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Long-term preservation of your data

Data tunnelIn research data management, data preservation (or archiving) is the process of maintaining research data from projects so that it can still be found, understood and used in the future. Data must be kept securely even once the research has ended. Any anonymity needs to be maintained but traceable should there be a need to verify source data.

The RCUK Policy and Code of Conduct on the Governance of Good Research Conduct states that you should

“make relevant primary data and research evidence accessible to others for reasonable periods after the completion of the research: data should normally be preserved and accessible for ten years, but for projects of clinical or major social, environmental or heritage importance, for 20 years or longer.”

Many research funders specify which data need preserving, how long for and where to deposit these data.

Why do I need to keep data beyond the end of the project?

Digital data preservation should be a key aspect of all research projects. Some research data are unique and cannot be replaced if destroyed or lost.

You need to keep certain data to:

  • protect investment in your research: if the full value of national investment in research is to be realised, the outputs from these investments need to be protected. Research data represents a category of research output of growing importance and value.
  • preserve opportunities for future research: the ongoing availability of research data affords the opportunity both to validate existing results, and to build upon them.
  • promote the work of the institution and the researcher: securing access to an important dataset increases the likelihood it will be used in future research. This in turn elevates the impact and visibility of the original research from which the data emerged.
  • support research and learning workflows: for example, if data is easily located when required and less time is spent searching for the data, this can lead to lower costs and higher productivity.
  • demonstrate compliance with national information access legislation; e.g. Freedom of Information Act 2000, Data Protection Act 1998, Environmental Information Regulations 2004, etc., and other funding body and sponsor requirements.
  • secure the ongoing accuracy, authenticity, reliability, integrity and completeness of research data by safeguarding it against loss, deterioration, unauthorised or inappropriate access, obsolescence and future incompatibility.
  • demonstrate good practice in data management.
  • comply with legal requirements which often require you to do so, many years after the project has ceased.

How do I decide which data to preserve and of which to dispose?

Decisions about preserving or disposing of data need to be made during the data management planning stage – taking into account institutional policy, funder requirements and disciplinary or institutional data repository requirements.

You also need to select and appraise data to keep beyond the life of the project. Further information on selection and appraisal of data can be found here.

More Information

Image source: La tecnología de big data revolucionará la seguridad de la información


Research Data team

University of St Andrews Library
North Street
St Andrews
KY16 9TR
Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: (01334) 462343