Professor, Ghent University in Belgium, and Full Part-time Professor at the University of Pretoria and a Full Part-time Professor at Nanjing Agricultural University, China.
The NSTF supports research data curation, through one of its awards, the Data for Research Award, which promotes research data curation among universities and research centres in South Africa. This is also in response that many funder agencies require data management plans to be submitted as part of grant proposals. Since January 2011, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has mandated the inclusion of a data management plan (DMP) in all grant proposals. The 2016 Dakar Declaration on Open Science in Africa also called for urgent action by institutions and governments for open access to better Science in Africa. Two years later, the continent is making strides in this direction, now with the realisation of the African Open Science Platform spearheaded by the National Research Foundation (South Africa) and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).
The NSTF Data for Research Award category introduced in 2017, acknowledges the work of an individual or a team (including for example researchers/scientists; data scientists; data stewards; innovators; and repository and data centre managers) to be rewarded for the generation, preservation, sharing and/or re-use of a valuable scientific output – the research data set. Data products, data repositories, and data centres are also eligible for team recognition. The intention is to recognise the value of a data set that is of national interest or for the public good, and that is openly available to be re-used and/or re-packaged in products that are of public good and interest, or that could be integrated into products that contribute to the development of South Africa.
Academic publishers are increasingly required to increase data quality and reproducible research by promoting transparency and openness of datasets. This increased transparency can be achieved by publishers in six key ways: (1) understanding researchers’ problems and motivations, by conducting and responding to the findings of surveys; (2) raising awareness of issues and encouraging behavioural and cultural change, by introducing consistent journal policies on sharing research data, code and materials; (3) improving the quality and objectivity of the peer-review process by implementing reporting guidelines and checklists and using technology to identify misconduct; (4) improving scholarly communication infrastructure with journals that publish all scientifically sound research, promoting study registration, partnering with data repositories and providing services that improve data sharing and data curation; (5) increasing incentives for practising open research with data journals and software journals and implementing data citation and badges for transparency; and (6) making research communication more open and accessible, with open-access publishing options, permitting text and data mining and sharing publisher data and metadata and through industry and community collaboration (Hrynaszkiewicz, 2020, Publishers’ Responsibilities in Promoting Data Quality and Reproducibility. Good Research Practice in Non-Clinical Pharmacology and Biomedicine, ISBN: 978-3-030-33655-4).
The DLS, DRI, and Faculty are emphasising managing and sharing data produced in research as mandated by the University of Pretoria’s Research Data Management Policy. Many of the research funders supporting work at the University require that research data are openly available with as few restrictions as possible. The DLS website will guide researchers through various aspects of research data planning and management and will assist in meeting funders’ expectations.
Through its Open Scholarship unit, the DLS carries out the responsibility for ensuring research data management practices and the RDM policy are complied with. It administers the UP’s Research Data Repository
These are a host of reasons why research data management is important:
- Data, e.g., journal articles and books, is a scholarly product,
- Data (especially digital data) is fragile and easily lost,
- There are growing research data requirements imposed by funders and publishers,
- Research data management saves time and resources in the long run,
- Good management helps to prevent errors and increases the quality of your analyses,
- Well-managed and accessible data allows others to validate and replicate findings, and
- Research data management facilitates sharing of research data and, when shared, data can lead to valuable discoveries by others outside of the original research team.
There are also many potential benefits of good research data management for UP researchers, other researchers, and the wider community:
- Efficiency and ease of data control, with reduced risk of data loss,
- Greater visibility of data, leading to increased citations (consider linking to the latest literature sources on data reuse and citation) and future collaborations,
- Demonstration of research integrity and validation of research results,
- Compliance with funders and institutional policy and expectations,
- Greater impact of research through knowledge transfer, and
- Research advances through the reuse of data by researchers around the world.