Retention

Laws and regulations on how long data must be kept; assessing longer-term value at the end of the retention period.

The Management of Data and Information guide states on page 6 in section 3.1:

"The central aims of retention of data and information are to enable the justification of outcomes of the research and the facilitation of sharing of research data.

Researchers have primary responsibility for deciding which research data and primary materials are candidates for long-term retention and wider accessibility.

You should identify the likely retention period for your data as early as possible in the research and ensure that requirements for retention and disposal are met.

In addition to legal requirements and the requirements of funders, government bodies and publishers, the following criteria should be considered in deciding which research data and primary materials should be retained:

  • uniqueness and non-replicability
  • reliability, integrity, and usability
  • relevance to a known research initiative or collection
  • community, cultural or historical value
  • economic benefit."

Minimum retention periods

Your research data needs to be kept for as long as required to:

  • meet any statutory or regulatory obligations (records legislation, funding agency guidelines, contractual arrangements with research partners)
  • meet the current needs of researchers
  • meet the future needs of researchers where these can reasonably be anticipated
  • satisfy expectations of the University in documenting research activity.

In general, the minimum period for retention of research information/data is 5 years from the date of publication.

Email: archives@monash.edu to determine the minimum retention period for your data.

Disposal

The destruction of data must be irreversible with no chance of recovery later. Digital data should be destroyed by deleting or overwriting information, purging magnetic media through degaussing (exposure to a strong magnetic field), or destroying the physical media.

Paper can be shredded using secure shredding. Extra care should be taken with sensitive or confidential information where a secure paper destruction service must be used.

In all cases records relating to what was destroyed, when and how should be retained.

Planning for long-term and permanent retention

If you think that your data may be a candidate for long-term or permanent retention, you should be aware that decisions made at an early stage of the research project can limit your later ability to retain data in a usable form. For example:

  • Human ethics requirements and the nature of the consents you seek from participants will determine whether data can be re-used for future projects and in what ways. (See Guidelines - Ethics and consent)
  • Technology-based decisions relating to storage media, software, and digital file formats might impact upon the length of time that data can be easily retrieved and used.
  • If good documentation about the data has not been kept throughout the life of the data, it may be difficult to find the data and make sense of it at a later date, particularly if those originally responsible for the data are no longer at Monash University. (See Guideline Organising data)

Identifying issues like these around long-term and permanent retention is part of data planning.

Research data that is going to be retained permanently should be deposited in a repository or archive.