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Opening research data: issues and opportunities

Sue Childs (Department of Information Sciences, Faculty of Engineering & Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK)
Julie McLeod (Department of Information Sciences, Faculty of Engineering & Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK)
Elizabeth Lomas (Department of Information Sciences, Faculty of Engineering & Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK)
Glenda Cook (Faculty of Health & Life Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK)

Records Management Journal

ISSN: 0956-5698

Article publication date: 15 July 2014




This paper aims to explore the issues, the role of research data management (RDM) as a mechanism for implementing open research data and the role and opportunities for records managers. The open data agenda is premised on making as much data as possible open and available. However, in the context of open research data there are methodological, ethical and practical issues with this premise.


Two collaborative research projects focusing on qualitative health data were conducted. “DATUM for Health” designed and delivered a tailored RDM skills training programme for postgraduate research students in health studies. “DATUM in Action” was an action research project between researchers from information sciences, health, mathematics and computing, looking at planning and implementing RDM.


Three key issues emerged about what research data is appropriate to make open/accessible for sharing and reuse: re-using qualitative data conflicts with some of the epistemological and methodological principles of qualitative research; there are ethical concerns about making data obtained from human participants open, which are not completely addressed by consent and anonymisation; many research projects are small scale and the costs of preparing and curating data for open access can outweigh its value. In exploring these issues, the authors advocate the need for effective appraisal skills and researcher-focused RDM with records managers playing a useful role.

Research limitations/implications

The findings come from two small-scale qualitative projects in health studies. Further exploration of these issues is required.

Practical implications

Records managers have new crucial opportunities in the open data and RDM contexts, bringing their expertise and experience in managing a wider range of data and information. They can help realise the benefits of multiple perspectives (researcher, data manager, records manager and archivist) on open research data.

Social implications

Researcher-focused RDM offers a mechanism for implementing open research data.


It raises complex issues around open research data not found in the records management literature, highlights the need for researcher-focussed RDM and research data appraisal skills and a not yet fully recognised role for records managers.



The authors would like to acknowledge the funding support provided by JISC, under the Research Data Management Programme ( and for the DATUM for Health and DATUM in Action projects (


Childs, S., McLeod, J., Lomas, E. and Cook, G. (2014), "Opening research data: issues and opportunities", Records Management Journal, Vol. 24 No. 2, pp. 142-162.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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