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Q&A: Wellcome Trust policy on data management and sharing

1. What is the Trust's data management and sharing policy?

The Trust's position statement on data management and sharing states our expectation that the researchers we fund should maximise the availability of research data with as few restrictions as possible. It highlights the need for all researchers to plan at the proposal stage how they will manage and share their data, and specifies the conditions under which the Trust will require applicants to provide a data management and sharing plan. It also emphasises our commitment to work with others to foster the culture and resources needed to maximise the value of research data.

2. Why has the Trust taken this position?

The Wellcome Trust is committed to ensuring that the outputs of its funded activities, including both research papers and research data, are used in a way that maximises public benefit. For many years, the Trust has taken a leading role in making key research datasets widely available to the international research community - including through brokering consensus documents such as the Fort Lauderdale Principles in 2003. Our long-standing commitment to maximising the value of research data resulting from our funding is highlighted in our Strategic Plan 2010-20.

3. How does this policy relate to the Trust's work on open access publishing?

This policy statement is complementary to the Trust's position statement in support of open and unrestricted access to published research and represents a natural progression of this work. Indeed, the Trust's long-term aim is to support greater online integration between research literature and the data on which it is based.

4. What are the benefits of sharing research data?

Sharing research data in a timely and responsible manner can greatly enhance the research enterprise - enabling other researchers to verify and build upon key findings. Disciplines throughout the life sciences are generating ever more vast and complex datasets, which have value in addressing research questions beyond those being examined by the data generators. Through integrating and analysing multiple and diverse datasets, researchers are able to generate vital new insights. Encouraging a culture of data sharing will also help to enhance the efficiency and quality of data management in the scientific community, while reducing potential duplication of effort.

5. To which researchers does this policy apply?

It is relevant to all those in receipt of, or applying for funding from the Wellcome Trust. We believe it is good research practice for all researchers to maximise opportunities for timely and responsible data sharing and to consider at the research proposal stage how they will manage and share the data they will generate. We also expect the researchers we support, including both data generators and data users, to act with integrity and transparency in managing and sharing data.

As noted below, applicants need only submit a data management and sharing plan if they are seeking funding via the Trust's biomedical sciences or medical humanities funding streams, and their research is likely to generate data that will significant value as a resource for other researchers.

6. In what circumstances will a data management and sharing plan be required as part of an application?

All applicants should refer to the Trust's guidance on developing a data management and sharing plan.

Applicants for funding through the Trust's biomedical sciences and medical humanities funding streams will be asked to submit a data management and sharing plan where their proposal will generate data outputs that could form a resource of significant value to the wider research community. This would include:

  • all applications where a primary goal is to create a database resource
  • any applications that might generate a 'community resource' as defined by the Fort Lauderdale and Toronto statements
  • other proposals generating large-scale or other high-value data outputs with clear utility to research questions beyond those the data generators are seeking to address.

Researchers generating smaller-scale and limited data outputs are not required to submit a data management and sharing plan, but are nonetheless expected to consider their approach and adopt best practice.

7. How does this policy apply if I am funded via the Trust's Technology Transfer or Public Engagement schemes?

Typically the outputs of these funded activities differ from those undertaken by researchers in biomedical sciences and medical humanities.

For Translation Awards the proposed management of the data generated in the award, including the appropriate exploitation of the intellectual property to ensure health benefit, will be assessed as an integral part of the application process without the need for a separate data management plan.

For Public Engagement awards the Trust requests broader information on the dissemination of the outputs that arise.

8. What should a data management and sharing plan include?

Applicants should refer to the guidance on developing a data management and sharing plan on the Trust's website.

As described in this guidance, data sharing plans should address seven key questions as clearly and concisely as possible:

i. What data outputs will your research generate and what data will have value to other researchers?
ii. When will you share the data?
iii. Where will you make the data available?
iv. How will other researchers be able to access the data?
v. Are any limits to data sharing required – for example, to either safeguard research participants or to gain appropriate intellectual property protection?
vi. How will you ensure that key datasets are preserved to ensure their long-term value?
vii. What resources will you require to deliver your plan?

9. How are plans assessed? What criteria are they judged against?

Data management and sharing plans are considered by referees, Committee members and Trust staff as an integral part of the peer review process. Reviewers are asked to consider whether the proposed approach will ensure that the public benefit resulting from the research is maximised.

The timing and nature in which it is appropriate to share data will vary depending on the nature of the research and the type of data involved. For example, projects involving the generation of genetic sequence or protein structure data raise very different issues from those involving large-scale epidemiological data. Data management and sharing plans are therefore considered on a case-by-case basis.

In situations where the Trust feels a plan is required but is not provided by the applicant, the applicant will be asked to provide a plan in order for the application to proceed. In situations where a data management and sharing plan is felt by a Committee to be inappropriate or insufficient, applicants may be asked to revise their plan before a funding decision is made.

10. Will the Trust provide funding for data sharing activities associated with grants?

The Trust considers that timely and appropriate data management and sharing should represent an integral component of the research process. Applicants may therefore include any costs associated with their proposed approach as part of their proposal.

11. How quickly does the Trust expect researchers to release data?

Our expectations are detailed in our guidance on developing a data management and sharing plan.

12. How can the policy be balanced against the need to safeguard research participants or the need to protect intellectual property?

The Trust recognises that, in some circumstances, delays or limits on data sharing may be necessary and appropriate - for example, to safeguard research participants or to gain intellectual property protection. Our expectations are outlined in more detail in our guidance on developing a data management and sharing plan

13. What support does the Trust provide for the development and maintenance of databases and other research resources?

The Trust has made a major funding commitment to develop and maintain key data resources, both through its support of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and its grant funding programmes. This has included, for example, several major awards to support the development of key databases at the EMBL European Bioinformatics Institute on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus.

14. How will the Trust foster data management and sharing throughout the award process?

As described above, where they are required, data management and sharing plans will be reviewed as an integral part of the application process.

Following award, we seek to maintain active ongoing dialogue with our grant holders and provide ongoing advice and support. Grant holders should contact the Trust at any time if there are any issues relating to data sharing they wish to discuss.

All awardees are asked to report back to the Trust on their approach for disseminating their research as part of their end of grant report.

15. What other work does the Trust undertake to promote data sharing?

The Trust is working with others to foster an environment that enables data sharing - this includes supporting key resources and ensuring that those who generate and share data receive due recognition for their efforts.

The Trust recognises that different data types raise very different challenges for data sharing, and that different research fields are at very different stages in terms of developing the resources, systems and culture to enable data sharing. The Trust is working in partnership with different communities to develop best practice principles for data sharing in specific fields, including public health and epidemiology research and large-scale genetics research. As this work progresses, we will supplement our guidance to provide examples of good practice in different areas.

16. How does the Trust's policy compare to those of other biomedical funding agencies?

There is a strong consensus between major life science research funders on these issues. Several other funding agencies have developed data sharing policies that seek to encourage their funded researchers to share data in a timely and responsible manner. For example, the UK Medical Research Council, US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the NCRI Cancer Informatics Initiative have released policy statements on these issues.

These policies closely reflect the Trust's position statement in terms of promoting data management and sharing in a way that maximises the public benefit resulting from the research. The policies differ slightly in the circumstances under which applicants are required to address data sharing in their application. At this stage, the Trust has opted to only require applicants to provide plans where their proposal involves the generation of datasets that could be shared for added benefit.

17. What are the responsibilities of researchers and others who access and use data?

In addition to the responsibilities of those generating data, the Trust believes that data sharing for the benefit of the research community as a whole will only proceed if those using the data also adopt good research practice. In recognition of the contribution of the researchers and teams generating data, the Trust expects all users of data to acknowledge the sources of their data and abide by the terms and conditions under which they accessed the original data.

18. How will the Trust act when its funded research fail to adopt good practice?

In situations where members of the research community feel that Trust-funded researchers are not sharing data in a manner that reflects best practice, you may contact the Trust with these concerns. The Trust has a range of possible sanctions it will consider if such concerns are felt to be justified.

19. What if I have a question not answered here?

For further information and other queries please contact Anne Taylor, Central Services Manager: a.taylor@wellcome.ac.uk.

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