Category Archives: Research support

For which RDM activities will UK research funders pay?

Much RDM activity has been stimulated by requirements and expectations emerging from the main UK research funders, as usefully described in the DCC’s funder policy table.  But do funders understand what they are really asking researchers and institutions to do with their data, and how much sustainable research data management activities actually cost?  The April 2013 DCC Research Data Management Forum was a free and timely opportunity for Jisc MRD projects, DCC Institutional Engagement partners and other interested people to directly quiz representatives of some of the main UK research funders.  Graham Pryor of the DCC has written a blogpost over at the DCC website, which lays out the day’s discussion and provides funders’ responses to queries about RDM costs.

For me, some of the main take-home messages included:

–          More cooperation and standardisation across research funder guidance to bidders, policy and guidance to peer review panel members would be sensible and useful for the sector as a whole.  That is to say, harmonisation of language, approach and policy would benefit bidding researchers and their institutions but would also help funders work in a more effective and interoperable way, which has to be advantageous to them too.

–          Collaborative measures by HEIs and researchers should be considered.  Who else in your area would be a good partner?  Not just for a research bid, but for shared services such as storage?  Can you achieve an economy of scale by partnering with another institution in your geographical or research area?

–          Use of existing tools and services should be considered as a priority: HEI doing their own development should be a last resort.  Anthony Beitz, amongst others, has argued this persuasively before.  Initiatives like the DCC can help with suggestions and descriptions of tools.

–          We need to move forward with pragmatic measures for what researchers need right now, whilst not losing sight of modelling longer-term sustainable strategies.

So far, so sensible.  But a take-home worry for me was the importance placed again and again by funders on the key role of the peer review panel.  We don’t know how AHRC or ESRC deal with this because neither of them were present, but the funders who were there rely on their peer review panels to make decisions about ‘the science’ (for which I mentally substitute ‘the research’) and also, in the case of most of the funders present, the data management plan or statement.

Given that we who work solely and only on research data management, digital curation and digital preservation as our fields of interest are still in the process of working this stuff out, how do we know whether the peer review panel members have sufficient and appropriate knowledge of these fields to responsibly discharge their duty when judging the RDM plans of other researchers?  One funder explained that they expect a DMP to be in place at the point of bidding but that these are not peer reviewed “because peer reviewers are unlikely to have the knowledge required.”  What of the other funders?  It strikes me that knowing the limits of panel expertise – the ‘known unknowns’ – is by far the most responsible approach to any type of peer review process.

In addition to quality or level of knowledge, I’m also interested in consistency of standards applied.  One funder openly admitted on the day that he is aware that there is a troubling amount of variability in the approach to both the creation and assessment of data management plans in bids.  Other comments indicated that some bids have their data management plans or statements specifically reviewed and some don’t.

Peer review panels are largely comprised of senior researchers (by which I mean time in the field as opposed to age).  The Jisc MRD programme, like many other initiatives, often focuses training and awareness-raising efforts on early career researchers and postgraduate students, with the idea being that they will take their good practice up with them through their academic careers.  But what do we do until then?  Even if we can rely on current ECRs and PGs to be well and consistently trained, we’re still in a situation where all bidding, for the next twenty-odd years is being reviewed by senior researchers who have not been specifically targetted by RDM training and awareness-raising efforts.

A solution?  As fellow evidence gatherer Jonathan Tedds suggested in the discussion, we can learn from areas such as bidding for telescope time in astronomy, where peer review necessarily includes someone who is specifically there to provide their technical knowledge.  For consistency, research funders seem to need the presence of or input from an appropriate external body.  So this seems to be an area where the DCC and research funders can work together, for example, to produce consistent and approachable, up-to-date guidance for peer review panel members, and to ensure someone who specialises in digital curation as applied to research data management is included in their peer review panels.

Just my suggestions.  Your comments are, as always, welcome below.

Laura Molloy

e: laura.molloy AT glasgow.ac.uk

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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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Research Data Management programme Training Strand kick-off workshop, London, 26 October

This one-day event provided an overview of the JISC MRD programme training strand, its aims and context; a description of the DaMSSI-ABC support initiative for the training strand and various pieces of work it hopes to complete before particularly in terms of making outputs easier to find and use; and recognition of the fact that the activity of the four small training materials projects of the JISC Digital Preservation programme have correspondence with the RDMTrain02 projects.

The four RDMTrain02 projects each talked about their approach, activities, challenges and progress, giving us an idea of the subject areas or staff groups they are specifically addressing with the RDM training materials they develop:

  • RDMrose, Sheffield (Andrew Cox): ‘information professionals’ (which I understand to be, in this context, academic librarians)
  • Research Data Management Training for the whole project lifecycle in Physics & Astronomy research (RDMTPA), Hertfordshire (Joanna Goodger): PG students and ECRs in the physical sciences
  • Sound Data Management Training (SoDaMaT), Queen Mary University of London (Steve Welburn): postgraduate research students, researchers and academics working in the area of digital music and audio research
  • TraD: Training for Data Management at UEL (Gurdish Sandhu and Stephen Grace): PGR students in psychology and in computer science.

The afternoon session consisted of an introduction to a set of description and evaluation criteria which have been developed by the Research Information Network through its Research Information and Digital Literacies coalition.  These criteria are in an advanced draft form and participants were asked to read and feedback on them.  They are intended to help with 1. specifying what the training resource or event is meant to do and who it is for, and 2. assessing the success of the training against those specifications.  As such, it’s potentially a very useful tool to suggest to and remind those developing training of useful measures they can take and factors that should be considered in order to create a genuinely useful training resource, whilst also providing a framework for review and impact.

Some participants were perhaps not entirely clear on the potential benefits of the criteria, and profited from a chance to discuss the document with members of the DaMSSI-ABC team.  Those who had a clear grasp of the aim and structure of the document – usually by replacing ‘information literacy’ with ‘research data management’ for ease of use in their particular context – agreed it looked very useful and provided a structure that may clarify what they’re trying to do.

Detailed feedback and questions on the criteria were sought, and will still be received gratefully by Stéphane Goldstein at stephane.goldstein AT researchinfonet.org.

Discussion was a good opportunity for projects to ask questions and share experiences.   Points included:

  • Culture change in institution can’t be expected to happen during short project lifespan.  But projects can be a catalyst to inspire change and start the process.
  • Important to remember that changing culture in one area or institution can influence other players, e.g. researcher practice and requirements can influence the behaviour of publishers if messages are clear enough.
  •  Support – including admin – staff are an important population in institutions: in universities, they are over 50% of staff.  They also have to manage data and information.  Datasafe (Bristol) has been considering their needs as well as those of researchers.
  • Simplification of models can sometimes help engagement.  As JISC’s Neil Grindley pointed out, many initiatives have simplified models such as the DCC lifecycle model into four main areas; e.g. the four digital preservation projects have collaborated on a leaflet which reduces DC activities to: start early, explain, store, share.  This will heretofore be known as the Grindley Theory of Four Things.
  • Short (5 – 10 min) resources lend themselves to easier re-use and can more easily be slipped into training at the institution that isn’t about RDM.  This means we can raise awareness more widely than just preaching to converted.  For example, it would make sense to include RDM in induction training, or training for researchers in bidding for funding.
  • Terminology is still an issue: ‘digital preservation’ and even ‘data’ is problematic in some training contexts.
  • People in institutions are already doing training in disparate ways in areas connected to RDM.  It’s important to find out if this is happening in your institution, if they are aware of your project and if you’re giving consistent messages across the institution.
  • Even simple measures can be valuable when you’re trying to quantify the benefits of improved RDM.  Sometimes a quantity is useful, sometimes a story.
  • Need for generic as well as discipline-specific training and resources.
  • Need to work across campus and involve all relevant areas such as research office, library, IT services (both local and central computing services), staff development services, legal office.
  • Librarian role is valuable for various reasons, but an important one is the ability to use links across campus.
  • Whilst researchers often appear to have higher loyalty to their discipline than their institution, and researchers are a mobile population, a discipline by its nature doesn’t often have agreed rules, representatives, funded infrastructure or membership.    So knowledge can be passed through informal networks, but there is little in the way of actually engaging with ‘a discipline’ as a whole.  It’s still institutions who are providing the infrastructure, policy framework and the training.  DaMSSI-ABC keen to work with professional bodies where these exist to try and address this situation.
  • This strand of projects as well as fellow travellers, e.g. www.le.ac.uk/researchdata happy to build on prior work, e.g. JISC Incremental www.glasgow.ac.uk/datamanagement, UKDA, Sudamih, in the ‘four things’ approach to building online guidance.
  • Is there a role for organisations such as UKCGE, HEA?

Links:

JISC MRD training strand (RDMTrain02): http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/di_researchmanagement/managingresearchdata/research-data-management-training.aspx

DaMSSI-ABC: http://www.researchinfonet.org/infolit/damssi-abc/

RIN Research Information and Digital Literacies Coalition: http://www.researchinfonet.org/infolit/ridls/

RIN Criteria for Describing and Assessing Training: http://www.researchinfonet.org/infolit/ridls/strand2/

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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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Research data + research records management = research management?

Interesting meeting at Leicester this week with our Information Assurance Services. Andrew Burnham and myself have developed a roadmap to implement research data management policy as required for EPSRC and other funders and are currently leading the development of guidance and support for researchers in time for the new academic year. We are doing this in collaboration with colleagues in IT Services, the Academic Practice Unit, Library and Research Support Office on behalf of the Research Computing Management Group, chaired by our PVC Research & Enterprise Kevin Schurer, which feeds recommendations up to the University Research Committee. We are feeding in the many relevant external information and guidance resources as produced through the JISCMRD programme, UKDA, DCC and related.

I’ve lost some of you haven’t I?! To add to the confusion, there is also the university code of practice for researchers.

However, the question has arisen as to when and how we distinguish the university records management policy with this research data management policy? We are of course referring here to differences in language between different parts of central services in a university – never mind the disciplinary differences across the university academic community.

Information Assurance Services (IAS) currently have a records management policy tabled for university approval. It might be described as corporate based and is not immediately identified with research. And yet if sensitive data were to be lost in a researcher’s lab notes the matter would probably reach IAS before any other body in the university (they also handle FoI requests in the first instance). IAS identify the lab notes as “research records” not “research data” so is a “research records management policy” then required?

From a research data viewpoint we might think of research records as being about the process including funder specific and personal information about the researchers rather than the research itself. Indeed we made exactly this distinction when following up on an external research data audit to all research staff: “Do you use, reuse or generate sensitive (including commercial in confidence) research data?” Researchers tend to assume that departmental and university administrators will be looking after the “research records”.

So let’s clarify how IAS see it. They incorporate information compliance and security (including FoI and environmental concerns), risk management and business continuity. The question then arises: is there clear legal ownership of research data? Many researchers are somewhat surprised to find out their hard work is actually “owned” by their institution for these purposes. This becomes particularly relevant when researchers move institution, as of course they often do.

So I found myself wondering aloud: do we need a “research managment policy” which then refers to the “records management policy” guidance and the rather more prescriptive “research data management policy”?

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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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DARTS3, The Third Discover Academic Research Training & Support Conference. Dartington Hall, Devon: 28 – 29 June 2012

Whilst storms swept much of the rest of the country, the sleepy peace of bucolic Devonshire was barely disturbed by the arrival of several dozen librarians (plus a couple of ‘fellow travellers’) to dreamy Dartington.

Anna Dickinson from HEFCE’s REF team (of which there are only five people!) kicked off the first day with a very informative overview of the 2014 REF expectations, process, staff selection, timescales, the test submission system, the assessment of the research environment and how the panels work, with particular advice on areas where research support staff may be involved.

Judith Stewart of UWE and Gareth Cole of Exeter, in separate presentations, both described the work and findings of their current JISC MRD-funded research data management projects (UWE’s project, ‘Managing Research Data’ is at http://www1.uwe.ac.uk/library/usingthelibrary/servicesforresearchers/datamanagement/managingresearchdata.aspx; the Open Exeter project is at http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/openexeterrdm/).

Each also each positioned library staff members as key to improved research data management across the university, as part of partnership working with other relevant research support professionals.  Both presenters also reminded us that library staff members are well-placed to instigate research data management activity if this is not already an activity within an institution: whilst the research data management challenge may require new skills, librarians are already skilled in information management, bibliometrics, and other relevant areas of expertise, and are experienced in working across the institution, free from inter-faculty or inter-discipline politics.  These skills equip them well to work towards supporting researchers with better management of research data.

Miggie Pickerton of Northampton pushed this relationship between library staff and research activity further, arguing there are strong benefits for library staff to wade into research activity for themselves.  Drawing a division between ‘academic’ and ‘practitioner’ research, Miggie encouraged library staff to consider either but particularly argued the case for the value of ‘practitioner’ research, which she defined as taking a pragmatic approach to a current problem or need, as opposed to curiosity-driven work intended to make REF impact.

Through a very interactive session, Miggie encouraged the audience to identify the benefits of library staff undertaking research for the individual librarian, the institution, and the library profession as a whole, and provided some examples of suitable topics for investigation.  Inspiring!

Jennifer Coombs (N’ham) and Elizabeth Martin (De Montfort) described their experiences of creating, alongside colleagues from Loughborough and Coventry, a collaborative online tutorial to teach researchers about research promotion (www.emrsg.org.uk).

Jez Cope of the Research360 project at Bath (http://blogs.bath.ac.uk/research360/) shared the benefits for researchers of several social media applications.  Despite the earlier assertions of doubt about Twitter by the event chair, Jez managed to get a few more delegates onto the service and interacting with other delegates as well as more remote followers of the event hashtag.

As always, it was apparent that institutions vary widely in their cultures, sizes and experience with RDM, but we learned a great deal about what librarians are already doing to support researchers, some new tools and techniques that might be useful for their work in this area, and some powerful arguments for expansion into the research data management and research practice areas.

Delegates to this event may find it interesting to explore the research data management training materials made by five projects of the first MRD programme, available at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/mrd/rdmtrain.aspx (follow the link for each project at the bottom of the page).  These materials are freely available for use and reuse, and will be supplemented by a further four projects in the second MRD programme, starting this summer, some of which will be delivering training materials specifically for research support professionals including library staff.

Here’s hoping there will be a DARTS4!

 

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