Data management training in the humanities – lessons from the Sudamih workshop

On Thursday 22nd July, 2010, the Sudamih project staged a workshop on ‘Data Management Training for the Humanities’ at the Oxford e-Research Centre. The event was well-attended, with approximately forty delegates and speakers. Although it was just a morning workshop, we managed to squeeze quite a lot into the programme, with four speakers talking about the projects they were involved in followed by three ‘national perspectives’, and a panel session at the end intended to get some thoughts from members of the audience and start a debate.

The Sudamih project itself opened the morning, detailing the findings of the recent Researcher Requirements Report and drawing out some key messages. We were followed by Catharine Ward from the INCREMENTAL project, which is looking at practices and infrastructure in Cambridge and Glasgow. Although INCREMENTAL is looking at data management across a wider range of academic disciplines than Sudamih, its conclusions relating to existing practices and training requirements were reassuringly similar to our own: researchers were inconsistent in their information management practices, meaning that they misplaced things; they were happy in theory to share data, but in practice often found it problematic; and they were often not aware of existing central infrastructure, so services were not being fully exploited. The importance of language was also highlighted by both projects – the terminology of data management is not familiar to researchers and can be off-putting. You need to communicate clearly to researchers if you are to encourage and improve their skills.

The workshop then heard from Professor Eric Meyer of the Humanities Information Practices Project, based at the Oxford Internet Institute. This has been looking at the way researchers in the humanities use information, especially when collaborating with one another. Although the project is still in its early stages, its findings are already providing useful insights, such as that it is easier to persuade researchers to do new things if these can be introduced via analogies with practices with which researchers are already familiar.

There then followed a presentation by Gareth Knight, about the PeKin project at King’s College London, which is developing tools and advice for managing both electronic business records as well as research data. This presentation emphasised the need to assess the value of data, as this is key to determining what should be curated and what discarded. The need for training in data management was again identified as crucial, as was support from senior management. The PeKin Project is planning a mixed approach to training, producing various materials including content type reports – covering formats for image and audio files for example.

After the break, the workshop heard from the Digital Curation Centre, Vitae, and the Research Information Network.

Joy Davidson of the DCC emphasised how institutions should try to fit data management training into existing practices and to use what they already had as much as possible. She stressed the importance of targeting where time and money could be invested to maximise returns, considering the career stage at which training was aimed, and the existence of support services.

Ross English explained the role of Vitae in coordinating the training of HE researchers. He spoke of the resources that Vitae provide for trainers, such as the database of practice, and the now pressing need to demonstrate that training is having a real impact upon researcher practices.

Finally, Stéphane Goldstein of the RIN talked about how data management is becoming a bigger issue in researcher training these days. Whereas previously, the RIN had tended to focus its efforts on research information finding and gathering, its new shortly-to-be-published Researcher Development Framework (RDF) would begin to treat data management in earnest as part of the research process. He stressed the need for more examples of good practice from the data management field, as few had yet been identified.

After the presenters had finished there was a short panel discussion, which brought up issues surrounding the role of supervisors in instilling good practice (at the moment it’s a question of luck, with most supervisors doing little to promote skills training), and the difficulty of engaging senior decision makers in universities and filtering policy down to the researchers who are meant to follow it.

The workshop was well-received and we hope to organise another on a related topic before the end of the year. The various workshop presentations may be downloaded from the workshop webpage, on the Sudamih website.

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