New Zealand invests over $1.4bn in publicly funded research every year, yet every year we fail to realise the full value of our investment. This is because we don’t connect or coordinate our investments in research data management; we don’t incentivise our researchers to train in digital research methods, and we often struggle to effectively manage the data our researchers produce. Most tellingly, we fail to connect our researchers to decisions in our economy and society that would benefit from better data management. eR2020 proposes that coordinated, sector-wide action on digital research and data can produce both direct and network benefits, and that these benefits can lift the return on the $1.4bn New Zealand invests publicly funded research each year.
We think the timing is right for an integrated national approach to research data. We can see new research leaders emerging, with new skills, in what is an ageing research sector workforce. We also observe that there’s wider economic and social demand for data enablement, higher digital standards for research publication, and that technology costs are falling.
Overall, we think stronger active links for research data to business R&D and public sector decision-making will contribute towards more impactful research, and may lift digital enablement in our society and the economy of New Zealand. This, along with strong support for researcher data skills and better data management in research institutions, can begin to recoup some of the estimated $392m pa of unrealised value of data in the research sector.
This eResearch 2020 Position Paper proposes an economic and strategic case for a programme of change across the research sector aimed at transforming New Zealand researchers’ abilities to work with and create value from data. Overall, eResearch 2020 analysis suggests that an investment of approximately NZ$50m – NZ$70m over a 5-year period in a National Research Data Programme (NRDP) could stimulate up to NZ$392m per annum in unrealised value within the research sector, and make a permanent contribution to GDP over a 15-year period.
Underpinning the proposed Programme is the strategic objective of increasing the quality and impact of New Zealand research output, along with lifting New Zealand researcher participation in an increasingly digital and data-intensive global research environment. The NRDP role would be to identify, evaluate, and execute on those intermediate interventions and activities that cumulatively contribute to this objective. As is the case with a transformative programme of change, we have not scoped all of the different projects or activities that might be required to achieve the goal, rather we are seeking to identify insight into appropriate opportunities for coordinated action at a national level that will have the greatest bearing on the whole Programme objective. Thanks to our work across the sector developing the 2015 discussion document, eResearch Challenges in New Zealand, we’ve learned that a national approach needs to focus on developing excellence in the first steps of the research process, where research methods are employed to collect or create data. Our observations also suggest that structured, professionally managed “data bridges” that actively connect researchers to the users of research data will enable both greater research impact and better, data-informed decision making across multiple sectors in our economy and society.
First Use of New Data
We want the NRDP to focus on the First Use of New Data. We think that focusing on improving the impact of the first use of newly created or collected data will make the biggest contribution towards the objective of more impactful research, as our researchers and institutions are already resourced to deliver these research outputs. A focus on the first use of data might also influence excellence in methods, standards, tools and researcher behaviours at the beginning of the research process and data life cycle, which we think will have flow on effects towards quality and impact across the research system.
Active Data Bridges
A successful Programme needs to create and expand Active Data Bridges between research, industry, and government. We think that a focus on digital bridges to industry and government that allow data to influence and empower decision making will create economic outcomes and social benefits for New Zealand. Well-managed and resourced data bridges for active data (i.e. non-historical data) will better enable data-empowered decision making and better connect our researchers with their digital customers and the users of research data. What’s more, better connections to the customers of research often offers researchers insights that lead to more impactful, applied research outcomes.
The high level initiatives within the proposed Programme might include: