Because good research needs good data

DMPonline - current status

The DCC announced future development plans for its data management planning tool (DMPonline) in January 2013. In this post, Kevin Ashley provides an update on the current status of those plans.

Kevin Ashley | 22 March 2013

In a news post back in January, I described our future plans for DMPonline in outline. This followed an extensive series of evaluations and tests of the tool and the underlying methodology as well as a re-examination of what the tool was meant to do and who it was meant to do it for. It's time now for an update giving more detail about the changes we are making and the rationale for them.

We had a few initial discussions to define areas of work and assign responsibility for these. Some of these changes will be obvious to the end user, while others relate to the underlying architecture of the tool and affect how it works. These changes will be of interest to those working with us on development of the tool and those designing templates for local services. The key changes, together with the rationale for doing these are set out below:

Front-end, visible changes

  • Revise funder templates

Users want to be asked funder questions directly, rather than seeing DCC Checklist questions which correspond to funder questions. Funders also want this change - the wording of their questions is often carefully chosen.

  • Improve the User Interface

A variety of simple changes have been identified relating to the colour, size and layout of buttons. Error messages, terminology and navigation could also be improved. We're using contractors who specialise in these areas to assist with some of this work. Some changes to the site and to help text have already been made and are visible on the live site.

  • Improve workflows

Users encountered difficulties at login and when starting to create a plan. To alleviate confusion we will reintroduce a wizard to help users select appropriate templates. The overall workflows in the tool will also be reviewed and a progress bar introduced.

  • Revise the generic DCC guidance

Users wanted simpler guidance to help them understand and answer the questions in DMPs. This will include example answers and questions as prompts on what to cover. The guidance is being rewritten based on useful explanations and examples that we came across while reviewing existing DMP requirements and templates. This and other changes will mean DMPonline will do more to assist users in creating the plan, rather than just answering funder questions.

Changes to the architecture of DMPonline

  • Develop a DMP taxonomy to organise the guidance held by the tool

DMPonline will no longer only ask questions from the DCC Checklist. A taxonomy of core themes is being developed to interpret the questions asked by funders and institutions in DMPs and associate them with relevant guidance. This will make it easier to manage the increasing quantity of guidance that exists and allow easier reuse.

  • Define a subset of core themes from the taxonomy to issue a shorter DMP checklist

A subset of key overarching themes will be drawn from the taxonomy to provide a checklist of issues to consider in DMPs. This will also be used to provide a generic template, which is used when planning data management in contexts where funder guidelines do not apply.

  • Revise the process for institutional customisations

The guidance for institutional customisations of DMPonline will be updated to reflect the architectural changes. We will also convert existing institutional templates, if desired. No institution should be put to extra effort because of the changes we're making to the tool's architecture.

  • Revise the Terms and Conditions

The current T&Cs are very restrictive and don’t allow the DCC or institutions to make best use of the information captured in plans or to really understand how the tool is being used. We will be moving to a position which gives us and host institutions greater freedom in this area.

More detail on what's behind these changes

Funder templates

Preview of ESRC-compliant DMPNew templates have been created for each research funder. These ask funder questions directly and present their associated guidance, so are much more streamlined. The display of these templates will improve as the tool is redeveloped as it won’t search for equivalent DCC questions to display. You can see these new templates on the DMPonline test site.

DMP taxonomy

The new DMP taxonomy will be used to retrieve guidance to help users answer the questions in a template. It is essentially a list of key themes with guidance associated to each. The idea is that we map each funder question to one or more terms in the taxonomy and use that association to assemble guidance from relevant sources (e.g. the DCC, institutions, and disciplines). The taxonomy itself may be complex but it isn't something that's directly visible to the user.

We have created a first draft of the taxonomy by reviewing the existing DCC Checklist, UK funder requirements and other key templates. It has been reworked and condensed during the process of mapping the terms to funder requirements. We now need to review this first attempt against the wider body of DMP templates, guidance and examples in existence.

DMP checklist

For DMPonline, the taxonomy will largely replace the function that used to be performed by the DCC Checklist for a DMP. Terms from the taxonomy will be used to associate questions with relevant guidance, rather than mapping funder and institutional requirements to the DCC Checklist and replacing them with the chosen questions.

However there is still a need for a simple checklist of core DMP questions. Users repeatedly asked for a short checklist that represents the bare minimum that needs to be included in a DMP. We will take overarching themes from the DMP taxonomy to provide a checklist of 10-20 key issues to consider in DMPs. This will form the basis of a generic template and could help institutions to develop customised versions of DMPonline. We will also rework the popular Checklist flyer

The DMP taxonomy and associated checklist will be released in April.

Institutional customisations

We envisage three things that an institution may wish to provide:

  1. Institutional guidance and suggested answers to help researchers complete DMPs

In this case the institution provides guidance related to the DMP taxonomy terms. If they have guidance that applies just to one funder and not the others, they can attach it to a specific funder question, rather than to terms in the taxonomy.

  1. Additional questions that the institution wishes to ask

The institution may want answers to certain questions which research funders don’t always ask e.g. data volumes or resourcing implications. In this case the institution supplies extra questions that get added to the end of the any relevant funder templates. These questions and answers can be hidden when exporting plans so the funder doesn't have to see them. They will have institutional guidance attached and may also be tagged with DMP taxonomy terms to bring in additional guidance.

  1. A template for researchers to create a DMP to meet institutional requirements

Many universities have policies that require DMPs even for research that is not externally funded, so institutional templates are likely to be required. In this case the institution provides a set of questions, each with associated guidance. If these questions are tagged with taxonomy terms, further guidance can also be retrieved. The DCC will provide a short checklist of core DMP questions, which may help institutions to define their templates. However you won’t be restrained by the coverage of this list – questions can be defined and worded as desired.

Any combination - or all - of these may be provided depending on each institution’s requirements.

Options to brand DMPonline so it looks like an institutional service and, where necessary run a self-hosted instance, continue to be available as previously outlined.


The major development work will begin once we have finalised the DMP taxonomy and checklist in April. In the meantime we are maintaining the tool, carrying out UI changes that aren't dependent on this other work and performing routine updates. Work on revising the terms and conditions and improving workflows carries on in parallel.

As always, we welcome feedback on the work to date and our future plans, particularly if there are things you need which we have overlooked. Ideally, make your comments directly on this blog post. If you have a comment that you would rather not share online, email it to