Make your data count

Directions for Research Data Management in UK Universities workshop, Cambridge

Last week’s ‘Directions for the Research Data Management in UK Universities’ workshop afforded me the chance to visit our friends in the fens and engage in the debate regarding ‘what happens next’ with RDM. The workshop gathered about 40 people together, mostly representing UK universities but also representing some national bodies, such as Jisc, RIN, RLUK, Rugit, UCISA, and SCONUL. The workshop was particularly welcome in that it represented the re-engagement of Jisc with the world of research data management after a prolonged chrysaline hiatus during which they were reorganizing and refocusing (Jisc is no longer the acronym of the ‘Joint information Systems Committee’, it is now just ‘Jisc’). Jisc funded several projects that helped us develop RDM infrastructure at Oxford during 2009-2013, as well as providing national coordination.

The workshop began with a summary of the progress UK universities have been making to provide their researchers with data management services and enable compliance with funder requirements. Rachel Bruce presented the findings of the DCC’s survey of (mostly) Russell Group universities, whilst presentations from the Universities of Edinburgh and Manchester brought delegates up to speed with developments at two of the UK’s front runners in this field. Both already provide research groups with central data storage facilities – 0.5 TB at Edinburgh, and a very generous 20TB at Manchester. We have a project underway to Oxford to provide something similar, but at present it is mostly down to departments to provide data space, with our NSMS team providing servers and private cloud. Both Edinburgh and Manchester have institutional data repositories in place, although Oxford is not far behind on this front, with our own ORA-Data service due to launch as a pilot on the 1st December 2014. Particularly impressive was the researcher information dashboard that Manchester are offering to Principal Investigators to track their research information. Again, there are plans afoot for something similar at Oxford, and we’ll be looking at how others are approaching this.

The day also featured talks about research data typologies, which we may well look further at for our own support staff development, and presentations by researchers about their own data management torments, and what would actually help them avoid data loss and share their data more easily with colleagues.

The main aim of the workshop was to consider what should happen next, particularly at the national level, which would enable universities to improve their RDM practices. The answer to this seemed to be ‘everything’, although that may prove impractical. More pragmatic suggestions that I picked out included:

  • Greater clarity and consistency on funder policies concerning RDM, making it easier for universities to meet requirements and promote them to researchers
  • Guidance from national bodies as to what elements of RDM training would be most beneficial to include in training, including training offered by Doctoral Training Centres
  • Guidance relating to the standards expected of tools and services to support RDM
  • Guidance on the selection of research data for long-term preservation – how should researchers and support staff decide what needs to be kept and curated, and for how long?
  • Setting up a national data registry remains important, and should be a priority. The DCC are working on this.
  • Across-the-board expectation of data management plans to accompany research bids
  • Further work on encouraging collaborations and shared services


How JISC and other national organizations will take these and other suggestions forward is now for them to decide and prioritize, but it is encouraging that there seems again to be efforts afoot to provide community coordination and guidance for UK Universities in this field.