Data Openness Does Not Guarantee Public Trust

According to a report released by Research Councils UK (RCUK) open access to data does no guarantee trust in research:

Access to data does not necessarily help to build trust in research, finds a new study into the public perceptions of open data released today, 21st June, by Research Councils UK (RCUK). Instead the public had mixed views as to whether trust could be built by opening up data or whether trust could be undermined if confusion was caused by multiple interpretations of the same data.

The report from the public dialogue on open data, which was commissioned by RCUK in partnership with JISC, the Royal Society and Sciencewise-ERC, aimed to engage the public with issues around open data to potentially inform future policies in this area.

Chair of the steering group which oversaw the study, Dr Steven Hill commented: “This dialogue exercise has demonstrated that it is possible to engage the public on research policy and draw useful conclusions. The people involved in this dialogue demonstrated a subtle appreciation of the issues at play. Although a small scale study, this work suggests that the public could play a part in such research policy discussions in future.”

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science commented: “This report demonstrates why it’s so important to engage the public in policy development and shows a clear understanding of the issues surrounding use of research data. It will make an important contribution to the work being done by government, research funding bodies and other organisations on opening up access to research findings.”

Other findings from the study include:

  • Though supportive in principle, the public have a nuanced view about data openness. The extent to which data should be made available depends on the funder of research and the public interest in the topic, particularly concerning health outcomes. It also needs to be balanced with costs (including time of researchers).
  • Data openness does not in itself guarantee trust; part of a trustworthy system, but not the sole requirement
  • Governance of research data is of interest to the public with interesting models being suggested including a ‘tiered approach’ driven by a public interest test.

The study supports the current RCUK data policy as being broadly in line with public expectations.

For further information on the report please visit the RCUK Press Release here: