Research data: To share or not to share?

Michelle Krahe1, Julie Toohey2, Malcolm Wolski3, Paul Scuffham4, Sheena Reilly5

1Health Group, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia,
2Library and Learning Services, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia,
3eResearch Services, Griffith University, Nathan, Australia,
4Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia,
5Health Group, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia,



It is well accepted that data sharing facilitates the progress of research and is vital towards science that is open; where data is easily accessible, intelligible, reproducible, replicable, and verifiable. Despite the extensive benefits of data sharing, it is yet to become common practice among health and medical researchers. Evidence-based interventions that aim to encourage sharing and reuse of research data are lacking [1, 2].

In this study, we assess the current practices, and identify barriers and enablers of data sharing behaviours of health and medical researchers using the theoretical domains framework (TDF) and the COM-B model (capability, opportunity, motivation and behaviour). Outcomes from this study will provide a systematic and theoretically-based approach to designing interventions to promote data sharing practices among health and medical researchers.


This project employed a cross-sectional, observational study design and sampling technique. Data was drawn from a survey designed by the investigators to evaluate research data management (RDM) practices of health and medical researchers. The main outcome measures were derived from questions about researcher’s current data sharing practice, willingness and responses to statements designed to explore aspects of data sharing behaviours.

Participants were drawn from a research institute at Griffith University, Australia and invited by a number of internal broadcast emails to complete an anonymous online survey. Participation in the study was voluntary and approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee (GU/HREC#2017/457) of Griffith University.

Data were mapped onto the TDF domains and the COM-B model [3, 4]. This process identified emerging themes related to enablers and barriers to data sharing and characterisation of behavioural functions that can be targeted by specific interventions.


In total, responses from sixty-five researchers were included in the analysis. The majority were members of academic staff (69%); 25% were research fellows or research assistants and the remaining were adjunct staff (6%). All researchers are affiliated with the university Health School.

Data Sharing Behaviours

Of the 38% of researchers that had ever shared research data, 67% had done so after the research was published. The most common way to share data was as supplementary journal material, at conferences, or in institutional/discipline specific repositories. Only 10% of researchers had shared data publically (i.e. repositories or open access platforms), motivated by: funding or journal requirements (70%), to increase the impact/visibility of the research (40%), or for public benefit (40%). Researcher’s attitudes (i.e. willingness) to sharing data was positive but influenced by: (i) who they were asked to share with, and (ii) whether the research had been published.

Enablers and Barriers to Sharing

Themes that were mapped directly to the TDF domains and COM-B model of behaviour change (Table 1). Four enablers and six barriers were identified and is further explored using qualitative analysis.

Intervention Functions to Change Behaviours

Using the Behavior Change Wheel (BCW) we have identified the most effective intervention functions to promote the enablers and mitigate the barriers of researcher’s data sharing behaviours. For example, to address the behaviour associated with psychological capability (i.e. researchers who lack an understanding of the data sharing process, are less inclined to share their data), the BCW identifies education, training or enablement interventions as the most effective.

Table 1. Mapping of TDF domains to COM-B behavioural dimensions and behaviour statements.

TDF Domain COM-B Dimension Behaviour Statement
Knowledge Psychological Capability 1)     Researchers, who lack an understanding of the data sharing process, are less inclined to share their data.
Skills Physical Capability x  The majority of researchers do not know how to share their data, where to share their data, or whom they should share.
Professional role and identity Automatic Motivation √  If guaranteed credit for its use and/or it increased the impact / visibility of their research, researchers would be more willing to share their data.
Environmental context and resources Physical Opportunity x  Researchers lack time and resources to prepare their data for sharing.
√  Researchers are more likely to share data if it is a funding, institutional or journal requirement.
Social influences Social Opportunity √ Researchers would share their data if they knew it had public or patient benefit.
Beliefs about capability Reflective Motivation x  Most researchers do not know whether it is their responsibility to share data.
Beliefs about consequence x  Researchers want to protect the confidentiality of their data and are concerned about the ethics of data sharing.
√   If researcher’s trust the person requesting the data, they are more likely to share it
x  Researchers are concerned about their research or IP being stolen, misinterpreted or misused.

A cross represents a barrier and a tick represents an enabler.


A wide range of barriers and enablers were identified which influences researcher’s capability, opportunity and motivation to engage in data sharing practices. This study provides a theoretical starting point in making a behavioural diagnosis and the results will be used to inform the development of interventions designed to increase data sharing practices among health and medical researchers.


  1. Rowhani-Farid A, Allen M, Barnett A.G (2017) What incentives increase data sharing in health and medical research? A systematic review. Research Integrity and Peer Review 2(4).
  2. Fecher B, Friesike S, Hebing M (2015) What Drives Academic Data Sharing? PLoS ONE 10(2):e0118053.
  3. Cane J, O’Connor D, Michie S (2012) Validation of the theoretical domains framework for use in behavior change and implementation research. Implementation Science 7(37).
  4. Michie S, van Stralen M, West R (2011) The behavior change wheel: A new method for characterizing and designing behavior change interventions 6(42).


Dr Michelle Krahe is a research professional with a passion for strategy, development and innovation in health. She is a Senior Research Fellow within the Health Executive at Griffith University and a Visiting Research Fellow with Gold Coast University Hospital. Michelle is responsible for the development and management of research initiatives for the Pro Vice Chancellor (Health) and has over 12 years’ experience in clinical research, working in academia, health services and research institutes.

Recent Comments