ORDS maintenance work Tuesday 27th October 7am to 9am

Please be aware that the ORDS is scheduled to be down between 7am and 9am on the 27th October 2015 for standard server updates. It is advised that you do not try to use the service during this period.

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Reflections on Damaro: foundations of RDM services in the Bod

One strand of the Damaro project in which the Bodleian Libraries have been leading is development of two critical systems to support RDM, DataFinder and DataBank. Now these systems are well and good, but when offering them to researchers they need to be run as services rather than being let loose as free standing tools with no support. We have learnt a lot about what will be required to run these services, that will be offered to academics of all disciplines across the University. There is much in common with running our institutional repository for research publications and which operates as a staffed service. We therefore envisage an integrated ‘research outputs’ service with common tasks and support.

One of the features that will be required is a staffed helpdesk, backed up by fulsome and easy to find information and guidance. This will in part be achieved by the one-stop-shop University RDM web site. We are also planning for staff to review deposits in a similar vein to review of deposits of articles and other publications. However, the review of dataset deposits will be rather different: the rights and permitted formats do not apply in the same way.

We have developed detailed workflows for both deposit and for review processes. These underpin how the service will operate, will ensure a smooth deposit process for the depositor, offer communication channels between reviewer and depositor, and a workable workflow for reviewers.

Before releasing the full service we need to have a number of legal statements agreed and available. These are in preparation, and have prompted some detailed discussions within the University about data ownership.

Coupled with the legal statements a suite of service policies are nearing completion, and that will underpin how the service operates. They will guide matters such as eligible users and content.

The Bodleian Libraries has developed an RDM policy which forms a part of the Libraries’ preservation policy. This policy is directly related to the University’s RDM policy and governs the responsibilities of the Libraries and data depositors.

Before a full service can be offered, not only do researchers need acess to training, but so too do library staff, so at the very least they know where to direct researchers with questions about RDM. Training for library staff has started and will be ramped up as more data services are offered and more researchers begin to interact with them.

All in all, a lot has been achieved to create the building blocks of RDM services for this University. Once they are in place, they should provide a firm foundation upon which staff can support scholars to manage their data.


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DaMaRO training materials available online, plus final reflections

We’re pleased to announce that the final version of the teaching materials for the DaMaRO Project’s half-day Introduction to Research Data Management course are now available from the newly-created Training Materials page on our website. The course offers an overview of a selection of key data management topics (including day-to-day data management, back-up and security, metadata and documentation, data sharing and preservation, and data management planning). It consists of a mixture of presentation and exercises, including a chance for participants to begin drafting a data management plan for their own research.

DaMaRO 2013 Introduction to Research Data Management course feedback word cloud

Word cloud generated from early course feedback - participants were asked how the course might be improved

We’ve now run this course a total of five times for researchers at the University of Oxford. I blogged about the first two iterations earlier in the year, and we’ve since followed that up with a session for the Humanities Division, plus two for Social Sciences. As we’ve progressed through the series the precise content of the course has evolved: some sections have been shortened or lengthened, or tweaked to reflect the concerns of researchers in different disciplines. We’ve also added more concrete examples, in response to feedback from the early sessions. We’re still waiting to get feedback on the most recent courses, so it’ll be interesting to see how the final groups of participants respond.

On a personal note, I feel I’ve learnt a lot over the year, both about research data management itself and about how best to tell people about it. I’ve enjoyed seeing what got a positive reaction in the face-to-face sessions – the nodding heads and scribbling hands that indicate something is relevant and (hopefully) useful,  or if I’m very lucky, the occasional ripple of appreciation that runs round the room when something really strikes home. Though the course element that has consistently got the best reaction is something I can’t really take any credit for: the wonderful Data Sharing and Management Snafu in Three Short Acts video from NYU Health Sciences Libraries. It’s hard to find something that gets so many points across quite so vividly in just a few short minutes – and does so while making you laugh.

At the same time, I’m keenly aware that thus far we’ve only scratched the surface. I’ve delivered training this year to a few dozen researchers, out of a total of roughly ten thousand at the University of Oxford. Hopefully the electronic resources that are available and other initiatives within the University have reached some portion of the others, but it still feels as though we have a long way to go. Still, we’ve made some good progress this year in developing materials and forging links with the academic divisions, and it’s to be hoped that these will form a firm foundation for the post-DaMaRO research data management training work in Oxford.

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Survey results: research data management knowledge and training needs among University of Oxford research support staff

A few weeks ago, in collaboration with our colleagues from the DataPool Project in Southampton, we ran a survey for staff involved in supporting researchers at the University of Oxford. We got a total of thirty-seven responses, from IT Services, the libraries, Research Services, divisional and departmental research support, and one of the Doctoral Training Centres.

A report summarizing the survey results is now available from the Project Outputs page.

The survey asked support staff about a range of different research data management tasks. For each task, we asked them how confident they personally felt to advise researchers on this. As it’s clearly unrealistic to expect all support staff to advise on all topics, we also asked how confident they felt of their ability to refer researchers to the appropriate person, organization, or resources for advice.

The responses revealed that current average confidence levels are low to moderate at best. Respondents did in general seem slightly more confident about referring researchers elsewhere for advice, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement here.

We also asked respondents whether they felt that they ought to be able to refer researchers to the right place for further advice, regardless of their current level of confidence in doing so. Reassuringly, for most tasks, a majority of respondents felt that they should. However, a notable exception to this pattern was tasks relating to management of research data during the active phase of a project (contrasted with those relating to planning or post-research data management). Interestingly, these tasks also tended to be those which fewest respondents considered to form part of their own role. This highlights a need to ensure that the full range of help and advice researchers need is available to them, and to ensure there are no significant gaps in provision.

Frequency of requests for RDM help, broken down by respondents' role (chart produced as part of analysis by DataPool staff - click for larger version)

The spread of previous requests for help from researchers was also interesting. Staff working in the libraries had received the fewest requests, whereas respondents who received a larger number of requests were more likely to be working in IT Services, divisional or departmental research support or (to a lesser extent) Research Services. As we plan future provision, it will be important to make sure that researchers know who is best placed to advise on a given topic – and conversely, that the people researchers are likely to approach have relevant information to give them.

Overall, the survey indicated that additional training and advice on research data management would be beneficial for (and appreciated by) many research support staff. As the DaMaRO Project draws to a close and we continue thinking about the next steps for research data management work in Oxford, this is certainly something we’ll be giving serious consideration.

Update: As with previous DaMaRO surveys, we’d be happy to make a copy of the anonymized raw data available to anyone who’d like to do further analysis of their own – please contact us on damaro@oucs.ox.ac.uk

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Damaro Project Update – May/June 2013

As we enter the home straight of the Damaro Project, here’s a quick update as to where we are.

Much of my time over the last month has gone into creating short business cases for the various research data management infrastructure components that Damaro and other recent projects at Oxford have been working on. These then fed into a paper that our director, Professor Paul Jeffreys, presented to the Research Information Management Sub-Committee (RIMSC) at Oxford. The plan was then to take the case for University funding to the Research Committee, who would recommend it to the University. In practice, RIMSC were broadly supportive but requested that we consult more with the Academic Divisions before taking the case to the Research Committee in Michaelmas Term (Autumn). So that is what we shall do. We will need to strengthen our case be getting more researchers using our new RDM tools, and sell the benefits of the infrastructure to researchers more assiduously. You can see a copy of the case for investment presented to RIMSC on the Damaro Project outputs page.

Besides doing our bit to secure the future of the RDM infrastructure at Oxford, we’ve been continuing to develop and try out our face-to-face training materials on researchers on a Division-by-Division basis. Over the last month we’ve revisited the Humanities and the Social Sciences with courses modified according to earlier feedback. We’ve been asking our researchers for ‘true stories’ about their research data management exploits – what worked well and what didn’t – and will be incorporating these disciplinary examples into the next revisions of our training.  We’re also gearing up to start explaining and demonstrating our data catalogue software, ‘DataFinder’, to our subject librarians.

The DataFinder software is now getting close to offering the full nose-to-tail functionality the Damaro Project has been aiming for. We just need to complete the presentation of the record contribute form, get the faceted searching working properly, and then add the user agreement texts and we should be ready to go. We’re optimistic that we can get all this in place and working smoothly ahead of the Damaro / Oxford DMP Online workshop on the 28th June.

The joint Damaro / Oxford DMP Online workshop will be the concluding event of the project, and hopefully its crowning glory. We will be introducing the challenges faced by the two projects, demonstrating the various software tools we’ve been working on over the last couple of years, discussing sustainability, and asking delegates to explore with us how the training and tools we’ve produced can be applied in practical research contexts. Hosted at Rewley House, Oxford, and lasting from 10am to 4:30pm, it should be a great opportunity to see what Oxford has been working on and the direction we’re moving in. Researchers, those involved in supporting research, and those involved in research data management at other universities should all find the day informative. We’re even throwing in a free lunch. Workshop registration is open at http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/event/6525892119#.

Although the workshop will be the last formal activity of the Damaro Project, our work on implementing an RDM infrastructure at Oxford will be continuing. We still need to get proper user acceptance testing underway and tie up some of the loose ends from the project – such as making sure that all of the metadata generated in one component of the infrastructure really does flow properly to the associated parts. And most importantly, we need to find the resources to actually staff the services we’ve been developing. We’re not there yet, but the Damaro Project has taken a huge step toward achieving the goal of a sustainable institutional research data management infrastructure that both meets the requirements of the UK Research Councils and enables researchers to make the most of their data outputs.

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DigCurV International Conference: Framing the Digital Curation Curriculum

DigCurV conference logoLast week I attended the DigCurV Project’s International Conference in Florence. The subject was Framing the Digital Curation Curriculum, and it was great to have a chance to hear about the work that’s being done in this area by DigCurV and other groups and institutions around the world, while catching up with old acquaintances – including a few other people from the JISC MRD Programme – and making some new ones.

The programme offered numerous reflections on the training available for both digital curation professionals and others involved in the process of preserving material for the long term. I was there to talk about what we’d learned in the process of developing training for researchers – because planning for digital curation needs to start as early as possible in the research process, not just when material is handed over to an archive or repository. A copy of my presentation (and the paper it was based on, co-authored with my colleague James A. J. Wilson) is available via the DaMaRO Project Ouputs page.

One of the hot topics at the conference was DigCurV’s newly developed Curriculum Framework. This outlines four categories of key skills (knowledge and intellectual abilities; personal qualities; professional conduct; management and quality assurance), and maps these to different roles in the digital curation process via three lenses – one for practitioners, one for managers, and one for executives. There was a lot of fruitful discussion about how the framework might be used in planning and developing training and education in digital curation, and on how it might evolve or be added to in the future (perhaps unsurprisingly, my own take was that I’d love to see this expanded to include a researcher or data creator lens).

The conference also included a presentation on (and an opportunity to play) DigCurV’s ingenious Curate game – an educational board game designed to provide a fun way of encouraging people to explore some of the issues surrounding digital curation and preservation. This looks like a fantastic tool, and I hope to find opportunities to use it myself in the future.

As is often the case, the informal discussion over coffee or a glass of wine provided almost as much food for thought as the formal sessions. One issue that came up was that of providing case studies or researcher stories illustrating the benefits of data sharing. A lot of effort is currently going into persuading researchers that making their data available for re-use should be the norm wherever possible – this is, for example, something we’re covering in both the face-to-face training and the online guidance DaMaRO is developing. Yet while we tell researchers that this will benefit them as well as the wider researcher community, by allowing them to get credit for the shared datasets, and by exposing their research to new potential audiences, we don’t currently have much to present in the way of specific examples where this has happened. There is a significant body of evidence about the correlation between data sharing and citation rates, which is a great start, but it would be wonderful also to have some personal accounts from researchers who’ve found that data sharing has brought them concrete benefits. These stories must be out there – it’s just a matter of finding and collecting them. A task for a future research data management project, perhaps?

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Damaro Project Update – April 2013

It’s been rather a while since I posted a general progress report for Damaro, so here’s a brief summary of what we’ve been up to over the last month or so…

Our DataFinder contribution form is now complete. This is the form that researchers will use to manually add records about research data they have produced when we cannot harvest such data automatically. We still need to do a bit of testing on this to ensure that it is clear to researchers what exactly they are supposed to enter, but it’s good to have this vital component in place. We’ve also made good progress with faceted searching and browsing, enabling users to filter DataFinder results for those datasets most relevant to their work.

With regards to training, we have now completed our survey of support staff (run in conjunction with the DataPool Project at Southampton) and we will analyse the results shortly. A list of updates has been submitted to Research Services to ensure the University’s RDM website remains accurate and continues to reflect best practice. A summary of issues regarding data de-anonymization has been drafted and will feed into future training materials. An appeal has been made for researchers who are willing to share their experiences of data management practices in particular academic departments. It is hoped that this will furnish examples for future training.

Work on the business case has advanced with a general case for investment in RDM infrastructure at the University having been prepared.

Project team members have attended three workshops disseminate lessons learned during Damaro and prepare for future RDM challenges. These consisted of the JISC Managing Research Data ‘end of programme’ workshop, the Knowledge Exchange’s ‘Making Data Count’ workshop in Berlin, and finally a workshop on ‘Open Data’ organised by the French agricultural research agency, INRA, to which I was invited to speak about the RDM work at Oxford. A reflection on the ‘Making Data Count’ workshop, and data metrics more specifically has been posted on this blog, and the slides presented to the INRA conference may be downloaded from the Damaro Outputs page.

We have now arranged for the Damaro (and Oxford DMP Online) Project Workshop to be held at Rewley house on the 28th June – save the date! We’ll post more details about this in due course.

Finally, in addition to the original project plan, the newly formed IT Services Research Support Group has volunteered to help out by trying out the elements of the Damaro RDM infrastructure with real research use cases – feeding back both on any technical problems encountered or gaps identified in the infrastructure.

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The Knowledge Exchange ‘Making Data Count’ Workshop – Metrics for Datasets

Last week I attended the ‘Making Data Count’ Workshop in Berlin, organised by the Knowledge Exchange. The objective of the workshop was to find ways to overcome the data-sharing reticence of researchers by ensuring that they were suitable rewarded for making their data publicly available. In some disciplines where the mutual benefits of sharing research data are well understood, the culture and practice of data sharing has grown substantially in recent decades. In others, however, the benefits to researchers are less clear, and researchers are generally correspondingly less keen on data sharing. Geoffrey Boulton saw this lack of recognition of mutual benefit to researchers as the crucial barrier to data sharing – once people realize that there is more benefit to be had by collectively managing and sharing data than by working in isolation, that situation will change. He also warned that achieving this cultural shift would be easier to achieve by selling the benefits of data sharing rather than emphasizing the need for compliance with researcher mandates. It was easy, he thought, for researchers to follow the letter of the funders’ law by putting their data online, but if it lacked sufficient context and documentation to enable others to re-use the data, it hardly constituted meaningful sharing.

The workshop went on to gather the various thoughts of the great and the good and to hear about the Knowledge Exchange’s new report: ‘The Value of Research Data’. After that, the workshop split into five task groups to suggest particular activities that might help overcome the problems identified. I joined the ‘metrics for datasets’ break-out group. I must admit that this choice was motivated less because it was an issue that had been keeping me awake at night, but rather because I suspect that metrics will become an issue once we have DataFinder up and running at Oxford, and particularly its ‘DataReporter’ interface for administrators. Hopefully others could solve the problems we were going to face with this before I even found out what those problems were.

Alas, nothing is that straightforward, but our group did have a good debate, and agreed with Jan Brase of DataCite that the first step might as well be to just start recording such metrics as could be recorded, whilst initiating a project or two to explore which metrics might actually prove most useful over the longer term. We also agreed that having one single indicator by which to evaluate data was a very bad idea, and that the effort that had gone into creating a dataset should probably be taken into account when evaluating it.

One aspect of the conversation that did concern me a little was how to measure the long-term impact of a dataset. Whilst it is all very well counting the number of links to datasets via Twitter, or ‘likes’ on Facebook, such metrics are to my mind a poor indication of the transformative effects that data sharing can (in theory) have on research, and on society more generally. In the UK the Research Excellence Framework now seeks evidence of the ‘impact’ of research, rather than simply citation counts, which I’m not sure is such an issue elsewhere in Europe. And I know from my humanities research background that whilst some research can have a short-term ‘wow’ factor that gets it mentioned in the newspapers, a lot of research is of interest to relatively few people, but can have a significant cumulative effect on a discipline over 10, 20, or even 50 years. To understand the value of such data, one needs to uncover the deep impact that it has, which is not so easy.

In the final coming-together session all of the break-out groups summarized their thoughts. The ‘Research Data Assessment’ group emphasized that the best measure of the quality of research data was the peer review mechanism, just as it was for articles, and that metrics should not be the basis of research assessment at all. This did not go entirely uncontested. Geoffrey Boulton (again) pointed out that peer review takes place not just at the publication stage, but rather that the most important ‘peer review’ was actually what one’s peers make of your research after it has been published. So perhaps metrics were back in the ring?

To my mind, a sensible synthesis of the views expressed would be to recognize that different forms of evaluation measure different aspects of data, just as they do traditional research. Peer review provides a measure of quality; metrics based on numbers of references provide a measure of interest in the research; and re-use a measure of value, especially where data is concerned. This latter element is arguably the most meaningful measure of impact, although simple references and citations are by no means worthless – they just measure something a little different. Even then, data can be re-used to different extents, and not all data re-use is easy to identify or measure. One of the questions we asked our researchers in our recent benchmarking survey at Oxford was whether they had ever been “inspired to undertake new or additional research as a result of looking at data that has been shared by researchers in the past”. 37% said they had. It’s quite feasible however that this inspirational data was not even cited in publications arising from this new or additional research. A narrative means of understanding the impact of shared data may therefore be more meaningful than a numerical one. One possible way to try to capture such impact might be to email researchers a few months, or even a year or two, after they had downloaded or accessed data from a data repository and simply ask them whether it made any difference to their research, and, if so, how? Of course, this would not capture every dataset they viewed, and, as we already know, researchers are busy people. Why would they spend time describing how they have used other researcher’s data if there was no incentive for them to do so? And so we turn full circle. Suggestions?

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Promoting existing training resources (or the wonders of Web links and helpful colleagues)

Research Data MANTRA home page

When we put together the DaMaRO training plan, we knew that we wanted to provide a mixture of face-to-face events and online material. Researchers have told us that both have advantages, and that each meets a different need.

I blogged about our first face-to-face courses a little while ago, and Oxford already has an extensive Research Data Management website, for which we’re currently in the process of developing additional content. But sometimes researchers may want something that’s somewhere between the two – with some of the structure and interactivity of a face-to-face course, but with the convenience of being able to complete it from the comfort of their own computer.

Fortunately, there was no need for us to develop our own online training course, because a very good one already exists: Research Data MANTRA, developed as part of JISC-funded work by EDINA and the Data Library at the University of Edinburgh. Instead, we set about thinking how this could best be brought to Oxford researchers’ attention.

We already had a link to MANTRA in the External Training section of the Oxford RDM website. This is great for people who are actively looking for research data management training, but we also wanted to increase the chance of people coming across the course serendipitously.

Continue reading

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