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Archiving research data

Correctly archiving research data is an important way to ensure that research results can be verified and used over longer periods of time. It is also important for the compliance with laws and regulations and to preserve the history of Karolinska Institutet and of medical science for the future. On this page, you will find information about how long research data must be saved and about how data is to be organised, reported and preserved over time.

Which laws and regulations govern the archiving of research data?

The archive of a government agency is based, according to the Archives Act (1990:782), on all the public documents from the agency’s activities. Research data created at a government agency will often fall within the scope of what constitutes a public document, as defined in the Freedom of the Press Act (1949:105).  This means that research data, just like any other public document, must be handled in accordance with the provisions of the Archives Act.

Section 3 of the Archives Act states that a government agency’s archives must be kept and managed so as to comply with

  1. the right to access public documents;
  2. the need for information in the administration of justice and in management; and
  3. the needs of the research community.

The agency must protect the archive from destruction and unauthorised access. However, the Archives Act does allow for disposal (i.e. destruction) of public documents, as long as the abovementioned purposes are fulfilled.

At government agencies such as KI, all disposal of public documents must be done in accordance with the regulations of the Swedish National Archives. The Swedish National Archives’ regulations and guidelines regarding disposal of documents in research activities conducted by government agencies (RA-FS 1999:1) prescribes rules for government agency research documents, including research data.

KI’s document management plan contains our internal rules for the management of public documents. It is based on the regulations of the Swedish National Archives and governs which types of document are to be preserved, which may be disposed of (and when), and which must be registered in KI’s system for registration of official documents. The document management plan is divided into different activity areas, and activity area 4 contains provisions on research documents, including research data. (You will find an English translation of the document management plan for research documents at the Archive and Registry page Policy Documents and Templates, under Records schedule for documents at Karolinska Institutet.)

For how long must research data be saved?

Research data may be disposed of no earlier than 10 years after the results have been reported and published and after a final financial report has been made.

In some cases, research data must be exempt from disposal and preserved indefinitely. This relates to research data that has been deemed to

  • have a continued scientific value in the original discipline or another research field;
  • be of great value in terms of history of science, cultural history or personal history;
  • be of great public interest.

Examples of such research data can be

  • particularly extensive primary material which is unique or which can only be recreated with great effort;
  • registers and databases for data with particularly great coverage and controllability;
  • or data that has received a great deal of attention in the public debate.

Please note that the above are provisions according to the Swedish National Archives’ regulations and KI’s document management plan. In some cases, there may be other regulations, rules or agreements requiring research data to be saved for longer. However, it is not permitted to dispose of research data earlier than what is set out in the Swedish National Archives’ regulations and KI’s document management plan. 

The researcher responsible for the material is best familiar with it and therefore best suited to make a decision on whether the research data should be preserved or disposed of (according to the criteria above). This decision is to be made as early on as possible.

Also note that for as long as the research data is saved, the associated research documentation must also be saved.

How do I archive research data?

In this context, archiving means arranging and reporting research data for longterm preservation. Regardless of whether the research data is to be preserved or disposed of at some point, it is important that it is stored safely and appropriately labelled for as long as it is saved. Research data intended to be preserved must also be entered into KI’s archival inventory.

No later than at the end of a research project, the principal investigator (PI) must decide whether to preserve or dispose of the research data.  If the data is to be preserved, the archivist should be contacted so that the material can be entered into the department archival inventory. Research data must then be appropriately labelled and stored in an approved archive or a secure digital storage facility. Research data intended for preservation must be kept separate for research data that can be disposed of. Working material, duplicates and drafts must be separated from the material intended for preservation.

It is recommended to start thinking about metadata, organisation and structure of your research data at an early stage of the research project.

Metadata

In order to understand research data and know how to manage it, you need metadata. The Archive and Registry unit has produced a form that can be used when it is time to archive your material. The form is used to provide information such as the project title, principal investigator (PI), time period, possible confidentiality, code key, etc. The form also indicates whether the material is to be preserved or disposed of (and if so, when) and on what basis this assessment has been made. The form is to be signed by the Principal Investigator and saved along with the data from the research project. The form must also be included if research data is submitted to an archivist.

The purpose of the form is to provide the metadata necessary for archiving. If the same information can be read from the data management plan, a copy of this document can be provided instead.

Archiving research data on paper

Research data on paper intended to be preserved indefinitely must be stored according to the following:

  • Well organised in approved archive boxes marked with document type, name of project, Principal Investigator, volume number and date.
  • Disposable research data must be marked with the year of disposal.
  • Remove any paper clips, plastic wallets and post-it notes.

In some cases, there may be a need to wait before repackaging the material into approved archive boxes. In such cases, it is important that binders and similar items are clearly marked with the same information as above.

Archiving digital research data

KI currently has no electronic system for archiving digital research data. It is nonetheless important to consider safe storage and metadata. There are a number of data storing solutions used at KI. You can find more information about which solutions are suitable for which type of data on the page storing and sharing data.

It is worth underlining that long-term preservation of digital research data is made much easier if you take care to store the material in an orderly and secure manner, along with good metadata already from the start of the research project. A good folder structure and appropriate file formats should thus be used from the very beginning.

Also consider which file formats the material is saved in. If possible, use open and independent formats. The file formats must also be readable for as long as the material is being saved. Which formats are appropriate is therefore determined to a large extent by how long the material is to be saved. The Swedish National Data Service has a list of file formats recommended for storage. If research data is to be preserved indefinitely, one of the recommended formats must be used (if possible). (See also the Swedish National Archives’ Regulation (RA-FS 2009:2) regarding file formats approved for preservation.) It may be necessary to convert data to ensure that the information is not lost over time.

It is also important to have a suitable and clear folder structure for each research project. Naming of files and folders must be clear and consistent. If the same file is available in several versions, it is important to consider version management. When the research project has been completed and research data is organised for long-term preservation, the material intended for preservation must be kept separate from the material that can be destroyed.

In order for the material to be searchable, it must be marked with the following metadata:

  • Project name (or possible project ID/reference number)
  • Principal Investigator
  • Date of study
  • Year of disposal for disposable material (10 years after end of project)
  • Information regarding possible confidentiality and/or (sensitive) personal data

Can I bring my research data with me?

If a Principal Investigator changes employment the main rule is that research data stays at Karolinska Institutet for archiving.  If the researcher wants to bring their data, one solution could be to take copies (however, a legal advisor and/or data protection officer should be contacted if the material contains any confidential information or personal data). Another solution is for the new higher education institution to borrow the material for a limited period of time.

If an entire unit moves from KI to another government agency, there may be cause to also transfer the documents required for the activities of that agency. This must then be noted in KI’s archival inventory. In addition, documentation in the form of an extract from the archival inventory must be sent to the Swedish National Archives. You can find more information about transferring archives on the Swedish National Archives’ website. You must always contact KI’s Archive and Registry unit if such a transfer becomes necessary.

Contact

General questions about archiving:  Use the address of the Archive and Registry unit (below)

Questions about archiving procedure at your department: Please contact your department registrar or archivist.

Archive

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