Data sharing requirements

As a researcher you may need to meet specific requirements to share your data and/or publications publicly and/or with your research community.


Research funders routinely have expectations and specific requirements regarding data sharing.  The Digital Curation Centre (DCC) provides an overview of major funders’ data policies including data sharing requirements, and SHERPA JULIET provides a searchable international database of funders' open access and archiving requirements.


Some publishers, e.g. the Nature Publishing Group, require authors to make data available as a condition of publishing. There is also a growing trend to link publications to the datasets which underpin the findings.

Freedom of Information

Under the Freedom of Information Act research data can be requested.

Examples of high profile cases include the request for climate data from University of East Anglia and for tree-ring data from Queens University Belfast. (For information and commentary on the latter, see the Times Higher Education supplement "Research intelligence - Request hits a raw spot" (15 July 2010)).

It's easier to meet access requests if your data are organised and well-documented, so plan early.

Issues of intellectual property rights, commercial potential or of privacy can all affect whether you can or should share your data.
Sensitive and confidential data can, however, often be shared ethically if informed consent for data sharing has been given, subjects' identities are anonymised (if needed) or consideration is given to access restrictions.
These measures should be planned from the beginning of your research to ensure that you are not limiting future opportunities to share your data.

The UK Data Archive has an excellent guide on consent, confidentiality and ethics as part of their Managing and Sharing Data guidepdf, and they provide brief Guidance on Anonymisation.

Case study – FoI research data request

“Tobacco company makes freedom of information request for university’s research”

A Scottish university may be forced to hand over detailed research into teenage smoking to a cigarette manufacturer after failing to block a request it made under freedom of information legislation.

Gerard Hastings, director of the Centre for Tobacco Control at the University of Stirling, said that such an outcome would be “catastrophic” and would have enormous implications for academic freedom.

Philip Morris International, one of the world’s largest tobacco companies, has submitted a series of freedom of information requests to get access to the Stirling centre’s research into the smoking behaviour of British teenagers.

The university has resisted the requests…

Responses to this issue:

  • “The information and data resulting from research should be presented in a transparent and free access to all who wish to know them. If the data are misused by third parties in a distorted way or unfairly to favor whoever it is, it's up to those who detect such use to denounce it publicly.”
    Jorge C. Barbosa-Leite, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology, Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro - UNIRIO
  • The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI), which was intended to increase transparency and accountability in the public sector, is having some unintended consequences. It was recently reported that a tobacco company is using the FOI to compel a university to give them access to detailed research results, despite the researchers' judgement that this was inappropriate. We have encountered what could be described as a mirror-image of the situation in Stirling University - that of researchers using the FOI to compel hospitals to give them data, in order to further their research. On three occasions in recent years, we have received FOI 'requests', where the questions and the source strongly suggested that the purpose was to generate information for scientific research and publication.
    This is a worrying development, and raises interesting questions of ethics, professionalism and research governance. Usually, provision of information for someone else's research is voluntary. You can assess the value of the project, and the time and resources available. If information is provided, the researcher normally thanks the contributors in any subsequent report. Now, by using the FOI, researchers can legally compel other clinicians to provide data for them, even if the project is scientifically worthless, or the clinicians have other priorities.
    Aodhan S. Breathnach, Consultant Microbiologist, Peter A. Riley and Timothy D. Planche, St George's Healthcare NHS Trust, London SW17 0QT