NSF to Ask Every Grant Applicant for Data Management Plan

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

Scientists seeking funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will soon need to spell out how they plan to manage the data they hope to collect. It's part of a broader move by NSF and other federal agencies to emphasize the importance of community access to data.

Edward Seidel, acting head of NSF's mathematics and physical sciences directorate, described NSF's intention to require all applicants to submit a data management plan along with their grant application in a presentation this morning to the National Science Board, NSF's oversight body. "Not only is it a nice idea," he told the board's Committee on Strategy and Budget, "but it's a scientific necessity. We've been working on this for years."

NSF's current policy requires grantees to share their data within a reasonable length of time so long as the cost is modest. "That's nice, but it doesn't have much teeth," said Seidel. Under the new policy, which is expected to be unveiled this fall, a researcher would submit a data management plan as a two-page supplement to any regular grant proposal. That would make it an element of the merit review process.

NSF wants to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to the issue, Seidel explained, because each discipline has its own culture about data-sharing. "A scientist might say that my plan is that I don't need one, because I don't save my data," he told the board committee, which has just formed a task force on data policy. "The important thing is that it puts people on notice that they have to think about it, maybe for the first time." NSF Director Arden Bement said he expects that some applicants will request additional funding to implement their data management plan, making it another factor that reviewers will need to take into account in weighing the value of a proposal.

Seidel called the supplemental application "phase one" of a broader effort to address the growing interest from U.S. policymakers in making sure that any data obtained with federal funds be accessible to the general public. The so-called open-access movement has traditionally focused on making published papers available, at no cost, to anyone interested in them. A bill (H.R. 5037) introduced last month by Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA), for example, would require the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a policy that would apply to every major federal research agency.

NSF so far has remained in the background of that debate, which would expand a policy covering research funded by the National Institutes of Health. "This approach doesn't address open access with regard to publishing," Seidel explained to the board. "But it certainly raises that question."