Developing Research Data Management Policy

This is Jonathan Tedds (@jtedds): Senior Research Liaison Manager for IT Services; researcher in astronomy and research data management at the University of Leicester. By way of a first blog post proper here in JISCMRD Towers I want to introduce the increasingly higher profile area of Research Data Management (RDM) policy and why it’s rapidly moving from desirable to essential.

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! The EPSRC in particular requires that institutions in receipt of grant funding establish a clear roadmap to align their policies and processes with EPSRC’s expectations by 1st May 2012, and are fully compliant with these expectations by 1st May 2015 – yes, you did read that correctly, that’s a roadmap by this May! Sarah Jones of the Digital Curation Centre (DCC) has just blogged about this following a refreshed look at this area during the very well attended recent DCC Roadshow at Loughborough in February 2012.

Of course there are many other reasons why any institution that it is serious about research should be investing in the support of RDM and Angus Whyte and I recently co-authored a DCC Briefing on making the case for research data management which sets the national and international context as well as describing the experiences in the last 3 years at the University of Leicester. As a consequence institutions (and more specifically those held accountable for supporting researchers) are now realising, if they didn’t already, that they need to plan for research data management infrastructure on the ground across the entire research data lifecycle. Crucially they will also need high level policy at the institutional level to make this a reality. So how to go about it?

Well there are a few institutions that already have policies in place including Edinburgh, Oxford, Northampton and Hertfordshire. The DCC maintains a list of these with links to relevant institutional data policies. Of course this in itself is a grey area as your institution may well already have a code of practice which covers at least some of this ground. But does the policy (or the code!) always connect to the practice on the ground? Bill Worthington, who leads the Research Data Toolkit (Herts) JISCMRD project, has recently blogged on their work in this area.

At Leicester we have been building up to an institutional level policy to fit alongside an existing code of practice adopting a rather ground up approach; building on exemplars such as the JISCMRD Halogen interdisciplinary database hosting project and the current BRISSkit UMF project I lead for cross NHS-University biomedical research alongside high profile central investment in high performance computing (HPC). I facilitate a Research Computing Management Group across the University which takes a strategic view of these issues and will inform our own institutional level policy working party.

A recent email exchange on the JISCMRD mailing list showed a strong interest from the many new (and established) institutes involved in getting together to discuss a number of issues around developing and implementing RDM policies. Following an online poll it was decided to host a lunch-to-lunch meeting, supported by the Programme and assisted by the DCC, to takes this forward at the University of Leeds on March 12-13th 2012. Based on the poll we are expecting up to 50 participants. I’ll link to further details as they are finalised and made available. Themes raised to date include:

  • How are projects/institutions developing policies? Covering considerations of general principles, guidelines from funders and other bodies, specific considerations for the institution in question.
  • How are people getting approval for policies? A chance to share – e.g. off the record or by the Chatham House Rule – some of the challenges which may be faced.
  • How are people planning to support the implementation of the policies? How do projects/institutions intend to support transition from policy to practice?  Policy, infrastructure and guidance.  Interplay of top-down and bottom-up elements?  How to build mention and requirements of subject specific and/or institutional services into institutional policies.
  • How technical solutions affect policy decisions How much will policy be driven by what is technically available to an institution as a (suite of) data management solutions.
  • How are we going to assess and critique the success of RDM systems and policies

Finally, there are of course difficulties in all of this focus on the institutional level. As a researcher myself (astronomy) I argue that 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 (including international) 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 research areas. Researchers rather tend to look to their disciplinary learned societies or evaluation panels established by funders to provide coordinated responses. To be sure, the institutions have a strong role to play and shoulder a strong measure of responsibility but they are by no means the whole answer to the problem as I blogged in Research Fortnight (February 2011).

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