Professionalising data stewardship with competences, training and education

As part of the National Programme Open Science (NPOS), the 'Professionalising data stewardship in the Netherlands' report was recently published. This report provides arguments for urgent decisions and activities to ensure adequate data steward capacity in the Netherlands, in order to realise the ambitions for Open Science.

How are Open Science and FAIR data connected?

The Dutch National Programme Open Science (NPOS) has defined 3 key areas:

  • Open Access: making all research output (articles etc.) accessible for everyone without costs
  • FAIR data: making all research data FAIR: Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable
  • citizen science: promoting the involvement of citizens in science programmes

Within the key area of ‘FAIR data’ the current report focuses on the people who can help to turn FAIR data into reality - namely data stewards.

What is a data steward?

Data stewardship is a catch-all term for numerous support functions, roles and activities with respect to creating, maintaining and using research data. The core responsibilities and tasks vary from policy advising and consultancy, to operational, and technical, ICT-related tasks. Unfortunately, a data steward is not yet uniformly defined as most descriptions originate from the fast evolving landscape of Open Science, research data management and FAIR data, and thus share its newness and fuzziness.

In this report data stewardship is defined as 'the responsible planning and executing of all actions on digital data before, during and after a research project, with the aim of optimising the usability, reusability and reproducibility of the resulting data' (definition put forward by DTL).

Why do we need more data stewards?

In the past years it has become clear that there is a large need for and shortage of individuals with data stewardship expertise. Furthermore, a lack of formal education and training, a lack of awareness and recognition amongst researchers and the absence of a coordinated approach all hamper the professionalisation and expansion of this profession.

How many data stewards do we need where in the organisation and with what competences?

Each research-performing institute should ask these questions. This report helps to build the foundation to answer them. It provides an overview of the current situation of data stewardship in the Netherlands. It gives specific recommendations to multiple stakeholders, so that they can move forward with advancing FAIR data stewardship in their organisation. Furthermore, it draws attention to the urgent need for nationally coordinated implementation.

What next steps can organisations take?

In the report it is recommended that:

  • the defined data stewardship and research software engineer competences will be consolidated and implemented
  • the corresponding job profiles should be formalised via national job classification systems
  • tailored training programmes matching the required competences should be defined, developed and delivered
  • a data steward skills tool should be built, which then serves as a single point of reference for up-to-date information on competences, job profiles, and training opportunities, and allows for (self-)assessment and identification of career development options

The recommendations in the report are specifically tailored to the following stakeholders in the Netherlands:

  • local research organisations, such as universities, university medical centres, universities of applied sciences, and their board members, deans and HR managers
  • umbrella organisations, such as VSNU, NFU and VH and similar representative organisations
  • research-funding organisations, such as ZonMw and NWO
  • representatives of the researcher communities, such as PNN, the networking organisation for PhD candidates, and the local Open Science communities
  • service-providing, networking and training organisations, such as DTL, SURF, LCRDM, Health-RI, and RDNL

Over 30 representatives from numerous organisations participated and endorse the report

The NPOS-F project team consisted of over 30 representatives of multiple Dutch universities, university medical centres, universities of applied sciences and service providers. In addition, major stakeholders speaking for diverse organisations such as VSNU, VH, NFU, PNN, SURF and ZonMw were involved in this project. Thanks to active involvement of these partners and the practical applicability of the recommendations, the team is convinced that the necessary decisions and activities to ensure adequate data steward capacity in the Netherlands will be implemented in the near future.

NPOS, ZonMw, Open Science and FAIR data

This end report of the NPOS-F project team ‘Professionalising data stewardship’ is part of the NPOS FAIR data programme line. Authors of the report are representatives of DTL (Dutch Techcentre for Lifesciences), DANS (Data Archiving and Networked Services), Maastricht University, GO FAIR Foundation, ZonMw and LCRDM (National Coordination Point Research Data Management).

ZonMw aims at improving the scientific and social impact of research output, including research data. To gain impact from research data, one must be able to reuse them for verification of research findings, or for future research. To this end, ZonMw requires researchers to perform research data management and stewardship (RDM), and to share their data to contribute to future, innovative research. ZonMw’s procedures for RDM aim at creating data that are findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR), and high quality research projects.

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