Effective research data management (RDM) is a key component of research integrity and reproducibility. However, many researchers are unaware of how to manage their data and other research outputs. Librarians and research support staff are faced with the challenge of providing RDM support and sharing best practices with researchers across disciplines and career stages.
A new book – Engaging Researchers with Data Management: The Cookbook, freely available through Open Book Publishers – features 24 case studies, from institutions worldwide, that demonstrate clear and practical guidance to engage the research community with RDM.
Co-author Dr. James Savage is a postdoctoral fellow at University College Cork, Ireland, and a visiting researcher at the University of Sheffield, UK. Recently, we talked about why he volunteered for this project, key problems institutions face in when developing RDM practices, and his advice for others seeking to drive RDM at their institution.
Sign up for the RDA webinar, where James presents an overview of the book Engaging Researchers with Data Management: The Cookbook.
Keen to ensure that non data-intensive fields, such as behavioural ecology, were represented when shaping data policies at the University of Cambridge, James volunteered as a member of the Data Champions program. In turn, this led to him being introduced to Marta Teperek, currently the Data Stewardship Coordinator at TU Delf, who through the Research Data Alliance’s Libraries for Research Data Interest Group was the driving force in identifying a group of people interested in engaging with researchers on RDM. The project resulted in a compilation of case studies that explore ways in which Universities motivate researchers to do RDM and they describe how Universities recognize good data stewardship. As James explained:
Most of the co-authors and contributors to the book had research data management support roles, whereas I was in the minority being an actual researcher. One of the reasons why I volunteered was because I enjoy the diversity in projects that I work on. I wanted to explore the scientific practices behind research, and I see real value in doing things as efficiently and transparently as possible.
One of the main advantages James saw in working on this project was the value that documenting existing RDM practices could bring to the community:
I don’t want RDM practices to be lost once someone moves on from an institution. Working on this project makes me feel happier about the things that I’ve been involved in.
The dilemma: what level of RDM support should institutions offer?
A recurring question many institutions face, as identified in the book, is how best to reach researchers and get them engaged on the topic of RDM.
James notes that it can be difficult for institutions to know enough about RDM to be able to sponsor initiatives that are of interest to researchers:
There is a danger that the support offered is too generic for anyone in the community. You can get the audience interested by providing very specific support on areas that you know everyone wants to know about – such as national and international policy – but when you want to provide direct support of research data collectives, you run the risk of being too generic, too specific or taking on too much work.
James goes on to discuss that a lot of RDM programs avoid this dilemma by choosing to provide generic information on RDM. In contrast, those who do directly address this issue may choose to adopt a centralized network of data champions or to attend RDM conferences to engage in cross-disciplinary data conversations without the need to build a formal community of practice and RDM framework.
The need to demonstrate impact
James noted that another challenge faced by those driving RDM programs is how best to demonstrate and measure the impact of their initiatives to secure continued support from the institution:
You want to be able to demonstrate the positive impact you’ve had on funded research, but it’s tricky to measure the value of streamlined processes, and time and efforts saved by researchers over the course of years, especially when post docs move on.
This frustration is one of the main reasons why this book has been published, as it documents the positive impact RDM investment can have.
We wanted to expose RDM initiatives that often fall below the radar and to reduce the barriers to other institutions who are thinking of implementing similar initiatives by demonstrating thoughts on their usefulness.
The book demonstrates many positive impacts from RDM investment. For example, the RDM team at the University of Minnesota wanted to provide more discipline specific RDM support. They found that the lightweight approach of embedding disciplinary RDM training into existing course content for the social sciences was a strong way to increase awareness of RDM in general. In addition to seeing an increased interest in data management, the organizers observed the power of word-of-mouth reaching principal investigators.
Commenting on the publication, Wouter Haak, VP of RDM Solutions at Elsevier, said:
Research Data Management is getting more and more focus from institutions, funders and researchers. It is hard for institutions to know where they stand on the journey towards excellent Research Data Management practices. Having a single ‘cookbook’ with tons of good examples from institutions from around the world will help them to make a more informed review of where they currently stand and choose the best next step forward.
Another case study featured in the book shows how Lancaster University decided to move away from policy-driven approaches to improve RDM practices and instead address cultural issues that bring to life the human aspect of RDM. Their introduction of Data Conversations was a low-cost and informal way to create events that illustrate the intrinsic value of RDM by researchers, for researchers.
“Researchers said that Data Conversations have changed their practice and we’ve seen it act as an interdisciplinary incubator,” said Joshua Sendall, Research & Scholarly Communications Manager at Lancaster University.
Data Conversations bring people together from various disciplines, Joshua added:
This is where our investment pays dividends: in the relationships developed through these conversations. And there is a sense of community as well.
Emphasising the benefits of RDM
Another challenge faced by institutions is how best to accelerate RDM adoption. PhD students, research staff and academics are all pressed for time, so adopting new RDM practices can be met with skepticism. To drive quick change, James recommends that institutions focus on showcasing the benefits of RDM:
It can be useful to emphasize both the need to follow funder and publisher requirements, and the direct benefits to researchers, such as increased efficiency, minimizing the risks of data loss and greater rates of data reuse.
If you can convince both the research community and the decision-makers within your institution of the need for improvement, change can happen relatively quickly.
The evolution of RDM
Looking towards future RDM practices, James suggested that as open science practices become increasingly common, there is a danger that institutional training and support for RDM may become a series of box-ticking exercises that fail to deliver the intended benefits:
Flexibility, consultation and engagement between RDM experts, researchers and institutions will be needed to ensure RDM policies and initiatives continue to evolve to support scientific best practice.
The Research Data Management Librarian Academy (RDMLA) is a free online professional development program for librarians, information professionals and other professionals who work in a research-intensive environment throughout the world. Learn more. Read about the RDMLA in Elsevier Connect and Library Connect.
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