Balance between transparency and data security highlighted in new report

Published on 15 May 2024

Experts at the University of Dundee have completed a comprehensive review of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) data policy, shedding light on the evolving landscape of research data management and sharing.

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The project was overseen by a team led by Professor Angela Daly from the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science with Alistair Geddes, Maeve Malone, Niamh Nic Daeid, Lucille Tetley-Brown, Paul Allanson and Awais Elah.

The findings offer valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities facing social science research in an era of rapid digital transformation.

The review, commissioned by the ESRC, aims to address critical questions surrounding research data policies in the social sciences and their alignment with contemporary practices, legal frameworks, and policy agendas. Key findings emphasise the importance of adapting data policies to accommodate diverse methodologies, disciplines, and data types while upholding principles of openness, reproducibility, and ethical integrity.

One of the central recommendations of the review is the retention of the ESRC's mandate for data deposit as a default practice, ensuring that research data funded by tax is made openly available for the benefit of society at the end of any research projects. However, the report also highlights the need for nuanced approaches to data sharing, recognising the varying sensitivities of different data and the financial support required to prepare data for sharing.

Professor Daly is a prominent figure in the field of digital rights and data governance.

She said, "Our review underscores the importance of striking a balance between openness and data security, recognising that not all data can or should be made fully open. By advocating for a 'tiers of sensitivity' approach, we aim to foster a more nuanced understanding of data sharing practices.” 

In addition to specific policy recommendations, the review emphasises the importance of cross-disciplinary research into the legal and ethical dimensions of data sharing and even urging ESRC to launch a consultation on the definition of ‘data’. 

The report also advocates for greater coherence among research council data policies, recognising the collaborative nature of social science research funding across different councils within UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The full report is available to read here.

Notes to editors

About the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science, University of Dundee:

The Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science is a leading interdisciplinary research centre dedicated to advancing the science and practice of forensic science. Led by Professor Niamh Nic Daeid, the centre conducts cutting-edge research across disciplines in forensic science.