In many disciplines, funding agencies are expecting researchers to share their research data as a part of their research practice. While data sharing has benefits and can mobilize continued research, researchers are legally and ethically obligated to prevent accidental disclosure of sensitive information.

Researchers’ attitudes towards sharing data may vary. It is important to understand the process of data sharing and develop a thoughtful plan describing how and why to share data. The following section offers some basic guidance on sharing and securing data.

    • The consent form acts as a contract between the researcher and the subject. The researcher must clearly outline the steps to protect a subject’s identity and inform the subject as to how the data will be released (if at all).  If the researcher intends to release the data, clearly describe these details in the consent form. For example, “De-identifiable data may be used for future research studies or distributed to another investigator for future research.”
    • Encrypt all confidential information to keep sensitive information inaccessible from prying eyes. Encryption encodes information and permits only authorized parties to access the data. Encryption cannot prevent interference, but it denies unauthorized individuals access to the content.
    • Mendeley Data is a certified, cloud-based, free-to-use repository that hosts open data in all formats and from all disciplines. Researchers can upload and store data (e.g., raw or processed data) in the repository. The data will then receive a “Digital Object Identifier” (DOI), making it independently citable and discoverable with a persistent link. Explore repositories and determine the option that best fits the research.
    • Several peer-reviewed journals will allow researchers to submit research data together with their manuscript using an online submission system. Researchers can cite their research data and get credit for their work.
    • Though highly accessible and convenient, unauthorized use of USB storage devices could result in lost data or a confidentiality breech. Keep all storage devices secure and ensure the information on them does not breach subject confidentiality.
    • Initiate an action plan if there is a data breach. Act swiftly to resolve the issue and seek support from technology staff or IRB administrators. When creating an action plan, articulate the value of data and talk through the technologies, policies, and strategies for storing, securing, and sharing data.
    • Researchers will often be expected to define the purpose of the research, explain the methods of data collection, and indicate any caveats about the data. For example, researchers may have to  list data sources or indicate the best use for the data. Clearly documenting the data will make it easier for others to understand its content.

Data sharing can help researchers build upon the work of others and avoid redundancy. Sharing data allows for reproducibility of experiments and results, a foundation of scientific inquiry. It encourages collaboration between researchers, and better collaboration can improve decision-making. Understanding the process of data sharing and developing a thoughtful security plan builds and reinforces a strong research community.