Researcher Requirements Report published

We are pleased to announced that the VIDaaS’s Project’s Researcher Requirements Report is now available from our website.

The Report is the product of a requirements gathering process lasting several months, which involved interviewing researchers from a range of disciplines, and conducting a national survey. Our chief aim was to gauge interest in the Database as a Service (which – fortunately for the project – turned out to be considerable), and to establish exactly what people would like to see offered by such a service.

However, the Report also provides an interesting snapshot of academic researchers and the IT staff who support them, and of the projects they work on. For example, it became clear that collaboration is very important to many researchers – and that a substantial proportion don’t currently have access to tools that permit them to share research data with colleagues as easily as they would like.

We asked about attitudes to making research data publicly available – a real hot topic at the moment, as research councils are increasingly requiring this as a condition of funding. While researchers seem to have mixed feelings about data publication (under half were happy with the idea of making their data generally available at the end of their project), many liked the idea of having a straightforward way of putting a particular subset of data on the Web to accompany publications such as journal articles – particularly if the dataset had a persistent URL or DOI that would allow it to be cited.

Evidence from elsewhere suggests researchers have good reason to be interested in this possibility: a presentation by Kevin Ashley at the recent DCC Roadshow in Oxford reported a study indicating that papers for which accompanying data was available were cited more than twice as often as those with no data available.

We also made some interesting discoveries about favoured software and data formats. Spreadsheets and statistical analysis packages were both common – the latter particularly among social scientists. Relational databases were also widely used, though it was noticeable that IT support staff were more than twice as likely to report relational database use as researchers were, perhaps indicating that academics find this method of managing data most useful when they have ample technical support available.

One slightly surprising finding was the prevalence of use of XML documents, particularly among humanities researchers: almost two thirds of this group make some use of them, and nearly a quarter said this was their chief method of handling structured data. On the other hand, document-oriented databases do not yet seem to have achieved the same level of popularity, with a quarter of survey respondents revealing that they weren’t even sure what these were.

All these desires and preferences (and many more that there isn’t space to talk about here – see the full report for details) were taken into account in compiling the prioritized technical requirements list described in an earlier blog post. This will guide the work done by our technical team over the next few months.

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