RDA COVID-19 Work Group Announces First Release of Guidelines and Recommendations

The Research Data Alliance and its 10,500+ international members have the first release of the RDA COVID-19 recommendations and guidelines available. The first release was published on 24 April 2020, and is open for feedback and comments.

In response to a direct request from the European Commission, one of the RDA funding agencies, the RDA community answered a call to action at the end of March 2020 and set up an RDA Working group, with 5 sub-groups focusing on essential thematic areas: Clinical, Community Participation, Epidemiology, Omics, and Social Sciences. The initial work was divided into these 5 areas as a way to both focus the conversations and provide an initial set of guidelines within a tight timeframe. Additional themes and details will be added over time in iterative releases of this document.

Objectives: 

The overarching objectives of the RDA COVID-19 Working Group (CWG) are:

  1. to clearly define detailed guidelines on data sharing under the present COVID-19 circumstances to help stakeholders follow best practices in maximizing the efficiency of their work, and

  2. to develop guidelines for policymakers to maximise timely data sharing and appropriate responses in such health emergencies.

  3. to address the interests of researchers, policy makers, funders, publishers, and providers of data sharing infrastructures.

Preliminary highlights:

Some foundational challenges that apply across all themes include the rapid pace of research under the pandemic, the critical need for data sharing, and the lack of coordinated standards and context.

In terms of overarching recommendations, common elements include:

FAIR and timely: a balance between achieving ‘perfectly’ FAIR outputs and timely sharing is necessary with the key goal of immediate and open sharing as a driver.

Metadata: Data must be accompanied by openly accessible metadata so that it can be discovered, interpreted correctly, and reused for subsequent research. Where there are restrictions on accessing or using datasets, metadata should be shared openly to enable discovery. 

Documentation: Research outputs need to be documented, which includes documentation of methodologies used to define and construct data, data cleaning, data imputation, data provenance and so on. 

Use of Suitable Repositories: To facilitate data quality control, timely sharing and sustained access, data should be deposited in data repositories. Whenever possible, these should be trustworthy data repositories (TDRs) that have been certified, subject to rigorous governance, and committed to longer-term preservation. As the first choice, widely used disciplinary repositories are recommended for maximum visibility, followed by general or institutional repositories. Using existing open repositories is better than starting new resources. Trustworthy repositories offer persistent identifiers (PIDs) for data and metadata, which facilitates findability and sustained access as well as citation.

Ethics & Privacy: The ethical and privacy considerations around participant and patient data are significant in this crisis, and several guidelines note the need to find a balance that takes into account individual, community and societal interests and benefits whilst addressing public health concerns and objectives. 

Legal: Technical solutions that ensure anonymisation, encryption, privacy protection, and data de-identification will increase trust in data sharing.

Status, Further releases, and Request for Comments:

As of mid-April, there were well over 400 members of the CWG, relatively evenly spread across the 5 groups. This preliminary April 24th draft represents the earliest set of draft outputs from the first set of writing sprints, and should be understood as a very early indication of progress in the space of 3 weeks, with more details and final outputs to follow. The various sub-group drafts collected here reflect different approaches and initial work efforts: subsequent drafts will synchronize these efforts into a more integrated series of guidelines. These 5 thematic guidelines will be enhanced with a series of “cross-cutting” guidelines articulating principles and recommendations common across all thematic areas. One initial cross-cutting guideline is included here: research software.

In the spirit of the RDA community and its open process, the RDA is seeking feedback from the COVID-19 WG members, as well as the whole community, early and often during this process. This feedback will inform the work and will be incorporated into the sub-group discussions, and the next set of writing sprints.

Recommendations: RDA COVID-19; recommendations and guidelines, 1st release 24 April 2020

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