Category Archives: DMP

New year, new IDCC

A very happy new year to all on the MRD programme and all ‘fellow travellers’!  2013 has started with a shot of energy provided by IDCC 2013, which took place in the deliciously-named Mövenpick hotel in Amsterdam last week (14 – 17 Jan).

A lot of the twitter stream (#IDCC13) agreed that there was a huge amount of information and opinion to download.  This frenetic pace was encouraged by the practice papers taking place in slots that allowed only ten minutes to talk!  A great opportunity to really work on honing those high-level messages, then.

It was very encouraging to see representatives of so many Jisc MRD projects there, and I hope those who were in the ‘National perspectives in research data management’ track found the talks Simon Hodson and I did on the programme as a whole and on the evidence-gathering activity to be useful.  One slight disappointment was having the “National perspectives” track running at the same time as the “Institutional research data management” track: the MRD programme connects institutional approaches and happens to work across the UK, so whilst we weren’t entirely out of place in the “National” track, we probably missed out on some relevant audience.  No matter: if you missed either talk and are interested in seeing the slides, the presentation about the MRD programme as a whole is here; and the talk on the evidence gathering activity is here.  Your feedback or questions are of course welcome.

One of the things the MRD programme has been – and I hope continues to be – very good at is making stuff available to other people.  In his IDCC preview blog post, Kevin Ashley said,

“Overall, I would like everyone to come away aware of the potential for reuse of the work that others are doing and the potential for collaboration. Whether it is software tools, training materials, methodologies or analyses, many of the talks describe things that others can use to deal with data curation issues in their own research group, institution or national setting.”

This is what we as a programme, along with other organisations and activities, do.  Various pieces of work across the MRD programme with the DCC Cardio tool have inspired other projects and areas of the programme; the same applies to those who have tailored the DCC DMPonline tool, and we encourage all such innovations to be made available to provide examples and ideas for others.  In addition, however, the MRD programme has a strand (both in MRD01 and in the current iteration of the programme) specifically involved in creating training materials for research data management, aimed at particular audiences.  These are really valuable resources and have been created to be used and re-used in an open and flexible way.

I was asked so many times throughout the event where these materials can be found, that I thought it was worth listing them here.  The links given lead directly to teaching resources; background information on the projects can be found here: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/mrd/rdmtrain.aspx

(Unfortunately the website for the DMTpsych project at University of York is no longer online.  As the project has not deposited its resources into Jorum either, I can’t supply a link.)

There are more training resources in production at the moment: you can read more about them here:  http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/di_researchmanagement/managingresearchdata/research-data-management-training.aspx

We as a programme can’t solve the issue of duplication of effort in digital curation by ourselves, but by maximising the use of these materials, and finding new applications for them, we are definitely doing our bit.

Have you used any of these resources?  Want to know more?  Let us know in the comments!

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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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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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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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The future of the past: closing workshop for the Data Management Planning projects

It always provokes mixed feelings to attend a closing event marking the end of a project or raft of projects.  On the one hand, it’s melancholy to say goodbye to people, or to know that there will be no more interesting outputs coming from a particular project.  On the other, there is (hopefully) the sense of achievement that comes with having finished a piece of work.  Having something finished, ready to show, then getting ready for the next activity, preparing for the future.  It was useful and thought-provoking to see the findings and outputs of the ‘strand B’ or data management planning projects of the MRD02 programme at the Meeting Challenges in Research Data Planning workshop in London on 23 March.  This event marked the closing of these projects, and gave them an opportunity to share what they’d been doing.  Data management planning by definition is about considering the future, and there was a sense of energy and enthusiasm from the projects on the day which suggested we could easily have met for longer and talked more.  And yet, some elements of the discussion made me think about the past.

Back in MRD01 (2009-11), there were a few projects such as Oxford’s Sudamih and Glasgow-Cambridge’s Incremental project which performed institution-specific scoping work about what researchers need to improve both their understanding and practice of RDM.  As one of the Incremental team, I felt at the time that, to be honest, a lot of it seemed to be stating the blooming obvious, but we recognised the value of gathering original data on these issues in order (1) to check that our suspicions were correct; and (2) to wave in front of those making decisions about whether and how to fund RDM infrastructure.

You can read the full report of Sudamih here and Incremental here, but the main ideas we found evidence for were things like: researchers are almost always more interested in doing their research than spending time on data management, so engagement relies on guidance being short and situated in one obvious, easy-to-navigate place; there are lots of guidance resources at institutions already but they’re scattered and not well advertised; lots of researchers in the arts and humanities don’t consider their material as ‘data’ and so the terminology of RDM doesn’t engage them or may actively alienate them; researchers may be party to multiple data expectations from their institution and / or their funder, but a lot of them are not aware of that fact, never mind what these are and where to find them in writing.  Also, different disciplines have different data sharing conventions and protocols, which affect researcher behaviour; some researchers can be quite willing to practice good data management, but they need to know who to call or email about it at their own place; guidance written by digital curation specialists is great and fine, but often needs translating into non-specialist language, and there are lots of researchers who are just not going to engage with a policy document.  All that kind of thing.  Readers of this blog will possibly be amazed that such fundamental ideas are not more widely understood out there in the wider research community, but that in itself probably just confirms the knowledge gap between RDM people and the general researcher population.

So back at the event on 23 March, we heard from, amongst others, Richard Plant of the DMSPpsych project explaining the importance of local guidance for the institution’s researchers, and Norman Gray of MaRDI-Gross explaining the influence of the data sharing culture in big science on its researchers (although I never did get around to asking him if the project did indeed reach ‘the broad sunlit uplands of magnificently-managed big-science data’, as promised in the project blog).

History DMP from Hull charmed with an appearance by one of their tame researchers, who came along to give a brief account of his experience with the project.  He was happy not being familar with RDM terminology or principles or, as he put it,

‘This process has been very straightforward for me.  I don’t understand the technical elements but I don’t need to.’

The benefits of easier remote access to and confidence in the security of his data storage were the pay-off for him, and left everyone feeling optimistic.

Reward at UCL/Ubiquity Press did many interesting things whilst aiming to lower the barriers to good RDM and shared a deluge of findings echoing those of Incremental / Sudamih, including the value of drawing together institutional RDM-related resources to provide a single point of access; the effect of discipline-specific protocols on researcher behaviour (specifically data sharing); the value of clarifying benefits of good RDM to motivate researchers; the lack of current awareness about IPR, licensing and data protection; the reluctance to discard data; the need for training about RDM and particularly long term preservation of data; and many other points.

So what occured to me on 23 March was that it felt good to hear several of the MRD02 strand B projects reiterating our findings from their own experiences at their own institutions.  It reminded me of Heather Piwowar’s notion of ‘broad shoulders’.  It wasn’t that they were agreeing with us – I’m more than happy for my research to be challenged constructively.  It was that what we’d done in MRD01 seemed to be useful to some extent, allowing the MRD02 projects to extend and refine user requirements in RDM, and share what they found, which benefits us all.

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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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