Category Archives: Benefits

Achievements, Challenges, Recommendations workshop: RDM support & guidance (1B)

Here at the JiscMRD Achievements, Challenges and Recommendations workshop, Joy Davidson (HATII and the DCC) chaired session 1B on research data management support and guidance.  Jez Cope (Research360 at Bath), Rachel Proudfoot (RoaDMaP at Leeds), Hannah Lloyd-Jones of Open Exeter and Anne Spalding (stepping into Leigh Garrett’s shoes for the KAPTUR project at UCA) all shared their experiences of developing tailored advice and guidance for their host institutions and / or target disciplines.

Jez described very clearly how the Research360 project went about the formulation and production of their resource, finding very similar challenges and solutions to those noted by e.g. the Incremental project in MRD01, including the usefulness of some fundamental but often overlooked details such as placing the resource as high in the university website architecture as possible (theirs is at http://www.bath.ac.uk/research/data) which helps to ensure the resource is not seen as partisan to one discipline or service over others; and listing in website A-Z directories under something meaningful and findable to users (in their case ‘R’ for ‘research’ and ‘D’ for ‘data’ as opposed to their project acronym).

Usability also extends into the layout on the homepage, where content can be accessed via a menu of RDM topics (for those with a bit of RDM knowledge) or by project phase for those with less RDM knowledge.

Jez noted that much of his role has been to work as a translator between technical and non-technical people.  Rachel Proudfoot is also bringing together different staff groups: RoaDMaP work draws on a working group containing key contacts from varied services and areas of the university including the university training service, IT services, the library and faculties.  Rachel’s experience is that this approach not only provides an essential mix of expertise to inform your outputs, but also gives you access to new channels for administration and promotion of training events and awareness-raising efforts.  Rachel was pragmatic about re-purposing existing training resources already created at Leeds, e.g. made for one discipline and re-used for another.  Whilst Jez was clear that getting material from other people at the institution always takes longer than even the most generous estimate, in Rachel’s experience reusing one’s own materials can be tricky too.

The Open Exeter project has been remarkable for their use of a group of PGR students from varied disciplines as active participants in project work where, for a fee (and an iPad!) they have functioned as the face of the project at university events and across their peer group.  The group members have also supplied responses and feedback to various project outputs and so helped to make sure guidance and events are relevant and meaningful to this group of researchers, and produced a ‘survival guide’ for distribution at induction which helps to make the case for RDM to newly-arrived PGRs.  In this way, they have made the work of the project a lot more visible through peer-to-peer and student-to-supervisor (!) education about RDM at Exeter.  They also contributed better understanding of the needs of active researchers in a way that was more practical in terms of time and cost than trying to work with more senior researchers. The students in turn have new knowledge of and skills in RDM, have received specialised help from the university and external experts and have a new element to add to their academic CV. This fruitful relationship has contributed much to Open Exeter’s online guidance resources: due to the varied disciplines represented by the PGRs, their case studies and other contributions are truly central to the webpage at http://as.exeter.ac.uk/library/resources/openaccess/openexeter/.

Another fruitful relationship was described by Anne Spalding in the last presentation in the session, a description of the KAPTUR project.  KAPTUR has a fairly unusual challenge of involving four creative arts-focused academic institutions on a common quest to understand and manage research data in the visual arts.  Anne noted that this is a discipline-area with particular challenges around the definition of what constitutes research data – an ongoing area of work for the project.  She also noted that project work, as with other projects such as Open Exeter’s DAF survey, was built upon the findings of surveys of researchers to understand current data-related practice.  As with the other projects of this group, a range of areas of the institution were involved; in this case libraries, training services and others were asked to feed into policy formation and UCA had their data policy passed by senior management in February 2013.  Anne was clear that this policy will operate as a framework for further RDM infrastructure development work.

When discussing areas for future work, Joy and Rachel both agreed on the need for us to now consider how we extend capacity for RDM training in the institution.  There are relatively few with the skills and the confidence to train others in RDM: we need to train more trainers and extend the network of expertise at the institution, particularly in cases where the Jisc MRD project is not assured of continuation funding from their host HEI.  A useful idea at Leeds was inviting the DCC to attend – not to provide a training session but to critique the session presented by the project: this is an effective way to instil confidence and skill in RDM training at the institution, and can be extended by thoughtful deployment of the openly-available training and guidance resources already produced by the MRD programme.

Here are some of my thoughts from this session:

– The more you can find out about your audience beforehand, the better tailored (= more meaningful = more effective) your training can be, so get those pre-event questionnaires out and completed!

– Re-use of existing resources is possible and can be successful but may still need some effort and time to do well.  So whilst it’s worth while using the expertise of others, and always looks good to demonstrate awareness of the relevant resources that already exist, don’t do it simply be a short cut or a time-saver.

– Training cohorts of new researchers is good and well but we now need to start planning to train more senior academics.  They are the ones that allow RAs, postdocs and students to go off to training (or not); they are providing training recommendations to the students they supervise; they are the ones sitting on funder selection boards and ethics panels.  They need to be up to date on RDM, at least in their own discipline areas, and to be aware of what they don’t know.

Laura Molloy
e: laura.molloy AT glasgow.ac.uk

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‘Institutional Policies, Strategies, Roadmaps’ session at JISC MRD and DCC IE workshop, Nottingham

The ‘Components of Institutional Research Data Services’ event on 24 October 2012 brought together the ongoing JISC MRD infrastructure projects as well as the institutions with which the Digital Curation Centre is running an ‘institutional engagement’.

The ‘Institutional policies, strategies, roadmaps’ session (session 1A) reflected this nicely, with two speakers from MRD projects ‘Admire’ and ‘Research360’, and two from DCC IEs, St Andrews and Edinburgh.

What is working?

Tom Parsons from Nottingham’s Admire project described further connections across this set of institutions, acknowledging the 2011 aspirational Edinburgh data policy (more on this later) as the inspiration for theirs at Nottingham, and underlining the importance of being aware of the requirements not only of major funders at your institution but also the institutional policies which exist: these need to be found, understood, and worked with to give a coherent message to researchers and support staff about RDM.  This can be done, as he noted, by reflecting these existing messages in your data policy but also by strengthening the data management aspects of these existing policies, and so making the most of any credibility they already have with university staff.

At Bath, RCUK funders are also important influences on progress.  Cathy Pink from Research360 has established that the biggest funder of research work at her institution is the EPSRC, and so Research360’s roadmap work to particularly respond to the EPSRC’s expectations is important at her university, and was published earlier this year.  Bath has looked to the Monash University work to guide its direction in policy formation, particularly to inform strategic planning for RDM and making a clear connection between work at the university to advance RDM and the university’s existing strategic aims: an intelligent way to garner senior management buy-in.

Cathy noted that the DAF and Cardio tools from DCC were both useful in ascertaining the existing situation at Bath: these measures are important to take both in order to identify priorities for action, and also in order to be able to demonstrate the improvements (dare I say impact?) brought about by your work in policy formulation and / or training and guidance provision.

To be taken seriously at the institution and to promote awareness and buy-in, Cathy urged institutions to incorporate feedback from a wide range of relevant parties at the university: research support office, the library, IT support and the training support office where available.  This promotes a coherent approach from all these stakeholders as well as a mutually well-informed position on what each of these areas can contribute to successful RDM.

Birgit Plietzch from St Andrews also found DAF and Cardio relevant to ascertain the current data management situation at her institution but felt the processes could be usefully merged.   Birgit’s team again started by finding out who was funding research at the university (400+ funders!) and then increasing their understanding of these funders’ RDM requirements to create a solid base for policy work.  Again, the Monash University work in this area was useful at her institution, and when the EPSRC roadmap work was completed, as with Bath, it helped to demonstrate the relevance of RDM to diverse areas of institutional activity.

Edinburgh’s Stewart Lewis, too, described the value of creating relationships not only with senior management champions for RDM but also between the university mission statement or strategic aims, and RDM policy.  Stewart acknowledged that the aspirational policy published by Edinburgh in 2011 is a useful way to both instigate and lead on improved RDM at the university, but that action is also crucial.  The aspirational mode of policy gives a stable, high-level statement which is then enacted through supporting, and more volatile, documents.  So whilst action is devolved from the top-level document, it is still intrinsically important if culture change is to happen.  To this end, they have created various levels of implementation groupings to carry through specific actions.  Infrastructure specified by their policy work includes a minimum storage amount and training provision.

In accordance with the Grindley Theory of Four Things (see the – fittingly – 4th bullet point of https://mrdevidence.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2012/11/05/research-data-management-programme-training-strand-kick-off-workshop-london-26-october/), Edinburgh is concentrating on four high level  areas: planning, infrastructure, stewardship and, lastly, support across these three.   These areas were chosen in order to meaningfully move forward the RDM work at Edinburgh whilst still making sense to the researcher population.

Challenges and lessons learned

Tom shared some findings gathered by Admire from their survey of the institution’s researcher population which shows around 230 projects are currently funded and so storage requirements are substantial.  Most of these projects are funded by RCUK funders, and so the expectations for a well-organised approach to RDM are also pretty substantial.  When c. 92% of researchers surveyed at the institution report having had no RDM training, we can understand the need for (and scale of) Admire’s work!

Cathy echoed Tom’s point: don’t attempt to simply lift one institution’s work and hope to apply it to yours.  The tailoring required is significant if a set of policies is going to work in your own context.

The first attempt at the RDM policy for Bath was rejected by the senior management group.  Inspirationally, Cathy recognised this as a great opportunity to refine their work and improve the policy using the feedback received.  It also helped clarify their ambitions for the policy and resolved the team to do better than ‘just good enough’: being tempered, of course, by the support infrastructure that could be realistically delivered by the institution – a similar situation as with Nottingham.

Cathy emphasised the point that good quality consultation across the institution is time-consuming but well worthwhile if you aim to build genuinely useful and effective policy or other resources.

Birgit also faced challenges in getting a wider acceptance of some promising RDM policy work.  The institutional environment, including a recent reshuffle of IT provision, had contributed problems to the smooth progress of their IE and senior management, once again, needed compelling evidence to understand the benefits of improved RDM for the institution.

Birgit also found that academics were overextended and found it difficult to make the time to participate in the research that her team needed to undertake to develop policy in this area, but when they realised the relevance they were keen to be involved in the process and to access RDM training.  The notion of the aspirational (as opposed to the highly-specified) mode of RDM policy is popular with researchers at her institution.

Next steps for Stewart and the team at Edinburgh include attaching costs, both in terms of person-time and financial, to the actions specified under their EPSRC roadmap, which will be published soon.  The team will also soon run focus groups using the DCC’s DMP Online tool, run a pilot of Datashare, establish what is needed by researchers in addition to storage, and run training for liaison librarians; these activities, however, need resources: the next challenge to meet.

Discussion picked up the balance between universities offering trustworthy storage appropriate for research data and the motivation of researchers to bid for these resources elsewhere: researchers bidding for this type of funding not only helps the university to concentrate resources in other useful areas but also helps to give a clear message to funders that if they want improved RDM, they have to be prepared to contribute financially towards it.

Costing was a popular topic: Graham Pryor (DCC) was interested that no speaker said they’ve attached costs.  Sometimes explicitly identifying costs means this work becomes unacceptable to senior management on financial grounds.  Paul Stainthorpe at Lincoln agreed that you can spend lots of time on policy, but it won’t be accepted unless there’s a business case.  Other institutions agreed, but added that senior management want some illustrative narrative in addition to the hard figures, to tell them why this really matters.

Birgit added that there is also the problem of unfunded research, particularly in the arts.  Her team has been receiving an increasing number of enquiries relating to this area, and it’s an area also being considered by Newcastle’s Iridium project, who have looked at research information management systems and discovered they only track funded work, leaving unfunded research as ‘a grey area’, even though it may be generating high impact publications.  At UAL, a partner in the KAPTUR project, lots of researchers do a lot of work outside the institution and not funded by it and so for the purposes of the project, they’re being explicit about managing funded work.

UAL has recently launched their RDM policy as a result of their KAPTUR work and stakeholders are happy with it in principle, but the challenge now is how to implement it: John Murtagh noted that engagement and understanding mean work must continue beyond the policy launch.  I mentioned the importance of training here as an element which has to be developed at the institution alongside policy and technical infrastructure.  This was agreed by Wendy White of Southampton: policy needs to be an ongoing dialogue and the challenge is to integrate these elements.

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

–          DCC: advise on whether funders are going to move the goalposts, and how realistic the risks are of this happening;

–          DCC: advise on what public funding can be used to support RDM policy work;

–          help with costing work

–          DCC: mediation between universities and the research councils, clarifying requirements and sharing universities’ experiences, etc.

–          DCC: providing briefings on current issues, e.g. PVC valued briefings re. open access.

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Evidence Gathering: The Field Guide

Evidence?  Of what?

We have great lives as Evidence Gatherers – really, we do. Swanning around to meetings, reading interesting blogposts from MRD02 projects, being nosy about what the programme’s projects are doing and writing about stuff that engages us.  But there is a more serious side to the role.  The clue’s in the name, really: we’re here primarily to Gather Evidence.  But evidence of what, and why?

Well, like everyone else in the research sector, JISC is under considerable obligation to provide clear and compelling evidence of the value of its activities.  Everyone on an MRD02 project knows that what the programme’s projects are doing is going to really change things for the better in research data management – whether that’s at our institution, our discipline or more broadly across the sector – but how do we prove this?  We all know there’s less money going around to fund the sort of research we want to do in RDM, so how do we make the case in clear and irrefutable terms that our work brings benefits?  Real, measurable, trackable benefits?  Hence the decision to undertake a structured approach to gathering and presenting the evidence of the benefits of MRD projects.

Anyone from an MRD01 infrastructure project will remember the requirement for a benefits case study near the end of project activity.  (These were brought together in a handy summary document.)  But we couldn’t help thinking, ‘If only we’d been able to plan for writing this case study earlier.  Then we could’ve put some pre-activity benchmarks in place to show how great we were.’  So this time around, projects were introduced to the benefits work at the programme’s kick-off meeting, and then wrote a blog post early in the project to outline the benefits they were expecting to realise.

The Field Guide to our approach

One of the main things we’ve noticed when reading these blog posts is that there is often a bit of confusion around what constitutes an output; a benefit; and a piece of evidence.  For our purposes, here is the Field Guide to the MRD Evidence Gathering Approach:

  • An output is something that the project is going to make, produce, put in place or that it otherwise aims to deliver.  These will be specified in your project plan.
  • Benefits can be identified by asking, ‘What does this help us (the institution / researchers) to do better?’
  • Evidence consists of specific, clear metrics (quantitative measures) and specific, clear qualitative evidence such as narratives and short case studies, all of which support or prove the benefit.

So for the Evidence Gathering work, we need to establish a list of benefits for each project, and each benefit in turn needs to be supported by evidence.

An example:

  • Output: Production and approval of a data policy is an output (and a great one!  Go you!)
  • Benefits: How does this output help the institution / researchers to do RDM and/or research better?  Well, having this policy to refer to can contribute to i) easier compliance with funder policy, ii) improved availability of RDM infrastructure, and iii) improved ability of the institution to plan for future requirements.  These are three benefits.
  • Evidence: So appropriate evidence can be the tracking of quantitative measures, e.g. an increased number of references to the data policy within research proposals,  against an existing benchmark.  A case study with a researcher showing how the policy helped them with success in bidding would be inspiring and could show compliance with funder policy to good effect.  Evidence of increasing reference to the data policy, over time, along with an increased number of datasets held securely and in a context that makes them available for re-use would be compelling.  Interviews with key staff from planning office or research office (as appropriate) about use of RDM roadmap/policy, or a narrative detailing how the policy is being used to improve the institution’s RDM infrastructure could also be used.

Tailored solutions

At programme events, project staff will probably have noticed how diverse the programme is.  The types and sizes of institutions, the aims of projects and the approaches to RDM in all these circumstances make for interesting meetings and energetic debate.  However, it also means that we don’t propose a one-size-fits-all approach to the Evidence Gathering work, so much of our time is currently spent crafting a tailor-made list of sensible and appropriate pieces of evidence for each project. These are to be delivered in an Evidence Report along with Final Reports, but projects should also find the material very helpful when putting together their sustainability business cases.

The goal is to have clear, understandable and compelling evidence for each project which contributes to an evidence base for the programme as a whole.  This will show the difference made for the better – how we as a programme have improved matters, changed the game and moved RDM onwards in the UK HE sector.

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Ways of approaching an RDM Service

A few weeks back an interesting discussion took place on the JISCMRD mailinglist, picked up on this blog under the main question of ‘ What are the requirements an RDMI has to cover?’.

One of the conclusions was that requirements gathering, scope and application obviously depend on a number of factors, one major one being the remit of the project: implementing a system for (pilot) audiences is different from getting an institution-wide service into place and running. The MaDAM project between 2009 and 2011 implemented a pilot RDMI for users from the biomedical domain – and was followed up by  MiSS (MaDAM into Sustainable Service) in autumn last year. Whilst having all the crucial experience, findings, contacts and committed stakeholders through MaDAM to build upon, it was clear that a set of new challenges would arise in implementing a RDMI as a service for the whole (and benefit) of the University.

1) Especially having the main stakeholders on board for such an endeavour is of utmost importance – but soon we realised that this process basically never stops: aims, benefits and plans have to be mulled over, renegotiated and agreed upon. There is always one office and internal project more to be included.

2) The University of Manchester also released their RDM Policy in May this year – and also other internal endeavours change structures (research offices), infrastructure (storage, eDMP) and processes. As a research project implementing a service we have to closely liaise with all those stakeholders to be on the same page and coordinate our efforts (and integrate with existing systems and the IT landscape) – despite a small core project team.

3) Outreach, awareness raising and training become more and more important. To this end (also including the points made before) we had to draw up a communication plan, collaborate and plan for an interim service and training for staff. We always strived to hold as many presentations as possible for various audiences at the University about our projects – now we have to start organising dedicated events e.g. at the moment on DMPs. Also: tangible benefits have to be communicated to all audiences!

4) One major challenge for the devleopment of the service and how it will look like lies in balancing the generic with the specific needs. Trying to gather and negotiate as many views, feedback and concerns is a huge task and some evolvement over time is needed – especially as only a system (service!) in use shows all the specifics required for every user, group and discipline. The service coming into life in about a year’s time will be a ‘thin layer’ across the whole RDM lifecycle, but the development is a continuous one and the RDM Service will get more tailored, sophisticated and mature while running.

Meik Poschen  <meik.poschen@manchester.ac.uk>
Twitter:  @MeikPoschen

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Oxford digital infrastructure to support research workshop

The University of Oxford have impressively attempted to marshal the diverse projects ranging across disparate areas of expertise in research data management at the university. I attended a DaMaRo workshop today to review the digital infrastructure required to meet the challenges of the multi disciplinary and institutional research landscape as it pertains to Oxford.

First and foremost, this is no mean feat in a university as diverse and dispersed as Oxford and Paul Jeffreys and colleagues are to be congratulated for the work to date. It’s hard enough attempting join up in a smaller, albeit research intensive university such as Leicester and the road is long and at times tortuous. Never mind potentially at odds with established university structures and careers…

I particularly liked the iterative approach taken during the workshop: so present key challenges to the various stakeholders present; provide an opportunity to reflect; then vote with your feet (ok, post-it notes in traffic light colours) on which areas should be prioritised. At the very least this is useful even if we may argue over which stakeholders are present or not. In this case the range was quite good but inevitably you don’t get so many active researchers (at least in terms of publishing research papers) at this kind of meeting.

In assessing the potential research services it was pointed out where a charging model was required, if not funded by the institution or externally. Turns out here at Oxford the most popular choice was the proposed DataFinder service (hence no weblink yet!) to act as a registry of data resources in the university which could be linked to wider external search. I remember during the UK Research Data Service pathfinder project that there was a clearly identified need for a service of this kind. Jean Sykes of LSE, who helped steer the UKRDS through choppy waters, was present and told me she is about to retire in a couple of months. Well done Jean and I note that UKRDS launched many an interesting and varied flower now blossoming in the bright lights of ‘data as a public good’ – an itch was more than scratched.

I also note in passing that it was one of the clear achievements of the e-science International Virtual Observatory Alliance movement, developed for astronomical research between 2000-2010, that it became possible to search datasets, tools and resources in general via use of community agreed metadata standards. Takes medium to long term investment but it can be done. Don’t try it at home and don’t try and measure it by short term research impact measures alone…even the  Hubble Space Telescope required a decade plus before it was possible to clearly demonstrate that the number of journal papers resulting from secondary reuse of data overtook the originally proposed work. Watch it climb ever upwards after that though…

Back to the workshop: we identified key challenges around Helpdesk type functionality to support research data services and who and how to charge when – in the absence of institutional funding. I should highlight some of the initiatives gaining traction here at Oxford but it was also pointed out that in house services must always be designed to work with appropriate external services. Whether in-house or external, such tools must be interoperable with research information management systems where possible.

Neil Jefferies described the DataBank service for archiving, available from Spring 2013, which provides an open ended commitment to preservation. The archiving is immutable (can’t be altered once deposited) but versioned so that it is possible to step back to an earlier version. Meanwhile Sally Rumsey described a proposed Databank Archiving & Manuscript Submission Combined DAMASC model for linking data & publications. Interestingly there is a serious attempt to work with a university spin off company providing the web 2.0 Colwiz collaboration platform which should link to appropriate Oxford services where applicable. It was noted that to be attractive to researchers a friendly user interface is always welcome. Launch date September 2012 and the service will be free to anyone by the way, in or out of Oxford.

Meanwhile, for research work in progress the DataStage project offers secure storage at the research group level while allowing the addition of simple metadata as the data is stored, making that step up to reusability all the easier down the line. It’s about building good research data management practice into normal research workflows and, of course, making data reusable.

Andrew Richards described the family of supercomputing services at Oxford. Large volumes of at risk storage are available for use on-the-fly but not backed up. You’d soon run into major issues trying to store large amounts of this kind of dataset longer term. There is also very little emphasis on metadata in the supercomputing context other than where supplied voluntarily by researchers. I raised the issue of sustainability of the software & associated parameters in this context where a researcher may need to be able to regenerate the data if required.

James Wilson of OUCS described the Oxford Research Database Service ORDS which will launch around November 2012 and again be run on a cost recovery basis. The service is targeted at hosting smaller sized databases used by the vast majority of researchers who don’t have in-house support or appropriate disciplinary services available to them. It has been designed to be hosted in a cloud environment over the JANET network in the same way as biomedical research database specific applications will be provided by Leicester’s BRISSkit project.

Last but not least, Sian Dodd showed the Oxford Research Data Management website which includes contact points for a range of research data lifecycle queries. It is so important to the often isolated researcher that there is a single place to go and find out more information and point to the tools needed for the job at hand.  Institutions in turn need to be able to link data management planning tools to in-house resources & costing information. To that end, the joint Oxford and Cambridge X5 project (named after the bus between the two) will go live in February 2013 and provide a tool to enable research costing, pricing & approval.

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OR2012: Research Data Management and Infrastructure: institutional perspectives

Research data management can make a significant contribution to an institution’s research performance but needs solid user requirements research, an understanding of the researcher working space and a collaborative approach between researchers and support staff for infrastructure to be adopted, understood and sustained in the institution.  That was the message from this session on 11 July in Edinburgh at Open Repositories 2012 on research data management and infrastructure, from the perspectives of three particular institutions.

Unmanaged to managed

First we heard from Natasha Simons from Australia’s Griffith University.  Natasha made a clear connection between the university’s position in the top 10 research universities of Australia, and the existence of their Research Hub, which was developed with funding from the Australian National Data Service.  The Hub stores data and relationships between the data, exports to ANDS, and provides Griffiths researchers with their own profiles which allow better collaboration across the institution by allowing researchers to find others with similar research interests for collaboration and supervision.

Natasha outlined some challenges the Griffith team have met and are currently facing, but ultimately reported that they are successfully transforming institutional data in line with ANDS aims from unmanaged to managed; disconnected to connected; invisible to visible; and single-use to reusable.

Resourcing for RDM

Another institution which connects RDM with its prestigious position in the research league tables is Oxford; Sally Rumsey of the University’s Bodleian library took us through their vision for their institutional research data management infrastructure, encompassing current work on the Oxford DMP Online and the DaMaRO project; data creation and local management (DataStage, ViDASS); archival storage and curation (DataBank, software store); and data discovery and dissemination (document repository, Oxford DataFinder and Colwiz).

Sally argued that that data management doesn’t stop at digital objects:

“Paper in filing cabinets, specimens in jars: all could exist as data.”

She also reminded us that although emerging funder requirements, and particularly this year’s EPSRC roadmap requirement, were doing much to focus minds on RDM, there is also the challenge of unfunded research, a major component of research activity at Oxford.  This needs requirements and funding for management, too.

Sally was asked whether researchers were going to end up paying for RDM infrastructure.  She argued that there needs to be a budget line in research bids to cover these costs.  This prompted me to think about the fact that we talk about getting researchers trained from the start of their research activity, but to bring about the kind of awareness that will lead to researchers knowing to cost in data management in their bid, we need to engage with them before they start even writing the bid.  This is an argument for engagement at PhD level at the latest, and for a much wider and more consistent provision of RDM training in universities in order to bring about this kind of change in culture.  Clearly we also need simple, accessible costing tools to help non-specialists quantify explicit costs for data management and preservation, for inclusion in funding bids.

Adopt, adapt, develop

Anthony Beitz, manager of Australia’s Monash University eResearch Centre, also has nascent culture change in mind.  He described the availability of research data as having the potential to change research work:

“We’re going to see things we’ve never seen before.”

Anthony’s description of how the eResearch team works at Monash is based on a clear understanding of the characteristics of the research space and how that differs from the way in which IT services staff work.

  • Researchers: focused on outcomes.  They work in an interpretive mode, using iterative processes.  The approach may be open-ended and thrives on ambiguity.  Requirements and goals may change over time.  May require an ICT capability for only a short period of time – don’t tend to care what happens to it after the end of the project.  Resourceful, driven, and loyal to their discipline more than the institution.
  • IT services: broad service base.  Supporting administration, education and research.  Continuity of IT services is a priority.  Excel at selecting and deploying supporting institutional enterprise solutions.  IT works in analytical mode as opposed to the research space, which is in interpretive mode.

The volume of data is growing exponentially, but funding to manage it is certainly not.  In this context, a clear articulation of need between the researcher space and the IT services space is crucial.  Anthony argues that researchers need to participate actively in the deployment of an institution’s RDM infrastructure.  Media currently used is not good for reliability, security or sharing, but no single institutional RDM platform will fit all researchers’ needs.  RDM solutions must be a good cultural fit as researchers have stronger synergies with colleagues beyond the institution and are more likely to use solutions within their disciplines.  Anthony suggests that IT services should adopt existing solutions being used within disciplines, where possible, as building a new one breaks the collaboration cycle for researchers with colleagues from other institutions, asserting, “going into development should be a last resort.”

In this way, much of the RDM activity at Monash seems to be explicitly responding to current researcher behaviours.  Adoption of emerging solutions is encouraged by promoting a sense of ownership by the researchers; by delivering value early and often; and by supporting researchers in raising awareness of a RDM platform to their research community.  If users don’t feel they own a resource, they’ll look to the developers to sustain funding.  If they feel ownership, they’ll look for funding for it themselves, so buy-in is not only good for adoption but also for sustainability.

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Revisited: Meeting (Disciplinary) Challenges in Research Data Management Planning

The JISCMRD Workshop on ‘Meeting (Disciplinary) Challenges in Research Data Management Planning’ (March 23, 2012, London) saw the projects in this strand present their interim outputs; the development of DMPonline (now in v3.0), disciplinary templates and further institutional approaches rounded up the event.

The discussion circled around a number of issues and questions, some covered, some yet to be fully answered as Steve Hitchcock points out in his excellent blog piece (e.g. What is a DMPs scope, defined by whom? Where to best host a DMP? To what extent and how to (pre-)populate DMP records?).

Overall it is fair to say that a lot of good progress has been made on the DMP front – but challenges remain, especially as the implementation of funder requirements, data management policies and therefore DMPs has gained speed on institutional level:

  • For researchers/research groups “changing RDM culture is (going to be) hard work” as pointed out by Simon Dixon (SMDMRD project), representative of the overall discussion. Sticks AND carrots are needed (in a positive way: show benefits!).
  • Along with disciplinary working practices and cultures the requirements from DMPs in use are further evolving – not bound by project schedules and implementation time lines.
  • Furthermore, time is always a constraint for filling out DMPs, we have to try to mitigate the duplication of effort for data already stored electronically.
  • Good practice is not at all easy to implement and in connection to that training and documentation has to be a part of it all.
  • In the end, DMP tools not only need to mature in general, but the DMP as such has to be a dynamic thing (vs. a static snapshot only) in a running project before it will be put to rest in an archive at the end of the research lifecycle.

Meik Poschen  <meik.poschen@manchester.ac.uk>
Twitter:  @MeikPoschen

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Synthesis of first JISCMRD programme benefits

Useful presentations summarising the benefits identified in the first JISCMRD programme 2009-11 from individual projects/institutes and as synthesised by Neil Beagrie on behalf of the programme can be accessed from the JISC national conference 2011 site.
There is also a more general online overview of the outputs of the first JISCMRD programme now available.

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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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Embedding Benefits and Impact: Ideas from the History DMP Project

I would like to draw JISC Managing Research Data Programme projects’ attention to elements in the History DMP Project’s plan which, as well as being good models for these sections, I think will be of broader interest to projects seeking to embed their work.  The plan may be found at http://historydmp.wordpress.com/history-dmp-project-plan/

The sections in question are 1.5 Anticipated Impact and 3.5 Sustainability Plan, specifically the short discussion after the table.  Other projects may find these sections useful prompts for their own considerations of benefits and impacts which may be generated, and for how a project may plan to achieve sustained benefits/impact after its life.

In the table, the History DMP Project makes plans for sustaining specific project outputs, and then continues:

[P]lanning for the sustainability of the work carried out in the project, and the data management plan itself, will also be incorporated into departmental planning during the project’s lifetime. The University’s annual strategic planning round for 2012-13 will take place during the project period, and this offers an opportunity to formally adopt approaches for support of the data management plan for future research. Specific possibilities, which will be considered at departmental and University level, include:

  • Identifying specific data impact case studies for submission to REF2014
  • Adding data management to the research & training seminar series
  • Adding data management to the Staff Development Programme
  • Incorporating data management into postgraduate workshops
  • Inclusion in research strategies

Institutionally we shall be guided by the DISC UK DataShare Policy-making for Research Data in Repositories Guide in establishing the management of datasets within the repository as part of the long-term implementation of the data management plan and extension of the role of the repository for this purpose.

I think this list forms a useful prompt for actions which may be appropriate for other projects seeking to sustain, embed and enhance the impact of their work.

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