RDM within the University of St Andrews IT support

28 January, 2013
Birgit Plietzsch

During the JISCMRD workshop in October 2012, I gave a presentation on the outcomes of the DCC institutional engagement project at the University of St Andrews and how that project has influenced the development of research data management (RDM) support within St Andrews.

The aim of the project was to develop an institutional RDM policy. To obtain an initial overview of where we were in terms of RDM and what the support needs are from researchers the project set out conducting DAF audits and was planning to use the CARDIO methodology to obtain further requirements. While the institutional engagement project did not deliver on all of its aspects, it revealed the complexity of RDM that needs to be thought through before decisions on how RDM should be implemented within the University can be reached. As a result of an increased awareness of this complexity within the University further time was required for consideration, which means that the development of the RDM policy will now take place outwith the institutional engagement project.

In my presentation I explained the environment in which the project was set, was characterised by:

  1. Emerging new organisational structures following a re-organisation of IT Services and the subsequent changes in  roles and responsibilities of staff,
  2. An under-estimation of the importance of institutional  culture for developing RDM services, and
  3. Existing RDM skills gaps at all levels within the University.

In his blog post Jonathan Rans rightly expanded on this list by pointing to another aspect that was more implicit in my presentation, i.e. the difficulty of predicting costs of RDM services that will be needed to support a RDM policy. All of the above aspects have adversely affected RDM-related decision-making processes.

While we did not achieve everything that we set out to do, the institutional engagement project has influenced the way in which IT support is delivered to researchers. The ICT Strategy 2012-2015, which was approved by the University in the summer, sets out to “deliver an environment which will support students, researchers and academics by providing an empowering platform … for knowledge creation and exchange.” Building on the new ICT Strategy and on the University’s RDM roadmap, a dedicated Research Computing Strategy 2012-2015 was written that focusses on researchers’ ICT-related RDM needs identified during the project.

To identify researchers’ RDM needs fourteen DAF audits were conducted within the Faculty of Science with the help of the DCC. The train-the-trainer approach that was used as part of the institutional engagement allowed the Research Computing Team, assisted by postgraduate student volunteers, to replicate this process within the Faculty of Arts and to obtain a fuller picture of RDM support requirements across the whole University.

DAF audits illustrated a split between the Sciences for which no central ICT research support has so far been available and the Arts and Humanities for which such support has been provided since 2003. While researchers from Science subjects criticised IT Services for having been unresponsive and inflexible about their specific needs, the Arts and Humanities were happy with the support that has been available to them for funded research and requested an expansion of the service to cover unfunded research as well. This split in user satisfaction illustrates the point for the need for culture change in institutional ICT support provision that was made during RDMF9.

The Research Computing Strategy sees the service as “providing innovative and advanced digital technologies and research computing services of nationally and internationally recognised quality and standards, which will facilitate research excellence at the University of StAndrews.” It defines five aims around the areas of (1) RDM, (2) service expansion, (3) service review, (4) leadership and collaboration, and (5) skills and knowledge. Aims (1), (2) and (3) were directly informed by the outcome of the institutional engagement project. Aim (1) focusses on assisting researchers in finding suitable active and long-term storage solutions. The implementation on aim (2) will see the current research computing service expanded to cover the needs of academics from across the University and to look at options to support unfunded research. The realisation of aim (3) will see the implementation of modified versions of the DAF and CARDIO methodologies into periodic service review procedures of the Research Computing Service.

To allow the Research Computing service to expand and to meet increased demands for support from the academic community the University of St Andrews has approved two new posts, one Applications Developer (Research Computing) and one Research Computing Advisor. Further details of this development can be found on our Research Computing blog