Main points: Research data are an asset we have been building for decades, through billions of dollars of public investment in research annually. The information and communication technology (ICT) revolution presents an unprecedented opportunity to ‘leverage’ that asset. Given this, there is increasing awareness around the world that there are benefits to be gained from curating and openly sharing research data (Kvalheim and Kvamme 2014).

Conservatively, we estimate that the value of data in Australia’s public research to be at least $1.9 billion and possibly up to $6 billion a year at current levels of expenditure and activity. Research data curation and sharing might be worth at least $1.8 billion and possibly up to $5.5 billion a year, of which perhaps $1.4 billion to $4.9 billion annually is yet to be realized. Hence, any policy around publicly-funded research data should aim to realise as much of this unrealised value as practicable.

Aims and scope: This study offers conservative estimates of the value and benefits to Australia of making publicly-funded research data freely available, and examines the role and contribution of data repositories and associated infrastructure. It also explores the policy settings required to optimise research data sharing, and thereby increase the return on public investment in research. The study’s focus is Australia’s Commonwealth-funded research and agencies. It includes research commissioned or funded by Commonwealth bodies as well as in-house research within research-oriented agencies wholly or largely funded by the Commonwealth. Government data or public sector information is a separate category of publicly-funded data – although there is some overlap at the margins (e.g. Commonwealth Government funding for Geoscience Australia).

Main findings: For the purposes of estimation, we explore a range of research funding and expenditure from total Australian Government funding support for research to the sum of government and higher education expenditure on research by sector of execution. The lower bound estimates are based on the labour-cost share of research funding and expenditure ($4.3 billion to $6.4 billion per annum), and upper bound estimates on total research funding and expenditure ($8.9 billion to $13.3 billion per annum).

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