Where are they now? An RDM update from Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities

24 September, 2015

In the latest of our "Where Are They Now?" updates, Beth Hall (Academic Support Librarian, Bangor University), Hannah Payne (REF and Research Monitoring Manager, Aberystwyth University), Amy Staniforth (Institutional Repository and Metadata Team Leader, Aberystwyth University), and Chris Drew (Head of Strategic Partnership Development and Deputy Head of the Aberystwyth-Bangor Strategic Alliance) provide us with an update on the collaborative work that has been undertaken to support research data management at Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities...

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Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities have a broad strategic alliance across Research and Enterprise, Teaching and Learning, and key service teams.  The Universities have a history of high quality collaboration with a particular emphasis on our research and associated services. There is a strong synergistic relationship in environmental and biological sciences but also in other sciences and the humanities.  The Universities are of a similar scale and operate in similar bilingual and rural environments, delivering high quality teaching and research across a broad range of disciplines but sharing similar financial limitations resulting from our size and breadth of disciplines. 

The Alliance provides a platform to enable increased quality in our services through sharing the burden of operational and policy planning.  A critical feature is that the Alliance seeks to build opportunities where working together adds tangible value which will be of mutual benefit.  In the key area of research support, one of the primary tasks we have jointly adopted is our approach to Research Data Management and addressing the changing environment in the sector and indeed within our institutions. 

Colleagues from both Universities’ research support, library, policy and finance teams set out initially to work jointly in addressing the requirements of the EPSRC policy framework on research data, in their respective institutions.

A local working group was set up at each University with tasks organised into separate strands, including:

  • technical solution for data catalogue and data archiving
  • metadata and lifecycle management
  • training and information provision
  • compliance and governance
  • finance
  • policy

We held joint working group meetings, many at a venue equidistant from each University (near Dolgellau), or via video-conference, talking through potential solutions and discussing how this would work at each institution.  It was clear in discussions that it was a good thing we had a mix of staff from different parts of the Universities who could bring together a collective understanding of how the Universities work, and what is required to implement changes to policy and practices.

We shared strategies for engaging with stakeholders in the Universities, and talked about the best ways to get research data management onto the agenda of relevant University committee meetings.  We also shared with each other our written applications to the University Executive asking for increased resources to support RDM alongside other operational tasks to put the necessary infrastructure in place at each institution.

We were also able to keep each other updated of changes to funders’ requirements and potential solutions, metadata schemas, and technical solutions. This was very useful in recent times of rapid development in the RDM environment.  For example, we could save resources with alternate attendance at national events, and the subsequent sharing of the information gained with the wider group across both Universities. 

One of the first things we did together was to run the DCC’s Data Asset Framework (DAF) to identify and assess research data management activities within the research communities of each of the Universities.  We collaborated on assessing the information provided on the DCC website from others who had previously run the DAF; and chose and edited the questions to use in our exercise. We used the same questions in both surveys so that we could easily compare the results.  When it came to a round of follow-on interviews with research staff we were able to save resources by choosing different research areas at each institution and combining them afterwards so that we could have a complete picture across both institutions.  We found that in general, researchers had the same requirements for RDM support, and we were also able to identify research groups we could work with to develop discipline-specific support.

Both University working groups recognised that while initially tasked with setting up support to meet the EPSRC requirements, a solution should be implemented that would support all researchers – irrespective of research funding source –with research data management, and making their data openly available where possible.

The Aberystwyth University RDM project working group spent an overnight 2-day training event at Bangor, facilitated by the DCC, where we came up with effective communication and training plans utilising training materials that were available from the DCC and others as free-to-use materials.  As bilingual Universities, both Universities provide training and information materials in Welsh as well as English and so the task of developing bilingual materials could also be shared.

Efforts to share a common technical solution were constrained by differing existing research management software at the Universities, for both a data catalogue and archival data storage.  Aberystwyth is currently using a web-service feed from PURE as the data catalogue, with data stored currently on the University servers.  Bangor is currently using an EPrints repository as the data catalogue, connected to Arkivum storage.  The Universities are now however converging on common software positions, and so our joint approach will make the journey of implementation significantly easier.

Collaboration has definitely been a key part of the work at both Universities, with not only the working groups collaborating across a number different internal departments but also working across two Universities who have different internal processes. 

Restructuring and staff changes did mean that it was difficult to keep the momentum going in the RDM project at times, and REF submission and OA publishing requirements also took focus away from the work.  However, we took turns in playing catch-up with each other, and there was some healthy competition involved as well. 

The project to meet the EPSRC deadlines has now closed, and a final review of the joint work was held on the 21st April 2015, but we have committed to keep in close communication and to continue to work jointly to further develop our RDM support at both Universities. 

Working jointly with the DCC proved highly advantageous to both Universities.  The DCC provided access to high quality resources and advice, guidance and training, which significantly reduced the pressures on the internal teams and enabled both Universities to be more comprehensive in their RDM development programmes, addressing RDM policy and processes in areas which may otherwise have been delayed. By working together in addressing the RDM needs of our institutions, we were able to make strategic use of their time, with the DCC attending joint meetings and providing training to both institutions in one location.   We are very grateful to have received this significant support from the DCC over the last 3 years and for the on-going access to valuable web-resources which will enable implementation.

  • Beth Hall, Academic Support Librarian, Bangor University
  • Hannah Payne, REF and Research Monitoring Manager, Aberystwyth University
  • Amy Staniforth, Institutional Repository and Metadata Team Leader, Aberystwyth University
  • Chris Drew, Head of Strategic Partnership Development and Deputy Head of the Aberystwyth-Bangor Strategic Alliance