The essential data roadmap

1 March, 2012

Last April the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) wrote to university vice chancellors explaining their Policy Framework on Research Data. This framework set out EPSRC’s principles and expectations concerning how the institutions they fund will ensure that research data generated as a result of their support is appropriately managed and shared.

The nine expectations contained in this Framework generated considerable attention and debate, mainly as a consequence of two deadlines being given: the first was that by 1st May 2012 each institution should have a clear roadmap in place that would align policies and processes with the expectations; the second was that three years hence, by 1st May 2015, each institution should be fully compliant with those expectations.

But what has really grabbed the attention of university managers is the declaration that if, after the 2015 deadline, an institution is found to be deliberately obstructing the proper sharing of research data, or otherwise seriously failing to comply with EPSRC’s expectations, this will initiate a process that could ultimately lead to it being declared ineligible for EPSRC support.

Having said that, the Policy Framework does make clear that EPSRC is not intending to prescribe how an institution meets its expectations, and it “encourages research organisations to develop specific approaches which, while aligned with EPSRC’s expectations, are appropriate to their own structures and cultures”. Further, in a reminder sent to vice chancellors in February 2012, it was made clear that the EPSRC does not require roadmaps to be formally submitted but that they may be requested on a case by case basis.

The unfortunate consequence of this lack of prescription has, in a number of cases, resulted in some confusion about the preferred or most acceptable shape of a roadmap, and the DCC has been asked by some to advise on both shape and content. Having spoken to our principal contact at EPSRC we suggest the following approach will not only satisfy EPSRC’s expectations but also lay the foundations for a more comprehensive research data management environment.

Essentially, what is required is a project plan, based on a description of what institutions have in place and what gaps in provision must be addressed before the nine expectations are met. So, for each expectation it is important to answer four questions:

  1. what do we do now and what do we have in place?
  2. what must we do to meet any identified gaps?
  3. when will we do it?
  4. what resources will we commit?

Set out in tabular form one might then claim to have created a roadmap, a statement of what is now and what will be at the end of three years. And in terms of timing, the roadmap is intended to demonstrate an institution’s commitment to undertake certain actions by May 2015, not to have the requisite policy and infrastructure wholly in place by May 2012.

The DCC is planning a series of posts on this subject that, hopefully, will include the experiences of institutions that have completed a roadmap. If you are one of them we would be pleased to hear from you.