Some interesting observations are emerging from the Strand B Research Data Management Planning projects about the specific and model data management plans, or data management checklists, which they are developing.
Many of the projects are agreed in the nature of one of the principal challenges: it is to ensure that the data management plan is a practical, helpful document supporting researchers in the completion of necessary tasks/actions rather than a long-winded box-ticking compliance exercise.
For example, from the History DMP Project at the University of Hull:
‘Our Project Proposal and the subsequent Plan indicated that we would base our document on the well-known DCC ’Checklist for a Data Management Plan’, and we shall. However, it has become clear to us (if we hadn’t realised it already) that in its basic form it is unsuited to use by the average academic. We intend to use the DCC checklist as the basis for a document that is more directly relevant to (in this case) history research and which not only poses questions but also offers some answers – perhaps in the sense of ‘tick boxes’ and the like but also by pointing users to people locally who might offer answers or advice and services. The aim is to make our document obviously relevant and useful rather than an unnecessary chore that has to be dealt with.’
This point has been echoed by the DATUM in Action Project. On the DATUM in Action blog, Sue Childs relays the typical concern of researchers that ‘completing a DMP was a demanding task, and that for many projects researchers would feel that the effort and time required for a DMP could be better spent on conducting the research itself. Projects are funded from a range of sources (most of which do not currently require DMPs), and vary in size from small scale, single researcher projects to large scale, multiple-researcher projects.’ Sue suggests that if DMPs are to become mandatory, or if the practice of developing and maintaining a DMP during the research process is to be embedded then ‘DMP-lite templates will be necessary’. To help move towards this goal the DATUM in Action project has been cross-referencing elements. They have also added a front page so elements can be seen at a glance. Sue suggests that automatic population of elements would also be helpful.
Appropriately, given the name of the project, they have also modified the DMP to provide ‘space for noting actions that needed to be taken: making the DMP a living document’. This, as I understand it, is particularly important for the DATUM in Action Project which is working with researchers dealing with sensitive and personal data: the DMP needs to be (as Sue says) ‘a living document’ which prescribes and logs a set of data management related actions, some of which are conducted in compliance with ethical requirements.
Interestingly, Sue observes that ‘the EU Project researchers [with whom the DATUM in Action project is working] have already benefitted from the DMP process as they have learnt new aspects about managing their research data and records.’ To my mind, this recalls the dictum of US General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, oft quoted by Kevin Ashley, that ‘plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.’ (See various form of this at http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Dwight_D._Eisenhower).