Because good research needs good data

Final Results from the DCC RDM 2014 Survey

A final set of results from the DCC survey carried out in April 2014, together with Briefings previously circulated to participants.

A Whyte | 30 June 2014

Several months ago we carried out our 2014 survey of senior managers in UK Higher Education Institutions who are involved in decision-making about their institution’s Research Data Management services.  The survey gave us a snapshot of progress across the sector.  Since then we have had a few occasions to share findings but not the full results, which this article now points you to.

The survey was targeted at managers in the 69 UK institutions whose research income is at least 10% of total income – those institutions we thought likely to be ‘RDM intensive’.  We had 87 respondents from 61 institutions; 37% of the 163 listed by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. They included all of the Russell Group, and 55% of the 45 universities that cross our research income threshold but are not in the Russell Group (i.e. 71% of our target group in all).

A previous blog article reported some highlights to coincide with our similarly themed workshop on 8th May, on compliance with the EPSRC research data policy framework, and the slides from that workshop (available on the workshop page) shared further findings. And in the two weeks leading up to that workshop the survey participants got a preview of the results in two Briefing papers.

The two Briefings can now be downloaded from Zenodo, along with a third report which summarises answers to question on how institutions are resourcing and staffing RDM, and how they are allocating storage. Answers to these questions were de-duplicated to a single response per institution. This new set of results in a sense gives the ‘bottom line’ of RDM policy implementation. In short, are institutions putting their money where their policy mouth is?  

According to the survey results on funding sources, the answwer is a clear 'yes'; the large majority (around 90%) of institutions represented in our survey have used internal funding. That appears to be by far the main source of funding for new appointments in RDM, for training and development, and for infrastructure. New appointments were funded internally in 86% of the institutions, and by research grants in only 14%.  Considering that our respondents were providers of central services it is probably not a surprise that more institutions (22%) have used ‘other external sources’ than research grants, or that most institutions (89%) expected planned appointments to be internally financed.

Funding sources were similar for training and development of researchers and support staff; with 93% funding these internally. Around a fifth (19%) had found other external sources, and these figured in the plans of 17%. While only 9% had so far funded training and development form research grants 24% were planning to.

Research grants have already helped resource RDM infrastructure in a third of the institutions, and that figure rose to two-thirds when we asked about future plans. A large majority were using internal funding (93%), while only 69% were planning on this for future infrastructure.  

So how does this translate into staffing? In about half of institutions (48%) our respondents expect that 'most' staffing of RDM roles will be resourced by
restructuring existing roles, and a further 9% say 'all' will. 17% on the other hand say 'none', and in a quarter of institutions our respondents did not know.

Overall provision for RDM is currently 4.4 FTE on average, with a little under half of that from fixed-term roles. This varies widely, with 4.7 FTE being the average in Russell Group institutions and 2.6FTE the average in other target group institutions. Library roles are prevalent, supporting 1 fixed term and 1 permanent
staff member on average.

According to our results RDM staffing is expected to double to 9.5 FTE in Russell Group institutions in the coming year, with that split roughly equally between Library, IT and Research Office staff. Comparing current with planned staffing it appears that on average Russell Group institutions expect to add one permanent Library FTE and one fixed term Research Office FTE, and two Computing/IT roles one permanent and the other fixed term.

For others in our target group the RDM staff complement is expected to rise only slightly to 3 FTE, with Libraries being the only service expected to have more than one FTE.  That disparity with the Russell Group is large, though considering the difference in research income is 5:1 it could be even larger.  

There may be a greater hidden disparity, as these figures do not include staff at school/ faculty. department or research group level. We did ask, but had very few responses so assume that central service managers tend not to have a firm picture of who is doing what kind of RDM support across these ‘local levels’. If we assume that the larger and older Russell Group institutions tend to devolve support services to a greater degree than other institutions, there could be a lot already going on.

Turning to storage, we asked about the use of quotas to allocate it to staff or students.  A quota per active research staff is the most common allocation
method. Charging was the next most common mechanism.

Overall only 13% of institutions were reported to offer more than 1Tb in any quota, with a further 7% planning to offer this by May 2015. However by far the highest number of responses were for 'don't know' (36% current and 52% for future provision).

However this had the most 'other' responses of any question in the survey, with many comments indicating that their storage allocation method is either under review or in development. Although we asked about quotas per research-active staff member, Principal Investigator, research project, or research student, there are other options. Some commented that storage responsibilities were distributed to Faculties, Schools or Research Institutes, with these levels having a quota. Also it’s clear that many institutions provide an amount of storage that is ‘available on request’. In future surveys it would be useful to explore further what criteria RDM services are using in ‘each according to their need’ models, and whether the options available to researchers are changing with the availability of more scaleable storage architectures and cloud-based storage-as-a-service models.

Overall, the picture that has emerged is of substantial investment by institutions in staff and infrastructure for RDM, but very uneven development, much of it concentrated In Russell Group institutions. There is a strong appetite for collaborative solutions and some steps towards these being taken by regional consortia of institutions (see comments in Briefing 2).

You can now download the briefings plus anonymised data used in the analysis from Zenodo here.