Open Science and Research Data Management Policies in the European Union

European Union by Dušan Cvetanović from Pixabay

Research funding bodies establish the conditions for conducting research through so-called science policies. As a member of the European Union, Slovenia is subject to the science policies formulated by the European Research Area (ERA), a common research space that is based on the internal market but is open to the world and enables free circulation of researchers, scientific findings and technology. Within the ERA, specific funding mechanisms such as Horizon Europe, the European Research Council, and Euratom may introduce additional research policies that provide greater detail and specificity.

European Research Area (ERA)

In March 2022, the European Commission adopted the Pact for Research and Innovation in Europe. The Pact defines 10 common values and principles that will guide research and innovation in Europe and its cooperation with the rest of the world. The ERA Common Policy further defines 20 concrete measures that will contribute to the realization of the goals set in the Pact in the period 2022-2024. These measures are:

  1. Implementation of open science, including through the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC);
  2. A draft EU copyright and data legislative framework for research;
  3. A reform of the assessment system for research, researchers and institutions;
  4. Promotion of attractive research careers, talent circulation and mobility;
  5. Promotion of gender equality and fostering inclusivity;
  6. Protection of academic freedom in Europe;
  7. An upgrade of the EU guidance for a better knowledge valorisation;
  8. Strengthening of research infrastructures;
  9. Promotion of international cooperation;
  10. Evolution of EU research and innovation missions and partnerships into key contributors to the ERA;
  11. An ERA for green transformation;
  12. Acceleration of the green/digital transition of Europe’s key industrial ecosystems;
  13. Empowerment of higher education institutions;
  14. Bringing science closer to citizens;
  15. Formation of research and innovation ecosystems to improve excellence and competitiveness;
  16. Improvement of EU-wide access to excellence;
  17. Enhancement of the strategic capacity of public research institutions;
  18. Providing support to the development of EU countries’ national processes for the ERA implementation;
  19. Formation of an ERA monitoring system;
  20. Providing support to research and innovation investments and reforms.

We will take a closer look at the European Union's open science policy, the European Open Science Cloud and the Open Research Europe publishing platform as parts of the ERA common policy.

European Union's Policy on Open Science

Open science is one of the European Commission's key priorities and a fundamental guiding principle in its research and innovation funding programs. The EU's open science policy comprises eight aspects:

  1. Training and skills for practical implementation of open science,
  2. Recognition, promotion and rewards for open science practices,
  3. New-generation metrics and altmetrics,
  4. Open publishing and encouragement of early sharing of research results,
  5. Open data,
  6. Research integrity and reproducibility of scientific findings,
  7. European Open Science Cloud (EOSC),
  8. Citizen science.

The core of these policies across various ERA levels is consolidated in the principle of open access, ensuring that all research findings stemming from publicly funded research are accessible to the public. Open research results include openly accessible peer-reviewed scientific articles, open research data and all other open research results (e.g., methodologies, samples, protocols, software, instruments...).

Open research results should enable both the reproducibility of research and the potential for their reuse in other research endeavors. This can be best achieved through responsible research data management, guided by the principle of »as open as possible, as closed as necessary«. Responsible research data management involves adhering to ethical principles, creating a research data management plan, complying with funders' policies, and considering other relevant interests. The cornerstone of responsible data management lies in adhering to the FAIR principles (Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, Reusability). Consequently, the European Commission mandates that recipients of public funding develop precise and timely research data management plans. To support researchers in embracing the principles of open science, the European Commission has established its own open publishing platform known as Open Research Europe.

Open Research Europe (ORE)

Open Research Europe is an online platform for open publishing and open peer review of scientific works from all research areas within the Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe projects. As the platform is financed by the European Commission, all services provided are completely free of charge for their users. Publications are rapidly released as preprints, and the review process is transparent and open. Even after the completion of the review, comments on the publication remain possible, and authors have the flexibility to upload corrections and updates at any time in the future. This allows for subsequent versions of the scientific work to undergo a new round of the revision process.

For additional information about Open Research Europe, you can refer to the lecture provided by the Open Academy of CTK UL.

European Open Science Cloud (EOSC)

The European Open Science Cloud is an initiative that aims to develop "a network of FAIR data and services" for European science. Currently, access to research data is fragmented, as the data is generated and stored across multiple research institutions and data centers in Europe. Open access to this data is not assured, and the lack of interoperability restricts its potential for reuse.

The European Open Science Cloud aims to address this issue by establishing a digital infrastructure that ensures database interoperability, a unified entry point, and seamless open access to publicly funded research data. This comprehensive digital infrastructure encompasses various aspects, including data visualization, analytics, long-term data storage, and monitoring the adoption of open science practices.

Horizon Europe

Horizon Europe, the ninth key financial program of the European Union dedicated to funding research and innovation, spans from 2021 to 2027. It succeeds the Horizon 2020 program, which already introduced certain obligations for researchers to adopt open science practices. Under Horizon 2020, open access publishing became mandatory, while the sharing of research data and the creation of research data management plans could still be exempted under specific justifiable circumstances.

Under Horizon Europe, the sharing of research data and the creation of research data management plans have also become mandatory, alongside the requirement for open access publishing. While certain exemptions may allow for the closure or restricted access of research data, metadata must always be made openly available. Responsible research data management entails careful planning in advance, adherence to the FAIR principles as well as the principle »as open as possible, as closed as necessary«. Horizon Europe also promotes several recommended open science practices, including project pre-registration, registration reports and publication of preprints.

Within Horizon Europe projects, open science practices are assessed under the criteria of Excellence and Quality and Efficiency of Implementation. However, an exception to this rule applies to European Research Council (ERC) projects, which do not incorporate open science practices as part of the evaluation criteria. For ERC applicants or beneficiaries, separate instructions are provided for the preparation of a research data management and sharing plan.

Key Horizon Europe Documents

Tender documentation and other related documents (including, for example, a template for the data management plan) can be found on the online portal of the European Commission, Funding & Tender Opportunities. The key documents you need to know are:

Commission recommendation (EU) 2018/790 of 25 April 2018 on access to and preservation of scientific information

Commission recommendation (EU) 2018/790 of 25 April 2018 on access to and preservation of scientific information emphasizes the public interest in archiving scientific information and research results. Recognizing the significance of archiving for the future utilisation of research outcomes, member states are advised to establish or enhance policies in this domain.

The Recommendation states that Member States should set and implement clear policies (as detailed in national action plans) for:

  • the dissemination of and open access to scientific publications resulting from publicly funded research,
  • the management of research data resulting from publicly funded research, including open access,
  • reinforcing the preservation and re-use of scientific information (publications, data sets and other research outputs),
  • the necessary skills and competences of researchers and personnel of academic institutions regarding scientific information,
  • further developing infrastructures underpinning the system for access to, preservation, sharing and re-use of scientific information and for promoting their federation within the EOSC,
  • adjusting, with regards to scientific information, the recruitment and career evaluation system for researchers, the evaluation system for awarding research grants to researchers, and the evaluation systems for research performing institutions.

According to the Recommendations, Member States should also:

  • ensure that research funding institutions responsible for managing public research funding and academic institutions receiving public funding implement the policies and national action plans in a coordinated way,
  • ensure synergies among national infrastructures with the EOSC and other global initiatives,
  • participate in multi-stakeholder dialogues on the transition towards open science at national, European and international level,
  • have a national point of reference to coordinate the measures listed in this Recommendation, which would also act as an interlocutor with the European Commission.

Directive (EU) 2019/1024 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on open data and the re-use of public sector information

The Directive (EU) 2019/1024 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on open data and the re-use of public sector information provides a detailed framework for accessing information, as guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. It applies to public sector information, which encompasses data collected, produced, reproduced, and disseminated in the course of public tasks or the provision of services in the public interest. Notably, Article 4 of the Directive's preamble explicitly highlights that this also encompasses data from public enterprises, research organizations, and entities involved in research financing.

Article 27 of the Directive's preamble defines the concept and purpose of open access to research results, including research data:

The volume of research data generated is growing exponentially and has potential for re-use beyond the scientific community. In order to be able to address mounting societal challenges efficiently and in a holistic manner, it has become crucial and urgent to be able to access, blend and re-use data from different sources, as well as across sectors and disciplines. Research data includes statistics, results of experiments, measurements, observations resulting from fieldwork, survey results, interview recordings and images. It also includes meta-data, specifications and other digital objects. Research data is different from scientific articles reporting and commenting on findings resulting from their scientific research. For many years, the open availability and re-usability of scientific research data stemming from public funding has been subject to specific policy initiatives. Open access is understood as the practice of providing online access to research outputs free of charge for the end user and without restrictions on use and re-use beyond the possibility to require acknowledgement of authorship. Open access policies aim in particular to provide researchers and the public at large with access to research data as early as possible in the dissemination process and to facilitate its use and re-use. Open access helps enhance quality, reduce the need for unnecessary duplication of research, speed up scientific progress, combat scientific fraud, and it can overall favour economic growth and innovation. Beside open access, commendable efforts are being made to ensure that data management planning becomes a standard scientific practice and to support the dissemination of research data that are findable, accessible, interoperable and re-usable (the FAIR principle).

Article 28 of the preamble delineates the guidelines for member states to incorporate the provisions of the Directive into their respective legal frameworks:

For the reasons explained above, it is appropriate to set an obligation on Member States to adopt open access policies with respect to publicly funded research data and ensure that such policies are implemented by all research performing organisations and research funding organisations. Research performing organisations and research funding organisations could also be organised as public sector bodies or public undertakings. This Directive applies to such hybrid organisations only in their capacity as research performing organisations and to their research data. Open access policies typically allow for a range of exceptions from making scientific research results openly available. The Commission Recommendation of 25 April 2018 on access to and preservation of scientific information describes, among other things, relevant elements of open access policies. Additionally, the conditions, under which certain research data can be re-used, should be improved. For that reason, certain obligations stemming from this Directive should be extended to research data resulting from scientific research activities subsidised by public funding or co-funded by public and private-sector entities. Under the national open access policies, publicly funded research data should be made open as the default option. However, in this context, concerns in relation to privacy, protection of personal data, confidentiality, national security, legitimate commercial interests, such as trade secrets, and to intellectual property rights of third parties should be duly taken into account, according to the principle ‘as open as possible, as closed as necessary’. Moreover, research data which are excluded from access on grounds of national security, defence or public security should not be covered by this Directive. In order to avoid any administrative burden, obligations stemming from this Directive should apply only to such research data that have already been made publicly available by researchers, research performing organisations or research funding organisations through an institutional or subject-based repository and should not impose extra costs for the retrieval of the datasets or require additional curation of data. Member States may extend the application of this Directive to research data made publicly available through other data infrastructures than repositories, through open access publications, as an attached file to an article, a data paper or a paper in a data journal. Documents other than research data should continue to be exempt from the scope of this Directive.

Article 10 of Chapter 3 (Conditions for re-use) outlines the responsibilities of the European Union Member States concerning open access to research data:

1. Member States shall support the availability of research data by adopting national policies and relevant actions aiming at making publicly funded research data openly available (‘open access policies’), following the principle of ‘open by default’ and compatible with the FAIR principles. In that context, concerns relating to intellectual property rights, personal data protection and confidentiality, security and legitimate commercial interests, shall be taken into account in accordance with the principle of ‘as open as possible, as closed as necessary’. Those open access policies shall be addressed to research performing organisations and research funding organisations.
2. Without prejudice to point (c) of Article 1(2), research data shall be re-usable for commercial or non-commercial purposes in accordance with Chapters III and IV, insofar as they are publicly funded and researchers, research performing organisations or research funding organisations have already made them publicly available through an institutional or subject-based repository. In that context, legitimate commercial interests, knowledge transfer activities and pre-existing intellectual property rights shall be taken into account.

Last update: 8 June 2023

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