Objective: The FAIR principles were created with the goal of enhancing the reusability of research data and to give guidance on how to make data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. In this article we explore the role of institutional research data policies in enabling and encouraging researchers at their institutions to generate FAIR data.
Methods: We identified the research data policies in place for “very high research activity” institutions (as defined by Carnegie classification) in the United States. We created a list of 31 criteria, based on previous work by Davidson et al. (2019) and Briney et al. (2015), and evaluated the 40 policies using a content analysis methodology.
Results: The guiding principles and the definitions for research data in the policies support the idea that institutional policies are a potential tool for the implementation of the FAIR principles. However, our analysis indicates that they are not generally used for that purpose. Only one policy mentions FAIR. Data sharing is mentioned in half of the policies, but 11 of these only note this concept in the context of funder requirements. Access and retention sections are mostly written without considering publicly available data. Twenty-nine policies do not mention data documentation.
Conclusions: We discuss ways in which these institutional policies represent a missed opportunity to implement the FAIR principles and suggest ways policies could be modified to encourage researchers to follow them. We also discuss future research opportunities to examine how policy implementation may affect what institutional support researchers receive.