By James AJ Wilson
The ESPRC Readiness Project was undertaken to raise awareness amongst EPSRC-funded researchers of the new research data management Expectations that the Engineering and Physical Sciences Funding Council introduced on the 1st May 2015 (https://www.epsrc.ac.uk/about/standards/researchdata/expectations/). The nine Expectations oblige researchers to document, preserve, and provide access to the research data that they create, and require research institutions to provide the services and support needed to ensure this can happen. Rather than simply asking researchers to comply with the new Expectations, the project sought to understand researchers’ concerns, and to improve the guidance and support offered by the University of Oxford.
More than a hundred EPSRC grant-holders were sent a letter signed by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research (Professor Ian Walmsley) informing them of the new Expectations and inviting them to meet with a member of the EPRSC Readiness Project Team. Over the coming months, the large majority of those invited participated either in a one-to-one meeting or a disciplinary workshop.
Reactions to the EPSRC Expectations expressed during the interview and group sessions were mixed, but generally negative. Many researchers felt that the Expectations would add to their already busy workloads and be of little value either to themselves or their wider disciplinary communities. Even when informed of the kinds of benefits the EPSRC envisaged arising from the Expectations, a degree of scepticism remained. The Expectations were, however, greeted more positively by researchers working in the fields of crystallography and aspects of biochemistry, where it is already common practice to share data and where the infrastructure to assist with this is already established at the disciplinary level. It will inevitably take time for all of the new data management requirements to become generally accepted practice in many disciplines, but responses also suggested that barriers to acceptance can be greatly lowered by the provision of simple, integrated, and easy-to-use tools and services by the institution.
Throughout the project, researchers sought clarification as to how the EPSRC Expectations would affect them in practice and what they needed to do to ensure compliance. These questions were addressed and added to a FAQ on Oxford’s Research Data website (http://researchdata.ox.ac.uk/epsrc-data-requirements-and-what-you-need-to-do/). A checklist and decision tree where also developed.
Particular concerns included: what actually counts as data?; what should be done with the software underpinning datasets?; whether preference should be given to preserving raw or processed data; whether the effort required to intelligently share research data was worth it for some data types; and how the expectations applied to largely theoretical research outputs. The concerns raised by researchers have been relayed to the EPSRC.
A number of suggestions as to how University support could be improved were noted down and are now being acted upon. These have proved particularly important for understanding how researchers need to interact with the University’s data repository, ORA-Data (http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bdlss/digital-services/data-archiving). As a result of the project, the data deposit workflow has been significantly improved, and the pricing model for the service is being reviewed.
EPSRC-sponsored researchers are now leading the field in terms of the number of data deposits they are making to the ORA-Data repository, suggesting that the project has indeed been successful in conveying the Expectations.