Open access week came early for us

28 October, 2011
Robin Rice and Elizabeth Mallett

Last week the Open University hosted a seminar run jointly by the Research School and Library Services. Having met at the event, the guest bloggers – Liz Mallett and Robin Rice - agreed to write a blog post about the highlights of the event as their contribution for Open Access week. The DCC kindly offered to post this guest blog item on our behalf.

Like most research institutions, the Open University is feeling the pressure to ‘do something’ about research data management. They have already conducted a research data scoping study, and are now in the position to consider policy and services, as well as addressing the need for collaboration across different parts of the university to affect change.

Tricia Heffernan from Library Services organised the lunchtime seminar around a group of internal and external speakers who could inform the audience – a mixture of research, administrative, and library staff – in order to stimulate discussion and future progress. The lecture room was full, with about fifty people in attendance, and discussion following the presentations was robust.

Event Summary

Tim Blackman, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Scholarship) provided a welcome address that underlined the importance of supporting research as well as education at the OU, and emphasised the timeliness of addressing research data management in particular, in light of ‘Climategate’ and other recent events that illuminated the risk to universities of failure to address the safekeeping of research results and outputs.

Simon Hodson from JISC set the scene by outlining the drivers for and benefits of opening up research data and properly managing them.

He shared the first tranche of outcomes from the JISC Managing Research Data programme, and gave attendees links to a number of useful tools to come out of these projects.

Simon highlighted how JISC helps support the research data lifecycle, and the importance of the DCC’s data management roadshows in providing advice and guidance.

Robin Rice, Data Librarian from the University of Edinburgh, was asked to present a case study about 'What Edinburgh is already doing and how it’s working.'

Robin showed us a diagram their Vice Principal had drawn up of requirements around managing research data, ranging from individual researcher to strategic university level.

We heard about Edinburgh’s university-wide policy for management of research data, which was approved in May 2011. Robin also explained the many factors which influenced the policy, and the ten policy principles.

We were shown their online suite of guidance material for University academic staff and the newly launched PhD training course, MANTRA, to promote data management skills. 

Robin finished by outlining her work at the data library, including the open access data repository.

The final presenter was Liz Mallett from Library Services at The Open University. Liz reported on the findings from a small scoping study conducted at the university in the Faculty of Education and Language Studies (FELS) Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology (CREET). The aims were to gain an overview of the issues and concerns around the management of research data, to identify the requirements needed to manage the data and to recommend next steps.

The study was conducted via an initial online survey which was followed up with 12 researchers through semi-structured interviews. Participants ranged from early career researchers through to professors and senior research fellows.

Some concerns regarding opening up access to research data were:

  • The data will not be of use out of context
  • That once findings are published, re-analysis by others would not glean new interpretations.
  • The conflict between keeping data for the future and destroying it for ethical reasons
  • Participants have been told their data will only be viewed and used by the named researcher/s.
  • Some data can be anonymised for open access, but new forms of data capture such as video would lose their meaning if anonymised (e.g. pixelated).
  • Practicalities of sharing large data sets with partners

Many suggestions arose from the discussion as to the support and guidance which could be offered by the university, and it was clear that in a number of areas the OU need not reinvent the wheel. The earlier presentations had offered plenty of tools, best practice and documentation to get The Open University started in their quest to improve current practice in research data management and sharing.

From left: Liz Mallett, Robin Rice, Simon Hudson and Tricia Heffernan. Image courtesy of Robin Rice.


Robin Rice and Elizabeth Mallett