Publish your data sharing and use policy

This section will help you meet the objectives of NBN Data Exchange Principle 5: Managers of biodiversity data should make their framework of terms and conditions publicly-available, allowing biodiversity data owners to  have confidence that control will be exercised in the management and use of their data.

Why do I need a written policy?

Traditionally seen as something of relevance only to larger institutions, the benefits of a written data policy are increasingly important for even the smallest recording scheme.  This is particularly the case within the NBN community where active participants benefit from being in a clear position to use and share the data that they hold.  Some may see this as an unwelcome burden imposed by open government initiatives and legislation that has appeared over the last decade or so. However, a written policy can be an invaluable tool for any group, society or organisation that routinely collects, uses and disseminates biodiversity data.  Preparing a data sharing and use policy can:

  • Help you define a clear and strong remit to use and share biodiversity data.
  • Help you build a shared understanding of biodiversity data issues and their management.
  • Help you and your colleagues make consistent, responsible data sharing and use decisions.
  • Help you justify data sharing and use decisions should you be challenged.
  • Help data owners better understand how you intend to use and share their data.
  • Help you secure and safeguard the commitment of recorders, and sustain the flow of data.
  • Help you establish permission to use and share the biodiversity data that you receive.
  • Help data users better understand the origin of data that you hold.
  • Help data users understand any restrictions placed on the availability or use of data.

Data Sharing and Use Policy

The NBN initiative supports the principle that biodiversity data should be made easily accessible to enable their use for decision-making, education, research and other public-benefit purposes.  This enables society to make wise informed choices about our environment.  The principle is widely supported. However, there are significant issues that data holders need to address when using and sharing biodiversity data.

In consultation with data owners, managers and users, the National Biodiversity Network Trust identified a demand for guidance to help address these issues.  The NBN Data Exchange Principles represent the Trusts first attempt to provide such guidance.  The principles are intended for use by anyone to inform access negotiations for individual datasets and the formulation of data sharing and use policy.

Although the principles do not represent an approved standard in data access terms, the Trust is hopeful that they will help more organisations share biodiversity data.  The NBN Trust strongly advises that biodiversity data holders should publish a data sharing and use policy.  A written policy made widely available offers several key benefits.


The Benefits

Publishing your approach to data sharing and use reflects transparent working and demonstrates a service commitment to data providers and users.  Traditionally data sharing arrangements have tended to be established between individuals on an informal basis.  However, detailed understanding of the parties concerned can differ and data sharing often falters when one individual moves on, as they invariably do.  It is preferable to establish a data sharing agreement between the individuals providing data and the receiving organisation or group.
A written policy helps define the aims and activities of an organisation or group more clearly.  Being open and clear about how you use and share data allows individuals the opportunity to see what will happen to their data before they pass them to you.  This helps reassure them that appropriate control will be exercised in the management and use of their data.

In turn, a publicly available policy empowers you by defining your remit to use and share the data that you receive.  To use biodiversity data in the way that you wish, you need to establish permission from their owners.  Biodiversity data are owned by the person that created them or paid for them to be created.  By making your intentions readily available, data owners have an opportunity to object and not submit their data.  It is important that this opportunity is reasonable so your policy should be readily advertised and accessible to data owners.  In this way a data sharing and use policy can support a legal framework to manage permissions.

A data sharing and use policy also offers benefits within your organisation or recording group.  Writing down details about how you manage data use and its availability to others will help you develop a shared an understanding of data management approaches and issues.  Formulating a policy provides an opportunity to identify particular issues and formulate a way of addressing these.  For example the approach to identifying environmentally sensitive data and managing their availability to maximise benefit but avoid harm.  The process of writing a policy can initiate useful debate between colleagues.  This should not be avoided as experience suggests debate results in more balanced approaches being agreed with wider understanding and support.

An agreed written policy offers the opportunity for you and your colleagues to make data sharing and use decisions against common criteria delivering more consistent and rational decisions.  It will help you address issues appropriately and reach sensible decisions that are justified and that data providers can consider and understand.  In this way a policy will help provide continuity in the decisions made by different colleagues within your organisation or group as well as decisions made over time as staff change.  Should you ever have the need to revisit a decision in the future, a written policy helps you understand, re-evaluate and then defend or revise the rationale.  This represents good practice and is particularly important for those organisations that have obligations under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.


Formulating a policy

A data sharing and use policy is intended to set the principles that govern what you will and will not do with biodiversity data.  The application of these principles must be institution-wide.  Keep in mind that your policy should set the precedent for the foreseeable future and not be altered frequently.  As such you should be concise, but take care to avoid being overly prescriptive.  For example, if addressing methods of data dissemination through the Internet you should capture the general concept of web-based dissemination but avoid referring to specific websites or tools as these may change in the future.

The NBN Trust have prepared a Model Data Sharing & Use Policy.  It provides a model framework to help you set out your own policy. Representing current best practice the model addresses how data are used and the basis on which they will be shared with others.