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.