Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 June 2018
Why try to predict the evolution of research data services and infrastructure? Enormous amounts have been invested in recent decades on programmes designed to strengthen the digital or ‘e’ aspects of research; the e-infrastructure for e-research or e-science. Emerging ‘research data infrastructures’ extend the reach of e-infrastructures, together with their agenda of transforming research knowledge production and use. What ‘data infrastructures’ bring to that agenda is the idea that research data itself can be provided as a utility, like computing or electricity grids. This idea envisages collaborative networks with a European and international span. Meanwhile, research funders and institutions are giving more attention to their own services for research data management and curation, in the effort to get more impact more efficiently from their investment in research.
The infrastructures and services they comprise can be thought of as supporting a common set of curation activities, at different levels of scale – institutional, national and international. Disciplinary domains and research questions cut across these, development resources are scarce, and the relationships between the actors involved in developing e-infrastructures are complex. So good conceptual tools are needed, whether to participate in these developments, evaluate their progress, guide researchers to make good use of the results, or critically engage with the very idea of data being usable ‘any time, any place’.
This chapter aims to describe how research data infrastructures are currently conceived and surveys recent developments. The chapter has three main sections, which aim to do the following:
Review the context for developing ‘research e-infrastructure’ and the problems these are intended to address. The first section then considers concepts of infrastructure and how these apply to research data, identifying data management and curation services that would utilize and sustain these data infrastructures.
Summarize recent action to co-ordinate research data management and curation services and infrastructure. This second section considers action on the international level by the European Union (EU) then, on the national level, by funding organizations in the UK, Netherlands and Germany. It then identifies initiatives at the level of educational institutions, focusing on the UK.
The final section of the chapter considers issues likely to affect the continued evolution of research data infrastructures.