UEL's perspective: Data management from a standing start

First in a series of blog posts featuring institutional experiences of developing policies, implementing strategies and capturing roadmaps.

Stephen Grace | 20 April 2012

The University of East London (UEL) has recently published its new policy on research data management, making it the fifth institution to be listed by DCC on its website.

I joined UEL as Research Services Librarian in early October 2011, and within a week was appointed project manager to write the policy, which was adopted by the university on 15 March 2012. How did this come to pass?

Like many institutions, we were galvanised by the recent EPSRC requirements for data management. But this came in the context of an existing desire to strengthen the research base at UEL.

Professor John Joughin the Deputy Vice-Chancellor with lead responsibility for research in his introduction to the 2010-2020 research strategy says, “Our ambition and aspiration at UEL is to be the leading modern, post-92 university for research”. 

Dr Tim Brooks, REF Manager in UEL’s strategic planning section, took the lead in establishing a small team to respond to the EPSRC challenge, and agreed with Professor Joughin the means by which an institutional policy would be adopted.

Tim contacted Library and Learning Services Associate Director Gurdish Sandhu and convened a small project team with her and three academic representatives with a spread of disciplines, methodologies and types of research, and me as project manager. Two of the three academics were Associate Deans responsible for research, with knowledge of the value of data beyond the focus of principal investigators.

As a result of conversations with Sarah Jones and Graham Pryor of DCC at RDMF7 in early November, I approached DCC to request its support in developing its data management capability. We were delighted to become one of the institutional engagement (IE) subjects with support from Sarah and Monica Duke.

I reviewed the four policies on the DCC website, and a couple of draft ones kindly shared in private, and created a draft of our own. It is fair to say this was directly inspired by that of the University of Edinburgh. 

The project team reviewed the draft and gave good feedback in early January about the areas to cover, the language to use and the process for adoption in UEL’s context. Sarah and Monica also gave helpful feedback based on their knowledge of DM activity elsewhere. 

A second version was then circulated to the Research Leaders, typically Associate Deans for research, in each School for consultation and feedback – admittedly in a short space of time. A final version was then submitted to the Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee (one of the standing committees of the Academic Board) and adopted at its meeting of 15 March 2012. 

I know from conversations at the March JISC/DCC meeting on institutional policies that we have a much simpler decision-making process than other universities, making it relatively quick and easy to make policy.

We have also taken the “policy then infrastructure” route: this might be seen as top-down, but at UEL there is less autonomy for academic Schools to make their own provision. In fact, there is a general willingness to work with central departments to develop and then use support infrastructure.

The library is taking the lead on this, building on our own collaborations with Schools in areas like the institutional repository and teaching information skills. In other institutions the Research Office or IT Services may be leading DM activity, and we will certainly work closely with them as we move beyond talking policy to living it.

Now we just have the small task of implementing the policy! We will spend the next several months consulting research staff on what they require to comply with the data management policy, before building an institution-wide provision.

We consciously call this a “support service and infrastructure” because it will encompass human interactions as well as technological ones, framed in the context of curating research data throughout its lifecycle. 

For us, having DCC’s continued engagement through Sarah and Monica gives us reassurance that we are developing DM capability in line with best practice. My ambition is to make UEL a great place to manage research data.