Researcher views on Open Data and collaboration amid COVID: State of Open Data (Dec 2020)

Importance of data management image

New report highlights key data management trends.

The 2020 State of Open Data Report looks closely at how researchers from around the globe — of all experience levels — view pressing topics related to data management, data sharing and the impact of COVID-19.

The report explores trends in collaboration, open data’s link to funding, and how data should be shared and managed.

As scientists and institutions forge ahead through an altered research landscape, it’s crucial to take stock of researchers’ evolving approach to professional practices. This report is a unique view from the front lines.

In 2020, researchers and research institutions were unsettled by the rise COVID-19, which dismantled routines, access to physical spaces, and financial equilibrium.

How, then, do researchers themselves view the topics of data, collaboration and funding, especially when factoring in the impact of COVID-19, and how do they see their own work changing in 2021?

What is the State of Open Data 2020?

The State of Open Data report is a longitudinal survey and analysis conducted by Springer Nature, data repository Figshare and research technology company Digital Science. The 2020 report marked the fifth year of the survey, which focused on topics such as open data, research transparency, funding, collaboration and the impact of COVID-19.

Why this report matters

The longitudinal nature of the study offers a consistent approach that helps distinguish genuine shifts in opinion from more opaque variance that can result from brief alterations in the research ecosystem.

Grace Baynes, Vice President, Research Data for Springer Nature, explained how this structure helps solidify a knowledge base, and expand on subtler areas of interest: “We’re now in our fifth year, so we have five years of longitudinal data. We ask some of the same questions every year so we can track changes in attitudes, in knowledge year on year, and then each year we introduce special topics and refine as we learn more and as new questions come up.”

The size of the survey is also important. With more than 4,500 respondents from around the world, it’s one of the largest surveys of its kind. Its wide breadth of researcher experience, background and locality represents a truly diverse range of scientific voices.

Annual updates let the survey team tailor questions to topics that are particularly urgent and timely — such as responses to COVID-19.

Key takeaways

COVID-19 impacted everyone

Across all career stages and fields, researchers’ work was dramatically affected by COVID-19. Thirty-three percent of early career researchers reported being either very or extremely impacted, meaning they couldn’t do any or most of their work. That figure was the highest of any group. Mid-career and senior researchers also reported a high level of disruption due to COVID. Overall, 90% reported that their research had been affected to some extent.

Conflicted collaboration

When asked about COVID’s effect on collaboration, the results were mixed. While 35% of respondents expect to see it increase, 20% of early career researchers felt that there would be less collaboration due to COVID. This could reflect the fact that for early career researchers, their most likely site for collaboration — their own research institution — has become less accessible in light of the physical restrictions in place for much of the year.

Data reuse is on the rise

Fifty-eight percent of respondents were already reusing their own data before the pandemic, and 44% were using openly shared data from other researchers. Forty-nine percent of respondents claim they are likely to reuse others’ data now that COVID-19 has impinged on traditional lab work, signifying a growing openness to share and employ open data.

These responses are significant. Data sharing strengthens the trustworthiness of the research, and for institutions whose reputations depend on the accuracy and efficacy of the data they support, committing to openly shared data could soon be an investment in integrity.

Data sharing seems poised to grow, but incentivizing it will also be a factor for researchers who are concerned that it’s more work without clear reward.

Baynes reinforced this point: “We see indicators that researchers are keen to make data sharing the norm, such as their views on funder mandates. At the same time we know from other questions we asked that they do not think they get sufficient credit for sharing with just 15% thinking they currently get sufficient credit.”

Open Data and funding could become more intertwined

Another trend worth watching is whether funders will require sharing research data when awarding grants. Fifty-five percent of researchers answered yes when asked if making data available should be a requirement for funding. The majority of early career researchers, 62%, responded yes, the highest rate of any group.

Indeed, more than 50% of respondents in each group believe funding should be withheld from researchers who don’t share their data, if the funder mandated them do so at the application stage. Three-quarters of respondents claimed to support some sort of mandate to make research data openly available.

In short, funders are starting to expect more in terms of open science, and researchers are supportive of this type of mandate. This, along with other findings, is a strong indicator of the value researchers are putting on data.

Interest in data management is on the rise

Another topic of increased relevance is data management. Forty-four percent of researchers report they have a data management plan for most if not all of the research they carry out. That number represents a dramatic increase from 2018, when that number was just 24%.

As data management has become a higher priority for researchers, so too has interest in data management skills training, in areas such as understanding and defining policy, long-term storage, and costing and budget planning.


If there is a prevailing theme of the 2020 State of Open Data report, it’s a growing belief in the value of shared research data. As researchers — particularly in the early career phase — see the benefits of increased transparency and availability of information, open science practice will benefit from better data use.

This desire for increased transparency and access to data should push institutions to prioritize the data management needs of their researchers. This can be initiated in two ways: by supporting researchers with data management training and resources, and by crafting a data sharing policy that encourages sharing and increases reproducibility.

And finally, the rapid development of a vaccine for COVID-19 exemplified how impactful global collaboration enabled by open research truly is. Despite heavily affecting research, 2020 demonstrated the benefits of open science, notably data sharing, to the public and to the scientific community. This report reflects a growing desire to expand how data is shared and used.

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