Data management plans

All University of Oxford researchers, whether funded or not, are encouraged to create a data management plan (DMP) as part of good scholarly practice. It's also common for funding bodies to require a DMP to be included as part of any funding application. 

About data management plans

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A data management plan is a document which outlines how data will be managed throughout the whole project life cycle. Generally a plan covers initial decisions, how data will be handled during the active phase of research, and longer-term questions of preservation and sharing. The plan may be updated and revised as a project develops.

Even when not explicitly required by a funding body, a DMP is well worth creating. The planning process is a chance to think through what's needed to allow the project to run as smoothly as possible. It can also help anticipate possible problems before they occur – meaning that solutions can be found in good time.

Many aspects of data management are straightforward if they’re planned for from the beginning, but much harder to do retrospectively. Making a plan will therefore often save time and reduce stress later in the project.

Planning ahead can bring particular benefits when it comes to preparing data for sharing. For example, documenting what’s happened to data can be done quickly and easily if good recording processes are built into the research methodology; trying to unpick what’s been done later on is likely to be much more arduous.

Having a solid plan also means you're better prepared for unforeseen developments. Having thought through all the relevant issues means you're less likely to be taken by surprise - and you'll be better placed to respond if the unexpected does crop up.

Many major funding bodies now require a data management plan as part of the grant application process. Please see the Funder requirements section for information about specific funders.

Absolutely! A DMP should be treated as a dynamic, evolving document, to be updated as necessary throughout the project. It is therefore good practice for the initial plan to include a schedule for future review, revision and perhaps even use a file name with version/date details.

What should a data management plan include?

If your funder requires a data management plan, they will usually provide a template or a set of guidelines about what to include.

Templates based on the requirements of a range of major funders are available via the DMPonline tool. There's also a generic template, which is ideal if you're creating a plan for your own benefit.

Whichever template is used, a DMP will typically cover the elements listed below.

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Outline the content, quantity, and format of the data. This will help inform the rest of the plan: for example, the quantity of material will have an impact on the type of storage that is appropriate.

You may also need to discuss how documentation, metadata, and software will be created and maintained.

Further information on some of the above topics can be found in the Data handling and acquisition section of this site.

Provide an overview of how research data will be collected, processed, stored, and otherwise dealt with during the research project.

If a team of researchers is involved, responsibilities can be assigned as appropriate. The PI will typically retain overall responsibility for data management, but may delegate specific tasks (e.g. managing data collection or documentation). Some projects may have a designated data manager, field workers, or similar site specific personnel.

Further information can be found in the Data handling and acquisition section of this site.

Outline how you will use institutional services and infrastructure to ensure data is secure and backed up. This is particularly important where confidential or sensitive materials are being used.

Further information can be found in the Keeping working data safe section of this site.

You'll need to show that you're aware of any ethical issues raised by the collection and handling of data, and that you have a plan in place to deal with these. For example, this might include the need for informed consent from research participants, secure storage for confidential material, or anonymisation or redaction of data which will be made available for reuse.

Further information can be found in the Ethical and legal issues section of this site.

If you're using third party data, give details of any permissions that are required (and the process for securing these). For collaborative projects, you may need to clarify ownership of data and other outputs resulting from the research project.

If your research project involves personal data, you'll need to set out your plans for ensuring compliance with the relevant data protection legislation (including GDPR).

Other legal issues may also need to be covered, depending on the nature of the project - for example, if the project may lead to a commercial spin-out, or if a collaboration with the commercial sector is required.

Further information can be found in the Ethical and legal issues section of this site.

Indicate what you intend to do with data, software and metadata after the research project concludes. If data will be deposited in an archive or repository, say which one; if not, alternative preservation arrangements should be described. Some funders specify a minimum preservation period, and/or a preferred destination for data, so it's worth ensuring you're aware of any specific requirements. 

If you are planning to destroy any of your data once the project is complete, the reasons for this should be made clear. If secure deletion is required, the process for this should also be covered.

Further information can be found in the Post-project data preservation section of this site.

Outline your plans for sharing data for reuse by other researchers (or more widely). If some or all data is unsuitable for sharing, or can only be shared with restrictions, explain why this is. Any processing or preparation of data needed (e.g. anonymisation of personal data) should also be described.

As with preservation, some funders may have specific requirements regarding making data available for reuse, so it's worth checking you know what these are.

Further information can be found in the Sharing data section of this site.

What help is available for writing a data management plan?

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DMPonline is a free, web-based tool that you can use to build a data management plan. It provides a selection of templates (including those mandated by major UK funders) along with guidance and links to useful resources. Plans can be shared with collaborators, and exported in a range of formats.

If you indicate that your institution is the University of Oxford, you will be given the option of seeing Oxford-specific guidance.

DMPonline is maintained by the Digital Curation Centre, a national body whose website provides a wealth of additional information, including details of funders’ requirementsexample DMPs, a useful DMP checklist, and a how-to guide on creating one.

The Research Data Oxford team can provide assistance with drafting DMPs: email if you would like to set up a meeting, or to request feedback on a draft.

There are also regular training courses, provided via the IT Learning Centre and the iSkills programme.

Additionally, a range of local and central support is available for specific aspects of a plan: research facilitators will be able to help prepare project costings with X5, CUREC will help you through the ethics approval process, and local and central IT staff can advise on technical infrastructure and resources.