Data sharing requires a “global village.” Ever since the invention of the Web over 30 years ago by Sir Tim Berners-Lee who initially created a mechanism for particle physicists at CERN to communicate, millions of researchers share information via the public Web today. The concept of sharing and re-using high-quality data has permeated the ethos of considerable academic and applied research worldwide. However, with the fragmentation of digital platforms, and proliferation of sensor-based digital content, often collected with minimal regulatory oversight, the data sharing landscape has become murky and complex, posing potential existential risks to basic and applied research.
Researchers could benefit by becoming aware of systemic vulnerabilities of open data currently supplied by governments, such as satellite-based location data from the United States (via the Global Positioning System operated by the U.S. Air Force), and weather data from Japan (via Himawari 8 operated by the Japanese Meteorological Agency). These, along with other key open data, are foundational building blocks to modern research yet are provided through the largesse of governments as a form of soft power.
The motivation for research communities to have a voice in data policy, including data regulation, is arguably more critical than ever. Advancing in the ethos of information sharing in 2020 and beyond requires that we look for and embrace opportunities to have input on emerging data policies and national data legislation. Researchers with experience in data sharing, standards, and best practices, and public policy and governance, may wish to participate in roundtable discussions, meetings, and government submissions. First, however, they need to know that input from research and open data communities is being sought. For example, in Australia, the Office of the National Data Commissioner (co-located in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet), and the Productivity Commission have adopted a consultative approach to the formation of emerging data sharing legislation in 2020. In New Zealand, after considerable community collaboration, the recently published public data principles (December 2019), reflect community priorities to ensure data practices are focused on the wellbeing of people and communities. As an international research community, we arguably have a role to play in ensuring that public policies reflect a robust data culture for a sustainable open data ecosystem that benefits all members of our communities and ultimately, society.