A National Research Data Service for the UK?
I attended the A National Research Data Service for the UK? meeting at the Royal Society in London last week and my live-blogged notes are available for those who want more detail. Chris Rusbridge also blogged the day on the Digital Curation Blog - session 1, session 2, session 3 and session 4. FWIW, I think that Chris's posts are more comprehensive and better than my live-blogged notes.
The day was both interesting and somewhat disappointing...
Interesting primarily because of the obvious political tension in the room (which I characterised on Twitter as a potential bun-fight between librarians and the rest but which in fact is probably better summed up as a lack of shared agreement around centralist (discipline-based) solutions vs. institutional solutions).
Disappointing because the day struck me more as a way of presenting a done-deal than as a real opportunity for debate.
The other thing that I found annoying was the constant parroting of the view that "researchers want to share their data openly" as though this is an obvious position. The uncomfortable fact is that even the UKRDS report's own figures suggest that less than half (43%) of those surveyed "expressed the need to access other researchers' data" - my assumption therefore is that the proportion currently willing to share their data openly will be much smaller.
Don't take this as a vote against open access, something that I'm very much in favour of. But, as we've found with eprint archives, a top-down "thou shalt deposit because it is good for you" approach doesn't cut it with researchers - it doesn't result in cultural change. Much better to look for, and actively support, those areas where open sharing of data occurs naturally within a community or discipline, thus demonstrating its value to others.
That said, a much more fundamental problem facing the provision of collaborative services to the research community is that funding happens nationally but research happens globally (or at least across geographic/funding boundaries) - institutions are largely irrelevant whichever way you look at it [except possibly as an agent of long term preservation - added 6 March 2009]. Resolving that tension seems paramount to me though I have no suggestions as to how it can be done. It does strike me however that shared discipline-based services come closer to the realities of the research world than do institutional services.