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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

South Africa moving toward open data

Eve Gray, A policy workshop on access to data, Gray Area, October 9, 2007.  Excerpt:

On 27 and 28 September, the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) convened a high-level two-day workshop on access to research data. The workshop was designed to address what South Africa's response should be in relation to the OECD Declaration, Principles and Guidelines on Access to Research Data from Publicly Funded Research. A hint as to why this workshop was being convened now came from a press cutting included in the conference pack, reporting that South Africa is being considered as an additional member of the OECD, something that would be a major boost to the country if it were to come about. Another reason was mentioned by Owen Njamela, from the Chief Directorate, R&D Investments at the DST: that in the last few months the DST has announced a considerable increase in its strategic R&D targets for the next decade as a way of increasing the country's international competitiveness. This means that the number of postgraduate degrees and the levels of research output will need to grow radically in the next decade. It was good to see these targets being linked to open approaches to knowledge and information sharing, in contrast to the restrictive and lock-down approach of the Draft Bill on IPR for Publicly Funded Research published for comment a few months ago (see my blog entry of 13 July 2007). What the workshop was after, Njamela said, was to establish what it would take to create a really effective data sharing system in South Africa.

Because I see this as an important event, I am going to blog in this post the key outcomes, decisions and forward planning that...emerged from the workshop and then provide, here and on the OpeningScholarship project blog additional postings on the keynote speeches and the presentations from local speakers, as well as some South African case studies. Keynote speeches were by Paul Uhlir of the US National Academies of Science and CODATA, Bernard Minter, Chair of the World Data Centre System at ICSU and Professor of Geophysics at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, University of California San Diego and Beatriz Torres, Programme Officer from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

The key understanding that emerged from the workshop was that, although there are a number of legitimate limitations on openness when it comes to research data – such as official secrets, personal privacy and the proprietary rights of private sector research – the default option, as spelled out by the OECD Guidelines, should be for open access and restrictions should be the exception and not the rule, only invoked with good reason. This is particularly important when data has been developed from publicly funded research. While locking up data in proprietary systems increases the fragmentation and cost and can become a barrier to the conduct of science, the keynote speakers argued that open access makes data available for use across disciplines and countries, allows for automated knowledge discovery, improves the potential for verification and accuracy and facilitates North-South and South-South transfer....

As the ASSAf Report on Scholarly Publishing in South Africa made clear, South Africa needs to increase its research visibility, needs to grow its output of high-quality publications and attract a younger cohort of scholars. And, as the ASSAf programme grows the output of local journals, I argued in my presentation that there need to be links between scholarly publications and underlying data sets if the maximum benefits are to be gained from research investment. Looking forward, the trends are towards greater interactivity between scientific journal articles and the underlying data, for collaboratories and virtual workspaces, for the additional layers of interpretation that can be offered by semantically-rich XML documents, and for automated analysis, abstraction and correlation of data. Open Access makes this much easier....

Also see Eve's post to Opening Scholarship on the same meeting, DST Workshop On National Access To Research Data – The South African Perspective, October 9, 2007