JISCMRD: Training and Guidance

28 October, 2012

The JISC Managing Research Data (JISCMRD) Components of Institutional Research Data Services workshop session on training and guidance held last Thursday was so popular it ended up being split into two separate sessions.

The first session (A) comprised of four presentations looking at how different teams are dealing with building research data management capacity within their own institutions.

Jez Cope from the Research360 project at the University of Bath explained that training so far has focussed on PhD students. They’ve actually had problems with getting mid-career researchers to attend workshops.

Getting the ‘right people’ along to training sessions was a common theme of talks, though interestingly different institutions claimed success with different groups of people.

At Bath the training programme has been built around awareness raising and engaging researchers with (sometimes new) policy and infrastructure. A DAF-based survey run prior to running the training programme offered them some real insight into what researchers are currently doing, what they want and what they potentially needed.

The three workshops that have been run so far were devised with practical objectives and have focussed very much on ‘now’ issues, such as avoiding data loss; they haven’t necessarily provided a direct mapping with research360 objectives.

The first workshop aimed at Chemists gave the PhD students time to assess four data management planning tools, the second workshop trialled interactivity using clickers to gather overall opinions, and also raised discussion on definitions, primarily didactic. The final workshop also aimed to be interactive but the facilitators had problems getting the attendees to openly discuss issues, they felt this might have been due to scientists’ reluctance to discuss certain subjects openly, but others in the parallel session disagreed saying sometimes it is the environment or the questions that don’t lend themselves to discussion.

The workshops surfaced lots of food for thought, for example they found that PhD students often didn’t distinguish between research data and other documentation – to them it was all ‘stuff that needed looking after’.

Successes from the workshop included the postgrad DMP template, which is now available from the University of Bath institutional repository.

The training team made a conscious decision to not a address the drop box issue, primarily due to lack of clarity in University policy and a reluctance to recommend specific software/processes, this unfortunately made them look a little out of touch.

Another challenge was that the attendees often just wanted to be told what to do and were reluctant to discuss good practices.

Andrew Burnham and Jonathan Tedds gave an overview of transforms at University of Leicester. The main movement there has been the initialisation of a research support working group which has led to the creation of the role of ‘research liaison’, both an ad hoc and a structured role based in departments. 

The team have also been able to establish a new research support area on the University of Leicester website. The web design process began with extensive research into other research support sites, Andrew tipped Cambridge and Glasgow as two of the best RDM sited he’d come across so far, both participated in the Incremental project, though there is an increasing level of support out there.

The website is very much aimed to researchers rather than support staff, this approach was made possible by using the teams knowledge as researchers and involvement in research projects. Considerable amount of thought went in to agreeing on the four main heading areas: Create, Organise, Find & Share, Keep. These were felt to be working terms that were self-explanatory and also offered a sectional colour scheme that runs through out the site. The site also offers a generic email address for contacting.

The talk led to discussion on where one might want to locate RDM web resources. Do they work best when embedded in other areas of the University website, for example at departmental level, or when delivered as a RDM specific site? It was argued that there is likely to be more impact with separate site but that it offers sustainability issues – who will be responsible for it in the long term?

Gareth Cole from the Open Exeter Project, at Exeter University talked about how they had built on DAF survey results to provide training aimed at researchers, PGR students, post-docs, directors of research and also support staff (train the trainers).

They are also considering providing training for internal peer reviewers of bids – they often require help with data management planning knowledge. The DAF was carried out by an online survey using Bristol Online Surveys (BOS), they had a really good response rate, primarily due to a carrot (win a kindle) and stick (invitation emails were sent from faculty personnel rather than support personnel) approach. 

The DAF carried out showed a lack of knowledge across the board with researchers wanting and needing training in areas like data loss, proprietary formats, how to write a DMP. A survey carried out at Exeter showed that University librarians were not comfortable providing training in many areas of RDM, in particular the areas that were of interest to researchers!

Exeter have begun to offer help as part of the PGR training programme, they also now have a RDM website.

One interesting area of work is the creation of a RDM survival guide in conjunction with six 'Follow the Data' postgraduate students. The students were heavily involved in the writing process and initially it was felt that because they came from six different disciplines they would end up with 6 different guides but this wasn’t the case. Open Exeter are now keen to build on training pilots on research groups and carry out work looking at sustainable services, identifying roles and responsibilities

The final speaker in the session was Bill Worthington from the University of Hertfordshire talking about their new JISC-funded training project RDM Training in the Physical sciences (RDMTPA), which builds on Research Data Toolkit (RDTK). Bill explained that most training work so far has focussed on areas where RDM is not a natural activity (humanities, arts) and that science subjects have been underrepresented. The RDMPTA project has flipped many approaches on the head as the team will start off by identifying best practice in physics and astronomy and will then roll out training in a generic way.

The first iteration of training, a whole project lifecycle approach for astronomers, has been devised by Dr Joanna Goodger. They are using the DMP Planning sections as a framework and are starting off with astronomy and then moving on to physicists.

Bill explained that RDMTPA brings another driver for change to the research culture at Hertfordshire and that it was very much a case of needing to “get in front of a lot of researchers” to deliver the message.

Discussion for the session focussed the main areas for consideration: How do you…

  • Achieve balance between generic and discipline specific training
  • Decide where best to place RDM web resources
  • Decide on what format training will take: online, workshops, modules in courses, peer to peer training?
  • Decide where to sit training: as part of a PG course, as one off events?
  • Encourage attendance of Phd students, middle-tier researchers

There was agreement that many RDM issues are generic and cross-discipline but that training works better with discipline specific examples.

Targeting disciplines, for example by having a research data champion in each institute/faculty, can help with attendance of events. Other institutions are trailing online training, sometimes with certification and with a view to become mandatory.

As a result of the JISC MRD programme and other initiatives good training materials are now becoming more prevalent. 

Suggestions were made that there may be a role for the DCC in synthesising these materials and offering further support, such as a bank of discipline specific examples, case-studies and OER slides and activities. What form this ‘bank’ would take was a matter for discussion and taken along to the RDM Train Workshop, held the following day, where all the new JISCMRD Training projects were launched.