Open Data Transition Report: An Action Plan for the Next Administration

Goal III: Share scientific research data to spur innovation and scientific discovery
Recommendation 21: Establish international standards for collaboration and data sharing, beginning with a pilot in Arctic research
First Year
The White House
Action Plan:
  • • The U.S. Arctic Research Commission should partner with research communities in Canada, Russia, Norway, Denmark, and other relevant countries to establish international standards for data sharing across disciplines and organizations focused on Arctic research by January 2018. This partnership should build on the momentum from the White House Arctic Science Ministerial and serve as a pilot for a larger effort to develop standards for international research.
  • • The Commission should review successful efforts to develop international standards and share interoperable data in the public health fields, for example around Ebola and the Zika virus.
  • • As the Arctic Research Commission successfully establishes new standards, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy should study this effort and others to determine how best to facilitate international data standard development in other research areas as well.

Researchers in most disciplines have not yet come to a consensus on international open data standards in their domains. In fact, for many disciplines, scientists and researchers may use vastly different data structures and protocols even within a single country. Although lack of standardization is just one of many barriers to international data sharing, it represents a significant obstacle to collaboration on some of the world’s most difficult challenges.

In Arctic science, the international research community has an opportunity to solve this problem and create a model for international standard-setting in the process. In September 2016, science ministers from 25 governments met for the first-ever Arctic Science Ministerial to Advance International Research Efforts.  They signed and released a joint statement that charts a “new collective approach in Arctic science” including “Strengthening and Integrating Arctic Observations and Data Sharing.”  

This commitment to collaborate primes the community for the next step—ensuring they can share their data internationally and analyze the data in concert.

In a September 2016 addition to the U.S. Open Government National Action Plan, the White House committed to “increase open scientific collaboration on the Arctic.”  This commitment noted the need for a global approach to Arctic science and cited the Arctic Science Ministerial as a first step to “create a context for increased international and open scientific collaboration on the Arctic over the longer term.” A focus on data standards would be a logical next step in this collaboration.

Building on momentum from the Ministerial, the Arctic Research Commission should partner with stakeholders in key Arctic research countries and look to previous successful efforts to standardize and share international data, such as the World Health Organization norms for sharing data in public health emergencies.  They should also consider new data sharing practices for projects that involved direct collaboration, such as the Centers for Disease Control’s use of GitHub to collect and share data related to the Zika virus. This effort opens Zika virus data from 13 countries, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  

By January 2018, once this collaborative effort on Arctic research has developed international data standards, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy should study this effort and others to identify successful methods and processes for international data sharing. At that time, OSTP should identify another research domain to begin the process of setting international standards. Although sharing research data involves unique considerations for each discipline, the lessons learned can contribute to future efforts across domains.

Additional Reading: