National Research Data Programme – NRDP

The Proposed NRDP

The goal of the National Research Data Programme is to encourage transformative change in New Zealand researcher and research institutions’ baseline ability to work with data and employ digital methods. The scale and complexity of this goal requires a coordinated approach that can bring together the complexities of technology, skills, policy and partners in a cohesive, durable fashion.

What the Programme would do, the intermediate objectives, is focus on understanding and implementing the necessary infrastructure and underpinning services that support our research efforts (i.e. NSCs) and enable an effective, impactful research system to achieve our strategic science priorities. We expect the NRDP to be structured as a series of distinct, inter-related, whole-of-sector projects, each focused on a particular data objective, and each with a supporting business case. To make progress, we think a cross-sector, Government-led Programme Implementation Office will be the best approach for scoping NRDP projects and delivering coordinated outcomes for New Zealand.

We think we have a window over the next 5 – 7 years to lift digital research capabilities in New Zealand. Acting across this time period will lower the impact of technology change on the Programme, and ensure capacity and investment in the research sector align with the complementary lift in capabilities and standards across Government and the wider economy.

The NRDP is proposed as an intervention with limited goals, and a limited life-span, as means of addressing the scale of the challenge and the need for coordination. This is particularly relevant given current Government focus on New Zealand’s data future, the role of data in managing our national assets (e.g. infrastructure, or archives) and the ability of the public services to transform into digital enterprises.

As a programme of activity, the proposed Programme needs to operate against a set of intermediate outcomes that support achievement of the goal. For the New Zealand research system, we think an implemented National Research Data Programme could:

  • Enable higher quality research through a lift in the standards of research, in particular increasing the sophistication and competence in data intensive and digital methods of research, leading to:
    • Better use of the resources and data available to them;
    • Greater collaboration and access to larger scale resources, and
  • Increased participation in internationally funded research.
  • Create stronger links between research, government, and industry, to support social and economic development and public sector activities, and in particular contribute to the impact of the National Science Challenges.
  • Elevate NZ research sector participation in international / world class research and publishing, and encourage the leaders of our research institutions to engage with global trends in technology driven research.
  • Move our research sector beyond funding limited scope projects, towards developing a national capability to sustain a stock of knowledge.

Research Data Programme Focus

FIGURE 8.

PROGRAMME OUTCOMES.THE HIGH LEVEL INITIATIVES WITHIN THE PROPOSED PROGRAMME MIGHT INCLUDE

  1. In order to maximise returns on current investment and opportunities, focus intervention on active research data, and in particular on the first use of new data, as these activities are already supported in the fully-funded science system and will deliver the fastest payback. Interventions in these areas might include:
    a. Operational support for cross-institutional, research-discipline specific tools and standards for researchers collaborating for data design and meta-data development.
    b. Provision of a national facility for research meta-data to make data discoverable.
    c. Policy changes that incentivise participation in ICT intensive research collaborations, reduce research duplication, and allow institutions to properly value their investments in research data.
  2. Develop active data bridges between industry, government, and the research sector that allow data to be shared in a trusted, reliable manner. Identify and actively support and extend those that already exist.
  3. Provide training and professional development to allow data intensive discovery methods to expand into a wider range of research disciplines.
  4. Rework the Nationally Significant Databases, currently cared for by the Crown Research Institutes, into an open, well-managed network of research data that can set the standard for New Zealand research data.

A Multi-Year Programme

Changing researcher behaviour and implementing national programmes are not simple challenges, but we think these goals are worth striving for. Change management is a process that takes time, and bedding in professional development and new skills requires persistence, thus our proposal of a multi-year programme approach. We don’t yet know exactly what we need to do, or what each project in a national programme might be, but we believe we need to get started, and we can see momentum building and clarity forming on key early steps.

What happens if we do nothing? If we wait 5 or 10 years, will these changes occur on their own? A quick look back at the last 5 to 10 years suggests not. Unfortunately, in the absence of national goals, the New Zealand research sector tends towards entropy rather than cohesion. The line between competitive tension and collaborative outcomes is seldom clear in research, and this limits our ability to achieve coordinated solutions at economic scale without a national approach. It’s fair to say that technology adoption over the last decade has been patchy at best, ignored at worst. We can take heart that we are not alone in this situation – the EU will soon launch a €6bn research infrastructure programme to tackle exactly the same interoperability, fragmentation, and coordination issues we have outlined as challenges for New Zealand. We know that cross-sector leadership can make a difference – our institutions already collaborate on super-computing and genomics, operating centres of research excellence, (and in lobbying Government). This makes it all the more regrettable that the majority of our researchers continue to make do with high-speed network links to their street corner rather than to their fingertips, patchy standards and systems for sharing and managing research data, and few opportunities to scale their research goals or join their data to that of their colleagues.

Our collective experience and observation so far suggests that without a national-level approach to data similar to that seen in other OECD nations, we risk our research system fragmenting further and our research spending delivering less and less value over time. We also weaken the ability of our research institutions to win international research funding, attract international students, and participate in the global digital economy.

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