Summary & Response to Canadian Digital Scholarship Policy Documents

For decades, governments around the world have been wrestling with the best ways to handle the changes and opportunities of an increasingly networked world. Rapidly developing technology has posed challenges for governments, who must adapt quickly in order to maintain a robust and current digital infrastructure. Such a digital research infrastructure is crucial for the higher education system, as researchers, students, librarians, staff, and administrators increasingly work online and share output in digital formats.

In “Consultation: Developing a Digital Research Infrastructure Strategy,” the Government of Canada acknowledges these challenges and suggests that Canada needs to develop an appropriate strategy to tackle them. The authors argue, implicitly, that new policies are required; they write: “Canada’s current [digital research infrastructure (DRI)] ecosystem needs to be examined against these rapid changes” (n.p.). In the “‘Think Piece’ on a DI Roadmap,” members of the Leadership Council for Digital Infrastructure (LCDI) also draw attention to the need for robust and sustainable digital research infrastructure in Canada. The compilers make the case for a widely coordinated approach— an approach that includes increased collaboration across stakeholders, a cohesive national policy, and a significant data management strategy. To facilitate such an approach, the authors suggest a coalition grown from the extant LCDI. Tellingly, the LCDI frames this document by acknowledging the “challenges of adapting to the rapidly evolving needs of data-intensive research in a time of fiscal restraint” (n.p., emphasis mine).

In Digital Canada 150: 2.0, the Government of Canada Minister of Industry outlines how the Canadian government has responded to such technological development in recent years. In the prelude to the report, previous Industry Minister James Moore writes that “digital innovations and inventions are helping Canadians live better, more productive, healthier lives” (n.p.), and suggests that the Digital Canada 150: 2.0 plan (and its precursor) is an actionable strategy to facilitate these potential positive outcomes of networked technologies. Throughout the report, the compilers argue that it is necessary to provide individuals and businesses in Canada with the skills, opportunities, and protections to succeed in an increasingly networked world.

Moreover, in “Research Data Canada Response to Capitalizing on Big Data: Towards a Policy Framework for Advancing Digital Scholarship in Canada,” the authors suggest that the government needs to pay more heed to long term, rather than short term, researcher-focused data curation. They also argue that although provisions for graduate student and early career researcher training are positive developments, it is necessary to designate, train, and support distinct data professionals. Further, Research Data Canada claim that an increase in cross-sector collaboration with industry would be beneficial, as would more engagement with the international data community.

From a broader perspective, we might consider the suggestions of the RECODE Project. The RECODE Project is a European partnership that explores solutions to open access implementation and effective research data management. In “Policy Recommendations for Open Access to Research Data,” the RECODE Project compilers offer overarching and targeted recommendations for wide scale open access and improved research data management. They argue that there is “a lack of a coherent open data ecosystem; and a lack of attention to the specificity of research practice, processes and data collections” (3).

The Government of Canada released a “Tri-Agency Statement of Principles on Digital Data Management,” which acknowledges many of the same issues as the RECODE Project does. Instead of recommendations, the Government of Canada provides a list of expectations, as well as delineates the responsibilities of researchers, research communities, research institutions, and research funders. There are many areas of overlap, especially in regards to the importance of adhering to data management standards, addressing ethical and legal issues, and developing comprehensive data management strategies. But there are points of divergence as well. For instance, in the Canadian document, open access to research data is not considered to be a mandatory baseline. Instead, the authors suggest that

All data need to be managed, but not all data need to be shared or preserved — costs and benefits of doing so should be considered in the data management planning process. (n.p.)

This claim is made despite the fact that the document also outlines the benefits of public access to research data and draws attention to the government’s 2014 “Action Plan on Open Government” and the 2015 “Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications” as foundational documents. Other notable RECODE Project recommendations that are not discussed in the Canadian material include open licensing, training data managers, and ensuring appropriate funding for open access to research data. Overall, the RECODE Project material is more rooted in open scholarship ideals, whereas the Government of Canada statement focuses on pragmatic guidelines and a more mild approach to research data management and sharing.

It is interesting to trace all of the stated priorities in these interrelated government and policy documents. Perhaps more interesting is to note what is missing from certain materials. For instance, although the government provides insight into their areas of interest in “Consultation: Developing a Digital Research Infrastructure Strategy” — including data-driven research, cloud computing, faster networking, data mining, and data modeling — there are no provisions for citizen scholarship, open science, or open access publishing. In Digital Canada 150: 2.0, no specific focus on open scholarship is evident, and the interpretation of “open government” is a little vague; the report notes the following accomplishment:

Increased government responsiveness and accountability to Canadians through the Directive on Open Government, which requires federal departments and agencies to adopt a common set of practices to increase efficiency; reduce costs; improve services; safeguard personal, classified and confidential information; and make high-quality information available. (n.p.)

This description does not go far to demonstrate how the Canadian government is embracing and enacting the commitment to transparency that is at the heart of the international open government movement, at least in theory.

It is critical to understand what federal and international priorities are in regards to digital scholarship, and to consider how these priorities need to develop even further. Overall, such a consideration illuminates how and why digital scholarship is discussed, facilitated, and eventually funded in Canada.

Works Cited

Government of Canada. 2014. Action Plan on Open Government. Ottawa.

— -. 2015. Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications. Ottawa.

— -. 2016. Tri-Agency Statement of Principles on Digital Data Management. Ottawa.

Government of Canada, Industry Canada. 2015. “Consultation: Developing a Digital Research Infrastructure Strategy.” Ottawa.

Leadership Council for Digital Infrastructure. 2014. “‘Think Piece’ on a DI Roadmap.”

Minister of Industry, Government of Canada. 2015. Digital Canada 150: 2.0. Ottawa.

RECODE Project Consortium. 2014. Policy Recommendations for Open Access to Research Data.

Research Data Canada. 2013. “Research Data Canada Response to Capitalizing on Big Data: Towards a Policy Framework for Advancing Digital Scholarship in Canada. Ottawa.