In my role as manager of the SUDAMIH project I was recently invited to attend a workshop on updating the Arts and Humanities Research Council Technical Appendix. The Technical Appendix is the document one needs to fill in if applying for AHRC funding for a project that will involve the ‘creation of an electronic resource’. And if your first thought upon reading this is, “hello, and what exactly constitutes an electronic resource?”, I can assure you that you are not alone. Rumour has it that many applicants pay little regard to the technical appendix until the application deadline draws ominously near. Then, upon a closer examination of the requirements of the appendix, the researcher (as slander would have us believe) panics, and passes the document to someone involved in their institution’s IT provision, accompanied with threats, bribes, and wails of anguish. The appendix is duly completed, and both the main application and its sidekick wend their way to the offices of the AHRC.
Of course, in reality academics are far too organised to allow such situations to develop, although feedback does suggest that many AHRC applicants, even successful ones, do find the technical appendix rather daunting. Some appreciate the way the appendix forces them to consider technical issues more thoroughly; others regard it as a chore. Good news and bad news for the latter: it may yet come to pass that the Appendix is abandoned, but only if it gets re-named or its content is integrated into the main application document.
What has this to do with Sudamih? Well, the technical requirements specified by the Research Councils are important drivers of researchers’ data management behaviour. Whilst it is preferable that academics learn good data management practice out of a recognition of the importance of keeping data safe and accessible for future research, at least for their own benefit if not for that of others, this good practice does not come without costs. Most researchers, whether in the humanities or elsewhere, would rather spend their time producing new research rather than worrying about long-term data curation issues. Yet these concerns are clearly and rightly important to the publicly-funded Research Councils. There is no prospect of the Councils dropping their requirements at any point soon, even though they may be rephrased or clarified in workshops such as the one I attended. Institutions can however develop policies, tools, and infrastructure that make curation simpler, clearer, and more secure, and consequently make those onerous technical appendices that much quicker and easier to satisfactorily complete.
There is more work yet to do on updating the AHRC’s Technical Appendix, but it is good to be involved in the process, as it will help inform the Sudamih project over its lifespan.