Further reflections on the JISC Managing Research Data Workshop

Like James, I also attended the JISC Managing Research Data Programme Workshop in Birmingham last week. It’s always good to have a chance to meet up with colleagues from other projects and hear what they’ve been doing, in the hope of picking up some useful ideas. (It can also be surprisingly reassuring to learn that other people have encountered some of the same challenges.)

Given my role as the DaMaRO Project’s Training Officer, I focused chiefly on the sessions dealing with training, support, and guidance. Sustainability was very much under discussion here, as at other workshop sessions: with the current round of JISC MRD projects drawing to a close, the question of how the work done to develop training provision can be continued is a pressing one for many: teaching materials are of limited use unless there’s someone available to run the course, and while guidance websites may remain online after projects have concluded, these will need to be maintained and updated if they’re to stay accurate and relevant.

I was also interested to note that a substantial proportion of the training initiatives described during the workshop were aimed at librarians. This is an area the DaMaRO Project hasn’t really ventured into up to now: instead, we’ve focused our efforts chiefly on reaching the researchers themselves. However, the discussion of sustainability left me wondering whether – funding permitting – this is an area that future work at Oxford might usefully expand into. It still seems to me extremely important to offer resources and training opportunities directly to the people who are doing the research, but the role of librarians and other support staff is not to be underestimated – and might provide an alternative way of embedding knowledge about good research data management practice firmly in academic culture.

I was particularly interested to hear about the DIY Research Data Management Training Kit for Librarians, developed at the University of Edinburgh. This makes use of modules from the excellent Research Data MANTRA course as a way of informing librarians about the issues that researchers face, and then supplements this with reflective writing assignments, group exercises, and other material such as podcasts. The course is designed so that it can be run collaboratively, without the need for an external expert trainer – something which has obvious benefits in an atmosphere of uncertainty about future training provision.

This also ties in rather well with some work already underway in Oxford: as James mentioned in his blog post, we’re currently collaborating with our colleagues in the Southampton DataPool Project to run a survey intended to gauge RDM knowledge and training needs among support staff, including librarians. The results of that will be reported on this blog in due course.

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Reflections on the JISC Managing Research Data Workshop, March 2013

This week I had the pleasure of attending the JISC Managing Research Data ‘end-of-programme’ workshop at Aston University. As far as the Damaro project is concerned, it’s not actually the end of the programme yet, as we’ve had an extension until June. Nevertheless it was an excellent chance to reflect on progress and learn from the experiences of other institutions.

Whilst we are currently in the process of putting together a business case to persuade the University of the need to support our fledgling research data management infrastructure, some projects have already made good progress in this regard. The Data.Bris Project has managed to secure funding from the University of Bristol for at least the next two years to staff their research data management service, and will be using the opportunity to serve existing and assess future demand. At the University of Lincoln, meanwhile, the Orbital Project have taken a slightly different approach. Instead of building a service focused specifically on research data management, they are pioneering a more general research management service based around a ‘researcher dashboard’ of useful information for researchers regarding their publications, with data management services built around this. By giving researchers something they know they already want, they can potentially encourage greater engagement with the data outputs associated with those publications.

One distinction between the way Oxford is proposing to implement and sustain our RDM services compared with other universities is that we are adopting a more modular approach. Whereas several universities have presented their management with requests for different levels of funding depending on whether they wish to support a minimal, moderate, or high level of RDM service, we are looking at each element of our infrastructure as a service in its own right, with different business models for each. We may still suggest different service level options for each element, but we think that this modular approach will make it easier to add to or remove parts of our infrastructure in the future.

Besides the presentations about sustainability, there were sessions on training, technical developments, and data publication via journals. As ever, I would like to have been able to attend more session that I was able to, although I’ll be aiming to get the highlights of those I couldn’t attend from my colleagues who were at the workshop.

On the afternoon of the second day, the Digital Curation Centre (DCC) arranged a couple of sessions to capture and disseminate the experiences of the various projects for the benefit of other universities undertaking similar activities in future, which I’m sure will prove very useful once their synthesis is up on their website. It’s been impressive throughout the programme how coordinated it has all felt, with different institutions learning from and partnering with each other. For our part we’re currently jointly running a survey of staff support skills along with the University of Southampton, and we’ll certainly be following up on some of the ideas and activities we heard about from our ‘fellow  travelers’ at the workshop.

We produced a new project poster for the workshop, illustrating some of the achievements of the project so far. You can find it here: http://damaro.oucs.ox.ac.uk/docs/DamaroPoster3.1.pdf.

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DaMaRO presenting at DigCurV conference

We are pleased to announce that the DaMaRO Project will be represented at the DigCurV International Conference, Framing the Digital Curation Curriculum, in Florence this May.

I’ll be presenting a paper titled ‘Getting Data Creators On Board with the Digital Curation Agenda: Lessons Learned in Developing Training for Researchers’. As the title suggests, this draws on our experiences of working with researchers during DaMaRO and earlier projects, and will offer some reflections on how (amid all the multifarious pressures on their time and resources) they can best be engaged with the process of planning for the long-term curation of their work.

The full conference programme is now online, and an abstract of the paper is also available.

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Research data management training: face-to-face courses

'Paper and Pen' by Rick Payette via Flickr

In February, the DaMaRO Project ran its first face-to-face training events. These included a half-day Introduction to Research Data Management course, which we offered twice, to members of two of the University of Oxford’s academic divisions (Medical Sciences, and Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences). We were also invited to provide a lunchtime session titled ‘Ten Top Things Researchers Need to Know About Research Data Management’, as part of a series run by the Humanities Division. For all three events, our audience was chiefly composed of graduate students and postdocs.

The courses seemed to go well, and the comments we’ve received have been generally positive. Something that became plain quite early on was the usefulness of having the University’s Policy on the Management of Research Data and Records to refer to. The difference between something simply being good practice or highly recommended and it being something the University explicitly expects of its researchers is a significant one: it seems to bring the issues into much sharper focus, and make people more inclined to sit up and take notice.

One concrete piece of feedback we got in response to the half-day course was that participants would have liked more illustrative examples taken from other research projects. This was something we would have liked to provide, but had been hampered by the difficulty of finding suitable candidates. In the light of the feedback, we’ve revisited this, and have formed a plan for developing some case studies – more of that in a future blog post. We’ll be running the half-day course again next term, this time for the University’s Humanities and Social Sciences Divisions. By that time, we hope to have some real examples which can be incorporated into the training materials.

We’re also (as always) looking further ahead, to see how research data management training in Oxford might be made sustainable beyond the DaMaRO Project. We don’t have a complete answer to that yet, but it’s reassuring to see that Oxford’s academic divisions are ready to work with us, and are increasingly recognizing this as an important area in terms of training provision for their researchers.

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Damaro progress report, January 2013

January has been an exciting month for Damaro thanks primarily to the IDCC 2013 conference in Amsterdam, where we displayed two project posters, presented two papers (all available via the conference web site), and gave demonstrations of the in-development DataReporter tool, as well as participating in a variety of workshops. As usual, the Digital Curation Centre did a splendid job of organising the conference and it was an excellent opportunity to catch up with what other institutions and organisations are doing in various parts of the world.

The conference also gave us our first real opportunity to discuss the findings of Oxford’s recent Research Data Management survey with the wider world. I was particularly interested in the reaction to one slide which illustrated the fact that a significant proportion of researchers conduct their research as individuals and manage their data by themselves. Those of us who work in research data management can easily get the impression that researchers tend to work in large teams and on funded research, as we tend to hear most about the challenges of big data generated by large-scale research projects, but this is not how many researchers work. During the presentation I did not break our findings down into disciplines, but doing so helps to make the patterns more obvious.

The survey was addressed to researchers at the University of Oxford whose work involves generating or compiling data of any sort, and the question we asked our researchers was ‘Do you conduct your research as part of a team or as an individual?’ The results show that researchers in our Humanities Division were very likely to be working as individuals, whereas those in the Medical Sciences were, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most likely to research in teams. Across the board, however, researchers whose data was managed collectively by their research teams were outnumbered by those who looked after their own data outputs.

Whilst practices at other universities will doubtless vary to some extent, these figures show the need to support and train researchers in research data management not just at the research group level, but also at a much more fined-grained level, covering the ‘long tail’ of data-driven research as well as the big science.

The survey also served to remind us that not all research involving data outputs is undertaken with funding from the Research Councils and other external funders. Excluding ‘don’t knows’, 37% of our survey respondents were not currently receiving any external funding for their research. As before, those in Oxford’s Humanities Division were most likely to be conducting unfunded research, whereas those in the Medical Sciences were most likely to be in receipt of external funds. This has implications for the business models of the tools and services that the University is developing and the manner in which we promote and provide them.

Back in Oxford, recent progress on Damaro has included the integration of WebAuth with the DataFinder software, so we know who’s using it and can check that they’re not getting access to parts of the system that they shouldn’t. We have also encoded our metadata as RDF. We’re now working on turning the user interface from a rough arrangement of placeholders into a thing of great beauty and profound usability.

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University of Oxford Research Data Management Survey 2012 : The Results

The University of Oxford Research Data Management Survey of 2012 is now closed to new respondents and its findings are ready for analysis. The response to the survey has exceeded all expectations, with 314 Oxford researchers taking the time to complete it. This has been largely thanks to its assiduous promotion by Dr. Meriel Patrick, the IT Learning Programme, the University’s Research Services, and the many departmental administrators who circulated it to their respective mailing lists. As a result, we have a good spread of disciplinary coverage, and a rich seam of data to mine.

The survey asked about the data that researchers generate, how they organize it, their attitudes to sharing it, and whether they have been inspired to undertake new research after looking at data that others have shared in the past. It also served to benchmark awareness of centrally-provided infrastructure and inform service planning for the future. Continue reading

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JISC MRD Benefits Workshop

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend the JISC Managing Research Data Programme workshop on benefits and evidence in Bristol. The event provided an excellent opportunity for the various projects funded under the programme to exchange ideas about what benefits they thought they would be able to bring to their institutions (and UK Higher Education more widely), and how they intended to measure them.

Although I was unable to attend the full two days, the presentations and discussions I did get to hear were both interesting and reassuring (reassuring in that Damaro is not alone in the challenges it faces trying to measure some impacts which are likely to be quite long-term).

For our slides, I took five of the fourteen or so benefits we’d initially identified and mentioned how we hoped to capture the information we would need to judge whether we were achieving them, and when it would be possible for us to tell. One of the key ways of measuring our success will be the Oxford RMD Survey, which at the time of writing is still  open to Oxford University researchers. Hopefully, this can become an annual, longitudinal study, which will measure changes in attitudes, awareness, and research data management practices. I shall blog about the outcome of our initial ‘benchmarking’ survey in due course on this site. Some preliminary findings are included in the second slide from our Damaro presentation.

Several other projects are also running surveys of their researchers and/or support staff, so it will be interesting to compare findings from around the UK when all have been concluded.

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Attention Oxford researchers!

The Damaro Project is currently (November 2012) undertaking a survey of researchers at the University of Oxford to get a better understanding of how they manage their data. We hope to be able repeat this survey in subsequent years to track changing practices, monitor awareness and use of the data management infrastructure that we’re putting in place, and to focus future investment where it is most needed.

If you are a researcher at the University of Oxford whose work involves generating or compiling data of any sort, we’d like to get a better idea of how you manage that data. All respondents leaving their email address will be entered into a draw for a £200 Amazon gift voucher.

Please note that this survey is only for active researchers employed by the University of Oxford and its constituent colleges.

You can access the survey at: https://www.survey.bris.ac.uk/oxford/rdm2012

The survey is likely to take about 15 minutes to complete.

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DaMaRO Survey Results – Research Data Management Training for the Sciences

We were delighted with the response to our recent survey on research data management training in the sciences – almost two hundred researchers took the time to complete the questionnaire.

The respondents came from a wide variety of fields, with medical sciences and life sciences being particularly well represented, and from all career stages through from graduate students (who made up about half the survey sample) to senior researchers.

The survey focused on eleven key data management tasks. For each of these, we asked researchers how confident they felt about it, how much training (formal and informal) they had received, and how beneficial they felt additional training would be.

The research we’ve done previously has indicated that most researchers have received little formal training in research data management. However, some anecdotal evidence suggested that science researchers were perhaps more likely to receive informal on-the-job training within their labs or research groups.

The survey results confirmed this. For all eleven tasks, researchers reported receiving more informal training (which might take the form of advice from colleagues or supervisors, or being directed to written guidance material) than formal training (such as taught courses, or exercises on which feedback was given).

However, overall training levels were generally fairly low. There was only one task out of the eleven (managing bibliographic data) for which at least a quarter of respondents had received more than a little formal training. There were five tasks for which at least a quarter had received more than a little informal training, but none for which more than half had.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tasks in which most training had been received were those relating to day-to-day management of information: managing bibliographic data; organizing and structuring data within files; storing data securely and backing up; and organizing, structuring, and naming files and folders. Those for which least training was reported were those which concern what happens to data after the end of a project: preparing datasets for long-term preservation; determining whether datasets ought to be preserved; preparing datasets for sharing with other researchers; and dealing with copyright, licensing, or IP issues.

It also came as no real surprise to find that the two tasks researchers felt least confident about – dealing with copyright, licensing, and IP issues, and preparing datasets for long-term preservation – were also the areas in which they felt training would be most beneficial. Correspondingly, the tasks for which additional training was regarded as least necessary were those about which researchers felt most confident: organizing, structuring, and naming files and folders, and managing bibliographic data. In between these extremes, however, there were some more unexpected results. For example, version control was a task that received a relatively low confidence rating (joint fourth lowest out of eleven), but was also one of the areas in which additional training was viewed as less useful (ranked ninth out of eleven). Conversely, storing data securely and backing up ranked relatively highly in terms of both researchers’ confidence (fourth highest out of eleven) and training received (third highest, for both formal and informal training), but was still in the top half of the list of tasks (joint fifth highest) when it came to respondents’ feelings about the usefulness of additional training – perhaps reflecting researchers’ awareness of how essential it is to keep their data safe.

Reassuringly, respondents showed a substantial degree of enthusiasm for additional training in this area as a whole. One researcher commented that data management had never been mentioned as a subject before, despite having managed data on two large projects. This respondent concluded ‘I think I’ve managed OK but I was probably reinventing the wheel.’ This seems to reflect many researchers’ experiences of frequently being left to work out how to do data management unaided – with little or no guidance about best practice or ways of making the process easier. Another respondent simply commented ‘I’m pleased to see that this area has been recognised as one that requires formal training.’

For those who are interested in knowing more, a spreadsheet summarizing the full survey results (with a few illustrative charts and graphs) can be downloaded from the DaMaRO website. We’d also be happy to supply a copy of the raw underlying data to anyone who’d like to carry out further analysis of their own – please email us on damaro@oucs.ox.ac.uk

The survey results have given us a useful snapshot of the training science researchers are currently receiving and would like to receive – and thus have provided some helpful pointers about where best to focus our efforts over the coming months.

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Damaro Progress Report, October 2012

It’s been a busy October as Damaro starts producing the policies and service agreements that will shape the DataBank and DataFinder Services when they launch in 2013. This work has been going on alongside the continued development of the software, a surfeit of conferences and workshops, a survey of training needs in the sciences, and, as if that weren’t enough, the restructuring of the University’s IT Services. When Damaro began it was under the aegis of our Infrastructure Group; now it’s part of our Academic IT Services group. The personnel are the same, just translated. At least the Bodleian Libraries project members are unaffected by such upheavals, or rather they were until it was announced that the Bodleian Digital Library Systems Services group would also be getting a makeover. No risk of stagnation here!

The University of Oxford Policy on the Management of Research Data and Records is now available from our central research data management website, or via a direct link to http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/media/global/wwwadminoxacuk/localsites/researchdatamanagement/documents/Policy_on_the_Management_of_Research_Data_and_Records.pdf. We’ll be adding a gloss to it in due course.

Over the last month project team members have attended the JISC MRD Programme workshop in Nottingham, the training workshop in London, the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG) meeting in Dublin, and the Oxford Open Science Group meeting back in Oxford, spreading the Damaro word and learning from our colleagues near and far. The Damaro Project Update presentation is available from the Damaro Project outputs’ page, as is the new project poster. Not resting on our laurels, the Damaro team have also had two papers, a poster, and a software demonstration accepted by the International Digital Curation Conference (IDCC 2013), which will be held in Amsterdam from the 14th to 17th of January, 2013. Reserve your places now!

Our training work this month has involved setting up courses with the Divisions and Departments at Oxford – vital if we are to embed research data management training in the University and ensure it can continue beyond the project itself. We’ve also been running a survey of training needs across our science departments. We have a pretty good understanding already of what our humanities researchers and social scientists would like, but our scientists have thus far been under-represented. We’ll report on our new findings in a future blog post.

We’ve also been working with staff from our IT Services’ Web Design Consultancy team to ensure our user interfaces look good and meet accessibility standards, and we now have a set of ‘wireframes’ for our testing team to explore – ensuring that it’s clear from a users’ perspective how to contribute DataFinder records as well as discovering data deposit by those who came before.

Finally, a plea to any readers interested in establishing research data management infrastructures at other institutions… We have some JISC funding to test our forthcoming Database as a Service (DaaS) software outside of Oxford – to see how we would need to adapt it to meet the needs of other higher education institutions. The DaaS will enable researchers to build, edit, share, and publish relational databases online, in a manner that enables the long-term preservation of and access to the data therein. We’re anticipating conducting this testing between February and May 2013, but it would be great to hear from any interested parties in advance. If you think there would be any call for such a service at your own university, do get in touch by email us at ords@it.ox.ac.uk. Enquiries about the Damaro project should be addressed instead to damaro@oucs.ox.ac.uk.

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