DMP session at JISC MRD and DCC IE workshop, Nottingham

Wednesday’s session on data management planning (session 2A) at the JISC Managing Research Data programme progress / DCC institutional engagements event was addressed by

  • Rachel Proudfoot of the RoaDMaP project at Leeds and her researcher colleague Professor Richard Hall of the SpineFX project;
  • Meik Poschen of the MiSS project at Manchester (as well as of programme evidence gatherer fame!);
  • the UKDA’s Veerle Van den Eynden of the RD@Essex project.

Speakers each gave lively updates on the work of their projects, their engagement with research data management and, particularly, data management planning in each of their contexts.

Challenges and lessons learned

Rachel Proudfoot reported that at Leeds, every research application is now to go through an RDM risk assessment process.  As part of that, I wondered if that meant a large majority of researchers would have participated in the writing of a data management plan of one sort or another.  However, RoaDMaP research tells us that 44% of researchers surveyed said they’d done so.  This is an encouraging figure, but the RoaDMaP team are keen to improve matters.

RoaDMaP has been using the DCC’s DMP online tool in their work with researchers: Rachel reported that not all funders are equally well served by it yet but has been feeding suggestions to the DCC and hopes to be able to recommend it to researchers in the future.

Rachel is not alone in dealing with mixed practice across faculties and subject areas in a large, complex institution.  Veerle Van den Eynden described how RD@Essex is also engaging with diverse disciplines to learn about and build on knowledge of diverse discipline practices.

Rachel underlined the need for a consistent message across committees and policy.  Veerle agreed that the university needs to send a strong, consistent message about its stance and expectations around RDM to all researchers.  To be achieved, of course, this needs to be supported by technical infrastructure and the cohesive interaction of university systems, a challenge which, as Meik Poschen reported, is being tackled at Manchester too.  As Meik noted, the integration of systems is not only a more efficient and possibly cost-effective way of gathering and keeping information about research at the institution, but it can also minimise the frustration of researchers with administrative procedures by removing the need to supply the same information several times as part of the bidding process.

Another challenge identified is the provision and sustainability of support for RDM activities including the development of data management plans.  Some projects are able to provide this at the moment due to the relatively low levels of awareness and concomitant low levels of demand.  But projects today aired concerns about scalability, particularly once policies become more robust, awareness rises and demand increases.  All three projects are reaching out to their various audiences with online guidance resources to provide on-demand help and supplement in-person guidance provision.

Richard Hall, a spine researcher at Leeds, is clear that members of the research team should be a priority in the development of a data management plan as they will be the best people to give a realistic account of the scale and type of data anticipated, and also any changes in technology that are likely to occur during project lifespan.  His example brought it home: a few years ago, scanners could produce a scan of a vertebra in a day or two: now whole spines can be scanned in a few hours.  Increasing the speed and capacity of scanning not only means that more scans are produced during the project lifespan: also, as it’s so quick and easy to produce larger and more complex scans, researchers are likely to produce and keep more and larger scans than they would have a few years ago.  Meik also outlined the challenges posed to RDM by rapid change in research technology.

Other lessons learned by Richard in this area are that DMPs must be part of research activity from the earliest stage possible, and that a requirements specification needs to be developed at that time.  A project risk assessment is also useful to identify challenges.  These will all need resourcing – not only financially but also in terms of time and attention: data management planning for even the simplest data needs thought and researcher engagement.  (Unsurprisingly, financial resourcing for RDM was also highlighted as another challenge by the other two institutions.)

But of course more roles than the researcher alone must be engaged: all projects acknowledged the various roles involved in good RDM practice across the institution, and Meik was particularly clear about the need to clearly assign both responsibilities and accountability for various stages of RDM.  MiSS is developing training for library, research office and business managers at Manchester to raise awareness across the campus.

What has worked or is working?

In RoaDMaP’s view, the DCC’s DMPonline works quite well for some funders.  Examples of a DMP created by the tool can be reassuring for researchers, who often find that by contrast, talking about it in the abstract can be disconcerting.

Rachel is convinced that to get researchers on board with guidance, services and tools, it’s crucial to put lots of feedback mechanisms in place for timely and detailed user information.  This not only helps to improve the product, but also gets over the message to researchers or other users that their experience is important to the process, an idea echoed by Richard Hall.

Richard is pleased that working on data management plans with a research team doesn’t just yield the plan itself: his experience is that the process also helps to bring about cultural change as the relevant issues are examined and decisions reached.  Other advantages to the activity are that it helps to instil a culture of cooperation throughout the research team even where there are national boundaries, and that the additional governance structures ultimately enhance research.

What can the MRD programme or the DCC do to help? 

The MRD programme has done much already to bring RDM questions into focus, and put in place pathfinder projects as well as supporting development in institutions at a more advanced stage of supporting RDM.  Many projects will be hopeful of further JISC MRD programme investment to sustain and extend the work on which they are currently engaged.

Many suggestions emerged in the question period for future DCC activity, including:

  • Promotion of the benefits of writing DMPs alongside the risks and costs of not participating
  • Work with Je-s / RCUK to streamline the process and for consistency
  • Help to coordinate policy production across engaged institutions
  • Guidance about roles and responsibilities

How do you model costs?  Have you assigned responsibilities and / or accountability for various RDM functions at your institution?  And is there anything you’d like the MRD programme, the JISC more widely or the DCC to do, either now or during future work, to meet RDM challenges?  Tell us in the comments.

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