10 January 2020 Vol 367, Issue 6474
Waiting for data: Barriers to executing data use agreements
By Michelle M. Mello, George Triantis, Robyn Stanton, Erik Blumenkranz, David M. Studdert
Science10 Jan 2020 : 150-152 Full Access
Delays stem from institutional factors and negotiating challenges, some of which appear amenable to reform
Many academic researchers who use preexisting data to conduct research describe a common experience: waiting for university officials to finalize and sign contracts necessary to transfer the data. These data use agreements (DUAs) detail the terms under which data will be disclosed, transferred, stored, and used, specifying rights and obligations for both the data supplier and the recipient (1). Faculty members often struggle to understand why DUAs for transfers of seemingly low-risk data take so long to conclude. To understand reasons for delays and explore what might be done to streamline the process, we interviewed a sample of university officials responsible for negotiating DUAs. This first empirical investigation of the DUA process found that procedural inefficiencies, incomplete information, data suppliers’ lack of incentives and familiarity with academic practices, and faculty unresponsiveness may be more important contributors to delays than the lawyers being at loggerheads over their respective positions. Although researchers may view DUAs as another symptom that research has become “overlawyered,” our study suggests that they may underappreciate the importance of these contracts and the complexity of negotiating them.