Research at Risk

JISCMRD Project Updates 1: the MaDAM Project

This is the first in a set of brief posts describing progress among the Research Data Management Infrastructure (RDMI) and Research Data Management Planning (RDMP) projects of the #jiscmrd programme.

Each is based on a catch-up telephone conversation held with the Project Manager.  The intention is to highlight progress, indicate some key (generalisable) challenges, provide links to informative or reusable outputs and suggest objectives for the remaining eight months or so of the project.

The MaDAM (Manchester Data Asset Management or a Pilot data management infrastructure for biomedical researchers at University of Manchester) Project is an RDMI project working with researchers in the Life Science and the Medical Sciences.  The MaDAM user community in the Life Sciences, comprises three research groups using electron and standard microscopy.  These researchers create and reuse large quantities of image data in diverse formats.  In the Medical Sciences, MaDAM is working with the Magnetic Resonance (MRI) Neuropsychiatry Unit.  Here, alongside the MR image data, there is the need to manage textual psychosocial data, linked to scans, and the need to pay due account to confidentiality and privacy issues.

The MaDAM Project presented an account of user requirements and progress at the JISCMRD Progress Workshop in May.  The presentation details a number of interesting findings, of which three will suffice for comment here.

  1. Ad hoc storage and a lack of official backup policies imply a significant risk of data loss.
  2. A further consequence of decentralised, fragmented storage, a lack of systematic annotation and version control is a high level of redundant and/or duplicated data.
  3. Sharing and reuse of data, within research groups (not to mention beyond) is hampered or slowed down by the lack of structured annotation and limited searching and retrieval capabilities.

The project is using a distinctive iterative user-driven development methodology, an approach drawing on co-realisation and participatory design.  An initial prototype was trialled as early as April and is being refined through successive iterations, informed by user feedback and workshops.  Working closely with IT Services the project is moving to a test environment, providing more robust storage.  This will be trailled with the user community in September.  Further major iterations will continue through Autumn 2010 and Spring 2011.  User requirement documents and functional design have been drawn up iteratively, and a refined version will be made publicly available in the Autumn.  The MaDAM infrastructure will provide robust centralised storage, with structure and tagging to reduce redundancy and aid retrieval/sharing.  The system will also provide support for managing governance, research integrity and ethics requirements.

The MaDAM Project is working particularly closely with other entities in the institution and is very conscious of the need to liaise closely with various internal stakeholders.  As with a number of other projects in the programme, it must confront the challenge of providing an infrastructure which meets the apparently bespoke requirements of particular research groups, but which can also be, in principle, extended to form the basis of a University-wide system, meeting the objectives which the institution sets itself to provide the best possible support for research data assets.  Put simply, in order to be sustainable, it is necessary for technical solutions to be acceptable to and supportable by central IT Services.  In this respect the MaDAM project is working closely and contributing to a separate initiative to determine the Storage, Archiving and Curation needs of the University as a whole.  Another significant collaboration has been to work closely with ‘Senior Experimental Officers’, who have provided the project with an aggregate view of requirements in different departments across the University.

The Project is working to support research administration processes and data management planning within the MaDAM infrastructure – requirements which emerged from a workshop with Research Support Services.  This has been dubbed ‘eDMP’, and will comprise support for structuring data management plans.  The project is working on defining a set of mechanisms and procedures that will be supported within the software.  It is planned to include initial features in the test environment for release in September.

Other areas on which the projects intends to focus are a further scoping of requirements for data sharing/dissemination and long term preservation; and incorporating support for selected ontologies within the system.

Participants from the MaDAM Project will be presenting no fewer than three papers at the All Hands Meeting, detailing the user-driven methodology used, exploring how disciplinary practices affect research collaboration and describing the challenge of building a generic research data management infrastructure.  The MaDAM Project has also submitted a paper to the International Digital Curation Conference.

More information about the MaDAM Project is available from the project website where there is also a ‘Blog‘ providing brief updates.

Project Manager: June Finch june.finch at manchester