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Tamihere Speech: Saving and Sharing Research Data

John Tamihere Speech: Saving and Sharing Research Data

Opening speech for the Health Research Council workshop: "Saving and Sharing Research Data – Policy and Practice," Duxton Hotel, Wellington, Tuesday November 25, 9am.


I'd like to welcome distinguished speakers and guests from around New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom, and thank you all for your contribution here today.

The objective of the day is to develop policy that protects research-generated data and makes it more widely available.


Today the information and communications technologies are transforming the scientific enterprise and the management of research data, including its storage, access, analysis and distribution. It is therefore timely that the purpose of this working conference is to: Hear from researchers, purchase agents, research providers and government about the potential for the saving and sharing of research data. Consider issues of policy and practice that arise in following the principle that "publicly funded research data should be openly available to the maximum possible extent". Actively advance the issue as a matter or urgency in the wider science and science policy community. Also being discussed will be issues around data sharing and saving that need deeper consideration, in particular intellectual property and cultural issues relating to the wishes of Maori.


The OECD report, "Promoting Access to Public Research Data for Scientific, Economic and Social Development," says that while information and communications technologies are rapidly transforming the world of research, we are only beginning to recognise that management of the scientific enterprise must adapt if we are to take full advantage of the knowledge generated by researchers.

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One of the most important areas of ICT-driven change is the emergence of e-science – worldwide access via the Internet to the intellectual, analytical and investigative output of the world's scientific community.

As research becomes increasingly global, there is a growing need to systematically address data access and sharing issues beyond national jurisdictions. The goals of the OECD report are to ensure that both researchers and the public receive optimum returns on public investment in research, and to build on the value chain of investments in research and data.

The findings and recommendations of the report are based on the central principle that publicly funded research data should be openly available to the maximum extent possible.

That is a principle I thoroughly endorse. As Minister for Statistics I am constantly made aware that unless data can be accessed by those who can apply it to a purpose that is in the public good, then the value of researching and producing that data can only be lessened. The flow-on effects of that reality are only too apparent in my portfolio areas of Youth Affairs and Maori Affairs, where it is clear that we can only make the best decisions for the future of our young people if we have the best information available to us on which to base those decisions.


As a government we are responsible for major research support and funding, and have a crucial role to play in promoting accessibility of data, and must work to encourage departments and agencies to enhance access to data.

In implementing the top down review of Statistics NZ announced in the Budget this year, one of our key goals will be to ensure ready access to and utilisation of data, and I think we should always be looking to do better.

Statistics NZ recognises in its statement of intent that "official statistics must be readily available and … presented in a manner that is widely understood if they are to be used effectively …Users need to be able to easily locate and access the particular statistics that interest them."

As part of the review, we will ensure that that guiding statement is best delivered on. I see a benefit in a public register of all State sector funded surveys and databases that produce statistics, and a notification system to make known what surveys and data are available.

I am also keen to see that consistency and timeliness of release of official statistics is maximised. For example, extending the calendar of release dates to at least six months ahead of the due release date could help in this regard.

The review will also address issues surrounding the sharing of information with other government departments and data integration for statistical and research purposes.

Of course, availability of data is subject to national security restrictions, protection of confidentiality and privacy, intellectual property rights and exclusive use for a limited time by principal investigators, but beyond that, publicly funded research data are a public good, produced in the public interest, and as such they should remain in the public realm.


The OECD report recognises that successful research data access and sharing arrangements have a number of key attributes and principles in common that reap the greatest rewards from the use of research data. They include: Openness Transparency of access and active dissemination The assignment and assumption of formal responsibilities Quality control Operational efficiency and flexibility Respect for private intellectual property and other legal and ethical matters Accountability

The report also identifies issues arising from examination of research data access and sharing – technological, institutional, financial, legal and policy and cultural and behavioural issues – and I am sure that this forum today will provide some valuable discussions and insights into those issues.

I would like to conclude with the number one principle of the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics: that official statistics should be "made available on an impartial basis by official statistical agencies to honour citizens' entitlement to public information." I'm sure that is a principle which we would all support.

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