Consortium of European Social Science Data Archives



OECD open data reports tackle international research data networks – CESSDA plays its part

Last week, the OECD published two open data reports, the OECD-CODATA report on Business Models for Sustainable Research Data Repositories and the OECD-WDS report on Co-ordination and Support of International Research Data Networks.


Both are aimed at science policy makers, funding agencies and institutions and come as a follow-up to interviews and workshops held throughout the year. They are a part of the OECD Going Digital project, which “will give policymakers the tools they need to help their economies and societies prosper in a world that is increasingly digital and data-driven”.

The first report gives a comprehensive and clear overview of the business models used by and available to research data repositories. It examines the strengths and weaknesses of different business models and provides important insights into how repositories may develop their value propositions for different stakeholders/customers. As such, the report breaks new ground and addresses a significant gap in the world of research data repositories. It aims to help research data repositories, policy makers and other stakeholders better understand issues around income streams, costs, value propositions and business models.

“A key issue to address when working out business models for research data repositories is the “public good” character of research data. Moreover, the costs and returns reside with different parties; the first with repositories, data and service providers, whereas the latter lie with re-users (researchers) or with the ‘science system’ as a whole (so with funders and policy makers). The decision to deliver funding is highly dependent on the perceived value, which although clear for direct users of the data, may be less so for other stakeholders”, stated Simon Hodson, member of CESSDA Scientific Advisory Board and Executive Director of CODATA. Simon Hodson was one of two chairs of an international Expert Group who oversaw the project and the publication.

“It is not enough simply to advocate that data repositories should be funded. We need also to understand how they are funded and the implications of different funding mechanisms, revenue streams and business models. We are witnessing transformations and diversification in the funding of important data repositories. It is essential for policy makers and repository managers to understand the business models available, their strengths and weaknesses and the importance of clearly expressed and well-targeted value propositions”, he added.

Structured interviews were carried out with 48 repository managers from eighteen countries and covering a broad range of research domains. The analysis was concerned with understanding the current funding of data repositories and identifying key revenue sources, finding out whether there any innovative revenue sources are available, and how revenue sources fit together into sustainable business models. Business models were subjected to economic and stakeholder analysis to provide a summary of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as factors that may make a given business model more or less appropriate in different circumstances. Other areas of interest were possible incentives for, and means of, optimising costs and finding out what revenue sources and business models were most acceptable to key stakeholders. Five policy recommendations covering these areas were put forward.

“One important take-away message is that there are economies of scale to be found in encouraging open research data organisations to work together at all levels, national, European and global. This is what CESSDA is about”, highlighted Ron Dekker, Director of CESSDA ERIC.

The second report looks into how to unlock the full potential of international research data networks, focusing on governance and funding, the challenges encountered and the lessons learnt. For this purpose, 32 separate cases of “currently successful networks” were studied. In a first phase, a general survey and structured in-depth interviews were carried out, and in a second, these overall findings led to a 2-day international workshop in Brussels, which was attended by CESSDA.

It identifies the lack of trust and policy coherence between different communities as the main barrier to open sharing of curated research data across geographic borders (and scientific domains).

“Building trust is one of the four key pillars in our strategy for 2018-2022. We focus on three aspects: stakeholder confidence (involving service providers, researchers, governments and research funders), transparency (in how we work) and advocacy (gaining full European coverage and increasing the awareness of curation and reuse)”, stated Ron Dekker.

“When it comes to addressing changing user needs, at CESSDA, we put a lot of effort into standardising metadata (data descriptions) used by our service providers. This is a necessary precondition for the upcoming CESSDA Products and Services Catalogue as well as for developing tools and services. The standardisation of metadata helps ensure that data is findable for data users and is thus the first step for us on our journey to providing FAIR data”, Ron Dekker continued.

“By presenting common challenges and potential solutions, this report lays the path for a shared understanding which is necessary to develop effective and sustainable international data networks. CESSDA is proud to have taken part in both the workshops and the interviews which supported these OECD open data reports”, added Ron Dekker.

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