The Three Monkeys: New Evidence-Gatherer Roles for the JISC Managing Research Data programme

The JISC Managing Research Data (‘JISC MRD’) programme is now in its second iteration, MRD02.  In this second funded phase, JISC MRD02 is showing no signs of slowing down, arguably reflecting the growing attention now being focused on research data management.  As JISC is compelled to gather and disseminate evidence of the impact of its work and the projects it funds, programme manager Simon Hodson recruited three evidence gatherers to help him with this aspect of programme management.

Like the three monkeys of the fable, Meik, Jonny and I all have slightly different ways of looking at life (and we do have a bad habit of sitting together in a row at meetings), but we’re all survivors of MRD01 projects, we all care deeply about research data management and we’re all concerned about how to increase the articulation of research data management principles and best practice between different audiences, ideally for the mutual benefit of all.

I’ll let Meik (Twitter: @MeikPoschen) and Jonny (Twitter: @jtedds) introduce themselves, but I thought it might be useful to briefly describe the kind of things I’ve already worked on in this area, how this informs my particular perspective on research data management in the context of the current JISC MRD programme, and what I hope to do under the auspices of the evidence gatherer work.

I was a minor member of the team of the late, lamented Arts and Humanities Data Service, specifically the AHDS Performing Arts data centre.  AHDS-PA was funded by the AHRC and the JISC, and we gathered the research outputs of AHRC-funded performance-related work for preservation purposes but also to encourage the use and re-use of these resources in research and teaching.  It was during the life of this work, before the cessation of AHRC funding in March 2008, that I started to learn about this field of digital preservation and the archival principles behind much of it.

After AHDS-PA, I began work on the EC-funded FP6 project Planets (http://www.planets-project.eu/), which was a four-year effort developing tools and services for digital preservation.  My main activity was working with a small team in the UK, and teams of local organisers in five different European countries, to develop and deliver training events in the project’s final year.  We produced one event each in Copenhagen, Bern, London, Rome and Sofia.  The first day of each event was devoted to outreach, i.e. awareness-raising for senior managers and budget holders, and days two and three delivered hands-on training for technical staff with Planets tools.  I also developed a series of basic online training materials including a series of videos, an annotated reading list and some summaries of the outreach day of the live training events, written for a technical audience in collaboration with IBM.  The results of Planets are now sustained by the Open Planets Foundation.

After Planets, the first JISC MRD programme funded a project at Glasgow and Cambridge universities to look at the existing data management practices of researchers at these two institutions, and then to build on these findings to deliver tailored training and guidance to improve how research data is managed throughout its lifecycle.  This work was called JISC Incremental and its outputs are available here http://www.glasgow.ac.uk/datamanagement (Glasgow) and here http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/dataman (Cambridge).  There was a blog maintained by the team throughout the project for a slightly less formal account of proceedings, available here: http://incrementalproject.wordpress.com/.

As well as introducing me to the joys of punting and Fitzbillies teashop in Cambridge, my work on Incremental updated my knowledge about research data management, reaffirmed my belief in the value of user requirements-led resource development, and confirmed my suspicion that no matter how great tools and software for any kind of digital curation are, they won’t be used unless you can translate and articulate the benefits of using them to the people you want to be the users.  (For more discussion on the importance of audience-appropriate language in guidance and training, see my post on the Incremental blog at: http://incrementalproject.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/vocabularyjargonterminology-synonyms-and-specialist-language/.)

Most researchers we spoke to don’t see research data management as something either important or particularly relevant to them, and certainly not something upon which they want to expend money, time or mental energy.  Luckily for those of us who are concerned with this area, however, the shifting of funder requirements to more explicit demands for demonstrable research data management planning provides at least some motivation for starting conversations with researchers.  (There are, however, disciplines with well-established and capable research data management practices and traditions, and I hope to unpack that issue in later blog posts.)

I was also involved in a later, shorter project called DaMSSI, the Data Management Skills Support Initiative, which was funded as part of the MRD01 Research Data Management Training Materials strand.  DaMSSI is described and documented here: http://www.dcc.ac.uk/training/data-management-courses-and-training/skills-frameworks.

As well as the specific findings and outputs of the Incremental and DaMSSI work, I also learned a lot about the JISC MRD programme, its protocols, culture and key people, and hopefully this will serve as a useful background for work on the second iteration of the programme.

Comments to anything we write in this blog are always going to be warmly welcomed, and you are also encouraged to feedback in your own (linked) blog posts, or via Twitter – I can be found on Twitter @LM_HATII.

2 thoughts on “The Three Monkeys: New Evidence-Gatherer Roles for the JISC Managing Research Data programme

  1. Sarah Jones

    Good to hear about the evidence gatherers’ role – I think it’s be a really useful addition to the MRD programme.

    A question was raised in our breakout session about whether commonalities lie within disciplines or if we should be comparing workflows and processes across disciplines as researchers from different areas may have similar needs. Might be a useful question to bear in mind as you’ll be taking a very high-level overview.

    Sarah

  2. jtedds

    I’m one of those regularly banging this particular drum.

    Following the agreement by the RCUK umbrella body of research funders on common data principles for making research data reusable, “data as a public good”, and similar moves by larger charitable trusts such as Wellcome, funders have then batted the ball back to institutions and said deal with it!

    However a researcher or research group is likely to have much more in common regarding their requirements to manage their data with a similar researcher or group in the same discipline but residing in any other institution compared to another researcher/group even in the same building. So we are asking a lot for institutions to meet this full range of requirements across all of their researchers. Researchers rather tend to look to their disciplinary learned societies or evaluation panels coordinated by funders to provide coordinated responses. To be sure, the institutions have a strong role to play and shoulder a measure of responsibility but they are by no means the whole answer to the problem.

    Er, I’m Jonathan Tedds (University of Leicester) and I think I just wrote my first blog post regarding JISCMRD02 evidence gathering!

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