UWE staff appointed to help ESRC plan its data infrastructure strategy

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The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the body that allocates and oversees social science research funding across the UK higher education sector, will face some significant decisions in data infrastructure and services over the next few years: several of its major investments are due for re-tendering, while others are already in the process of restructuring. At the same time UK Research and Investment (UKRI) is reviewing the wider investment landscape.

As a result the ESRC has begun a major exercise to review the research data infrastructure and services landscape. This project began In August 2021, with a public engagement exercise to identify key issues. This year, ESRC advertised two Future Data Services (FDS) ‘Strategic Fellowships’, and we are pleased to announce that two UWE staff, Elizabeth Green and Felix Ritchie from the Data Research Access and Governance Network (DRAGoN), were successful in bidding for the roles.

This is a great opportunity for UWE: DRAGoN staff are widely involved with all aspects of data access and governance, in the UK and abroad, but this will provide Felix and Lizzie with a unique insight into the strategic decision-making process for UK research investments; and they in turn will be using their expertise and networks to help ESRC design and evaluate a data services infrastructure for the social sciences that will take on board best practices, and challenge ways of thinking.

Professor Ritchie notes that “The UK starts from a strong position, with a long track record of successful investment in data services, and thought leaders across the data landscape. But that landscape continually changes, and although we do many things well in the UK, there are also many examples from other countries of doing things better.”

Some of the gaps are about co-ordination and communication: for example, how can we better share good practice in data governance or researcher training? Others are about adapting the experience of others to the UK: for example, what can we learn from other countries about creating a default-open model of data accessibility and sharing? And some gaps are where we have to fundamentally (re)think basic concepts: how do we put a value on effective data services when we can’t even put a meaningful value on the data itself?

These aren’t straightforward problems, or we wouldn’t need a two year strategy development period. But they are – or will have to be – solvable, and the benefit of getting it right will be felt across the UK research community, as well as in other countries.”

The ESRC commented “ESRC is delighted to make this award.  With ongoing transformations in the data services landscape, this is an exciting time to be undertaking our Future Data Services strategic review. We look forward to working with Felix Ritchie and Elizabeth Green who will provide a very valuable contribution to this review”.

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