NSF policy on dissemination and sharing of research results

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has released its revised policy on Dissemination and Sharing of Research Results.

Starting January 18, 2011, NSF grant proposals must include a data management plan to describe “how the proposal will conform to NSF policy on the dissemination and sharing of research results.”  Data management plans will be reviewed with the grant application by program officers and peers, and implementation (or lack thereof) may influence subsequent award decisions.

The revised Grant Proposal Guide suggests several items for inclusion in a project’s data management plan:  an inventory of research output the project will create, standards applied for describing and storing the data, policies for sharing, provisions for reuse, and plans for preservation.  This is helpful, but very high-level.

Luckily, the NSF and several Directorates have provided supplementary documents with much more detail on expectations of the NSF in general, and individual Directorates in particular.  The Directorate Guidance documents provide a variety of suggestions (and sometimes requirements), including definitions about what is considered “data”, when the data needs to be made available, and what types of sharing or archive locations are appropriate.  As intended, these guidelines differ between Directorates, reflecting a variety of community norms.

Let’s look at expectations for timeliness of data availability, as a specific example.  The general FAQ states, “the expectation is that all data will be made available after a reasonable length of time,” where “what constitutes a reasonable length of time will be determined by the community of interest through the process of peer review and program management.”  The FAQ further suggests that one reasonable standard is to make data accessible immediately upon study publication.  The ENG (Engineering) guidance recommendation mirrors this.  The expectation of the OCE (Ocean Sciences) is different:  data should be submitted as soon as possible, but no later than two years after collection, with more stringent requirements for some programs.  Using yet a different milestone, the SES (Social and Economic Sciences) suggests that quantitative social and economic datasets be submitted within one year of the expiration of the grant award.  These concrete expectations will clearly assist investigators writing data management plans, and provide a common ground for reviewers.

In several places, the documents explicitly mention that what constitutes an acceptable plan is expected to evolve, as standards, technologies, resources, and community norms change over time.

Nicely done, NSF.

Note:  The Directorate for Biological Sciences has not issued a guidance as of this writing.

Update: The guidance from the Directorate for Biological Sciences was issued June 15, 2011.

For more information:

January 2011 Policy

Commentary and related documents