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Introduction defining context and scope

General comments

It is important to keep in mind that there are many different actors involved in data identification and citation as there are in all of the technology review topics that follow: data producers (RIs, agencies, individuals); data centres (community repositories, university libraries, global or regional data centres); publishers (specialised on data, or with a traditional focus); and data users (diverse ecosystem, from scientists, experts to stakeholders and members of the public). Technologies should reflect needs and requirements for all of these. Here the focus is on RIs that typically involve all of those viewpoints. Time constants for changing old practices and habits can be very long, especially if they are embedded in established cultures or when capital investment is required.

For these reasons, updating, or implementing totally new, technology alone does not improve “usage performance”, as the behaviour of the “designated scientific community” will influence the discoverability and ease of reuse of research data. (Here, "usage performance" is used in the sense of the working practices actually adopted by the practitioners in all of the roles involved with data or the work that created it or that it is used for.) Scientific traditions and previous investments into soft- or hardware can lead to large time constants for change. Adopting new database technology quickly could, on paper, provide large benefits (to the data providers) like lower costs and easier administration and curation, but may de facto be unacceptably lowering overall productivity for significant parts of the user community over a long period of time while the transition is achieved.

Unequivocal identification of resources and objects underlies all aspects of today’s research data management. The ability to assign persistent and unique identifiers (PIDs) to digital objects and resources, and to simultaneously store specific metadata (url, originator, type, date, size, checksum, etc.) in the PID registry database, provides an indispensable tool towards ensuring reproducibility of research [Duerr 2011], [Stehouwer 2014], [Almas 2015]. Not only do PIDs enable us to make precise references in reports and literature, but it also facilitates recording of object provenance including explicit relationships between connected objects (data and metadata; parent and child; predecessor and successor), as well as unambiguous descriptions of all aspects and components of workflows [Moreau 2008], [Tilmes 2010]. A pervasive adoption of persistent identifiers in research is expected to contribute significantly to scientific reproducibility and efficient re-use of research data, by increasing the overall efficiency of the research process and by enhancing the interoperability between RIs, ICT service providers and users [Almas 2015].

Background - Identification

A number of approaches have been applied to solve the questions of how to unambiguously identify digital research data objects [Duerr 2011]. Traditionally, researchers have relied on their own internal identifier systems, such as encoding identification information into filenames and file catalogue structures, but this is neither comprehensible to others, nor sustainable over time and space [Stehouwer 2014]. Instead, data object identifiers should be unique “labels”, registered in a central database that contains relevant basic metadata about the object, including a pointer to the location where the object can be found as well as basic information about the object itself. (Exactly which metadata should be registered, and in which formats, is a topic under discussion, see e.g., [Weigel 2015].) Environmental observational data pose a special challenge in that they are not reproducible, which means that also fixity information (checksums or even “content fingerprints”) should be tied to the identifier [Socha 2013].

Duerr et al. [Duerr 2011] provide a comprehensive summary of the pros and cons of different identifier schemes, and also assess nine persistent identifier technologies and systems. Based on a combination of technical value, user value and archive value, DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers provided by DataCite) scored highest for overall functionality, followed by general handles (as provided by e.g., CNRI and DONA) and ARKs (Archive Resource Keys). DOIs have the advantage of being well-known to the scientific community via their use for scholarly publications, and this has contributed to their successful application to e.g., geoscience data sets over the last decade [Klump 2015]. General Handle PIDs have up to now mostly been used to enable referencing of data objects in the pre-publication steps of the research data life cycle [Schwardmann 2015]. They could however in principle equally well be applied to finalised “publishable” data.

Persistent identifiers systems are also available for other research-related resources than digital data & metadata, articles and reports—it is now possible to register many other objects, including physical samples (IGSN), software, workflow processing methods— and of course also people and organisations (ORCID, ISNI). In the expanding “open data world”, PIDs are an essential tool for establishing clear links between all entities involved in or connected with any given research project (Dobbs 2014).

Background - Citation

The FORCE11 Data Citation Principles [Martone 2014] state that in analogy to articles, reports and other written scholarly work, also data should be considered as legitimate, citable products of research. (Although there is currently a discussion as to whether data sets are truly “published” if they haven’t undergone a standardised quality control or peer-review, see e.g., [Parsons 2010].) Thus, any claims in scholarly literature that rely on data must include a corresponding citation, giving credit and legal attribution to the data producers, as well as facilitating the identification of, access to and verification of the used data (subsets).

Data citation methods must be flexible, which implies some variability in standards and practices across different scientific communities [Martone 2014]. However, to support interoperability and facilitate interpretation, the citation should preferably contain a number of metadata elements that make the data set discoverable, including author, title, publisher, publication date, resource type, edition, version, feature name and location. Especially important, the data citation should include a persistent method of identification that is globally unique and contains the resource location as well as (links to) all other pertinent information that makes it human and machine actionable. In some (sensitive) cases, it may also be desirable to add fixity information such as a checksum or even a “content fingerprint” in the actual citation text [Socha 2013].

Finding standards for citing subsets of potentially very large and complex data sets poses a special problem, as outlined by Huber et al. [Huber 2013], as e.g., granularity, formats and parameter names can differ widely across disciplines. Another very important issue concerns how to unambiguously refer to the state and contents of a dynamic data set that may be variable with time, e.g., because new data are being added (open-ended time series) or corrections introduced (applying new calibrations or evaluation algorithms) [Rauber 2015], [Rauber 2016]. Both these topics are of special importance for environmental research today.

Finally, a number of surveys have indicated that the perceived lack of proper attribution of data is a major reason for the hesitancy felt by many researchers to share their data openly [Uhlir 2012], [Socha 2013], [Gallagher 2015]. This attitude also extends to allowing their data to be incorporated into larger data collections, as it is often not possible to perform micro-attribution – i.e., to trace back the provenance of an extracted subset (that was actually used in an analysis) to the individual provider – through the currently used data citation practices.

Change history and amendment procedure

The review of this topic will be organised by Margareta Hellström in consultation with the following volunteers: @AlexVermeulen, @HarryLankreijer, @AriAsmi. They will partition the exploration and gathering of information and collaborate on the analysis and formulation of the initial report. Record details of the major steps in the change history table below. For further details of the complete procedure see item 4 on the Getting Started page.

Note: Do not record editorial / typographical changes. Only record significant changes of content.

DateNameInstitutionNature of the information added / changed
2016-05-25Maggie HellstromULUND & ICOSUpdated page with content from D5.1Candidate2.docx (from 2016-05-24)

Sources of information used


Two-to-five year analysis

<In progress...>

Quite difficult to summarize, as field is evolving rapidly. Will concentrate on issues and ideas that are being discussed now (ca 2016), and try to extrapolate these...

  • Trends towards tighter information exchange (primarily links to content) between publishers, data repositories and data producers.
  • Systems for allocating persistent identifiers will become more user-friendly, but at the same time e.g. handle registries should allow more complex metadata about the objects they index.
  • Moves towards labeling “everything” and “everyone” with PIDs, to allow unambiguous (and exhaustive!) links between entities and therefore also a complete record of activities. (ORCID, ISNI, ...)
  • More effective usage tracking and analysis systems, that harvest citation information not only from academic literature but from a wide range of sources (DataCite, CrossRef, MDC)

State of the art

Subsequent headings for each trend (if appropriate in this HL3 style)

Problems to be overcome

Sub-headings as appropriate in HL3 style (one per problem)

Details underpinning above analysis

Sketch of a longer-term horizon

<to be worked on>

Almost impossible! Some guesses:

  • Much more tightly integrated systems for metadata, provenance, identification and citation
  • Move towards automation of those aspects of the research data life cycle that involve basic tasks like assigning identifiers and citing/referring to all kinds of resources - including data and metadata objects, software, workflows, ...
  • Evolution towards more complex “collections” of research resources, like Research Objects, will necessitate more flexible approaches towards both strategies for identification and detailed, unambiguous citation/referencing parts of such objects

Relationships with requirements and use cases

<to be expanded?>

Connections to RI requirements gathered for identification & citation, cataloguing, curation, provenance, and possibly also processing/workflows.

Work Package 6: The overarching objective is to improve the efficiency of data identification and citation by providing recommendations and good practices for convenient, effective and interoperable identifier management and citation services. WP6 will therefore focus on implementing data tracing and citation functionalities in environmental RIs and develop tools for the RIs, if such are not otherwise available.

ENVRIplus case studies of interest are mainly IC_01 “Dynamic data citation, identification & citation” and IC_09 “Use of DOIs for tracing of data re-use” (likely to be merged, possibly also with IC_06 “Identification/citation in conjunction with provenance”). The primary aim of IC_01 is to provide demonstrators of the RDA Data Citation Working Group’s recommendation for a query-centric approach to how retrieval, and subsequent citation, of dynamic data sets should be supported by the use of versionable database systems. This may be combined with support also for collections of data sets, which can be seen as a sub-category of dynamic datasets, thus addressing also the goals of IC_09. 

Summary of analysis highlighting implications and issues

Bibliography and references to sources

<note: not all of these are used now, and there are also other refs not yet added...>

R.E. Duerr et al. (2011), “On the utility of identification schemes for digital earth science data: an assessment and recommendations”. Earth Science Informatics, vol 4, 2011, 139-160. Available at

R. Huber et al. (2013), “Data citation and digital identification for time series data & environmental research infrastructures”, report from a joint COPEUS-ENVRI-EUDAT workshop in Bremen, June 25-26, 2013. Available via

M.A. Parsons et al. (2010), ”Data citation and peer review”, EOS, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union vol 91, no 34, 24 August 2010, 297-304. Available at

A. Rauber et al. (2015). “Data citation of evolving data. Recommendations of the Working Group on Data Citation (WGDC)”. Preliminary report from 20 Oct 2015. Available at

U. Schwardmann (2015). “ePIC Persistent Identifiers for eResearch” Presentation at the joint DataCite-ePIC workshop Persistent Identifiers: Enabling Services for Data Intensive Research, Paris 21 Sept 2015. Available at

Y.M. Socha, ed. (2013), “Out of cite, out of mind: The current state of practice, policy, and technology for the citation of data”. Data Science Journal vol. 12, 13 Sept 2013. Available at

M. Martone, ed. (2014), “Joint Declaration of Data Citation Principles”, Data Citation Synthesis Group and FORCE11, San Diego CA. Available at

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