Because good research needs good data

IDCC15 session A1: Institutional Research Data Management

A report on session A1: 'Institutional RDM' at the International Digital Curation Conference, London, on Tuesday 10 February 2015.  IDCC 2015 focused on, amongst other things, evidence of progress in RDM over the last ten years.  Panel session A1, ‘Institutional RDM’ on Tuesday provide...

Laura Molloy | 12 February 2015

A strong theme of IDCC 2015 was whether progress has been made in RDM over the last ten years.  Tuesday's panel session A1, ‘Institutional RDM’ provided examples of progress made at specific institutions including limits, challenges, and variations in ambition of the RDM infrastructure in each case. All three case studies showed what can be achieved when motivated and resourceful staff are able to focus on the job of improving institutional RDM, and in two cases we saw the difference that can be made when institutional funds are invested in this important work.

We started with Ian McArdle, Head of Research Systems and Information, and Torsten Reimer, Project Manager for Open Access and RDM, who described the signs of activity to date at Imperial College London.  Ian and Torsten have been energetically running a programme of activity across the institution with funding available for academically-driven RDM projects in specific disciplines. They received 12 applications and funded half of those after peer review and advice from external sources including the DCC.  The successful bids produced RDM projects which support open innovation and open access for research data and will, it is hoped, act as exemplars for institutional management and researchers in order to encourage further work. It is commendable that this work is doing so much to understand current researcher and research group workflows and the tools they currently use. Unsurprisingly, they have found that some of the projects currently use commercial cloud-based data deposit services, but the college is, it appears, open to considering the full range of possible options for investment in a sustainable and appropriate RDM technical solution to maintain the excellence of its service provision.

Ian and Torsten reported that they have found good quality data curation needs significant and sustained investment, and care is particularly needed with the handling of clinical data. There appears to have been interest and enthusiasm from some researchers at the College and this has been stimulated particularly when the immediate benefits of engagement with RDM are made clear. You can find more details in the slides from this presentation: ‘Green shoots: Research data management pilot at Imperial College London’.

In contrast to £351m of research income per year at Imperial, Oxford Brookes University currently attracts around £5m of research income annually – but this is still a university with a growing research base, a wide range of data types, and appetite to move decisively in the RDM area within their existing resources.  Sarah Taylor, Research Support Manager, and Rowena Rouse, Scholarly Communications Manager, provided a clear and detailed overview of the lessons learned and achievements with no additional income to handle the RDM challenge.  Sarah and Rowena have taken a pragmatic approach: strengthening the areas they can within the limits of their available resources and actively trialing a number of outputs of recent RDM activity at other HEIs including Datastage, Dataflow and Neurohub, and the DCC’s Cardio and DMPOnline tools.  In the advocacy and policy areas, they have embedded RDM training in student induction, and academic liaison librarians are increasingly involved in RDM activities. The university RDM policy broadly follows an aspirational model, is underpinned by an operation plan and supports the work of the informal RDM steering group. Chaired by a Pro Vice-Chancellor and open to interested staff, the steering group here seems a useful and unusually informal body with a real chance of getting as much done as possible drawing on the existing interest and expertise within the institution. Another inspiring activity is the large interview exercise across all four faculties, producing 90 interviews with academics who spoke to the team from their own workplaces. What really interested me – and chimes with a long-growing pet theory – is that they directly addressed the question of emotional attachment of researchers to their data, as well as gathering the more holistic view of research requirements and priorities around research data to inform how the team goes forward. Much more about Oxford Brookes RDM activity is available in the slides: ‘RDM – an approach from a modern university with a growing research portfolio’.

Our last presentation was from the University of Edinburgh. Like Imperial, Edinburgh has benefited from institutional investment in RDM but has probably had the longest visible engagement of the three institutions here in high-profile RDM infrastructure development, and the funding level there has provided a higher staffing level in this area compared to most UK HEIs.  Stuart Macdonald, RDM Services Coordinator, and Rory Macneil, CEO of Research Space, gave an overview of the network of services and tools available to Edinburgh researchers, and the current state of interoperation between these services.  Edinburgh’s RDM policy was finalised and published in 2011 and has been influential on subsequent UK institutional RDM policy development.  Cross-divisional collaboration on RDM is running in three phases between August 2012 and May 2015. The services already in place include those for data management planning (including support for UK, EU and US funders and for non-funder applications), a file space for active data (DataStore) and a data publication repository (DataShare).  DataVault, a long-term data archive for private secure storage is in development, as well as a Data Asset Register (DAR). Advocacy, training and consultancy underpins the technical infrastructure.

The team have found that interoperability is important for encouraging use of this range of services - presumably because it keeps things as clear and legible as possible for the (potential) user population - and examples of this are provided in the slides. One application that is part of the landscape at Edinburgh is the RSpace electronic notebook, which – as Rory explained – offers benefits to researchers, labs and the institution, and connects with many existing services. 

Edinburgh has deployed its resourcing to build a series of innovative services and tools for its researchers and postgraduate students. An attentive approach here has instigated effort to integrate these with each other in order to form a comprehensible landscape for the user, who is also guided by the policy and supported by high quality in-person and online training. There is more detail in the slides: ‘Service integration to enhance RDM: RSpace ELN case study’. 


All three presentations were useful in identifying researcher workflows and requirements as a knowledge base upon which strategic development can progress; making the most of your available resources; and working across the institution. It’s also useful to see how strategies in RDM infrastructure provision can be adapted to different economic environments, and that existing tools are worth investigation for redeployment. 

Have you found innovative ways to move forward with RDM without specific investment?  If so, please tell us how you did it in the comments below. 

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