Making the most of institutional data assets: Research Data Projects at OR2012 (Part 3…)

The issue of how to fund a research data management infrastructure on a sustainable basis while only partially relying on cost-recovery from grant funded research projects is a matter of concern for all JISCMRD projects and all institutions, including Open Exeter…  In relation to this issue, and others, Open Exeter is paying particular attention to how the university can best support the RDM requirements of post-graduate students.

Hannah Lloyd-Jones, Open Exeter Project, University of Exeter: post-graduate research data, a new challenge for repositories?

Hannah gave a clear and comprehensive overview of the work of Open Exeter.  The presentation is available from the first data management session on the OR2012 Conference website.

The project is divided into four areas of work:

Technical development: focussing providing a DSpace instance for research data, with underlying storage, and ensuring integration of document and data repositories.

Creation of training materials and guidance: to support researchers and research support staff in the use of the data infrastructure.  Exeter’s guidance pages are currently in construction.

Advocacy and governance: to establish the institutional policies around the management, retention and publication of research data.

The fourth strand of the project is a distinctive feature of the Open Exeter project.  ‘Follow the Data’ describes the detailed work the project is doing to understand researcher requirements.  This has involved research based on the DCC’s data asset framework methodology (comprising an online survey and follow-up interviews).  A report summarising findings has recently been published.

Open Exeter is also working closely with a cohort of post-graduate research students: this approach has the dual benefit of helping the project understand research practice and RDM requirements, while also assisting advocacy and dissemination of project objectives.

This focus also emanates from a widespread concern – prevalent at Exeter and other institutions – with what happens to PGR research data at completion.  At the moment, Exeter requires the deposit of post-graduate theses in the institutional repository, but – surprisingly – not the data substantiating the theses’ findings.  This is a matter of concern – potentially of frustration and consternation – in departments where the research data may form part of the ongoing research initiatives, part of the department’s research assets, its institutional memory.

The Open Exeter has prepared separate draft RDM policies for researchers and for PGR students.  The draft policy for PGR research data notes: ‘The security of PhD students’ data is of particular importance when it is embedded in a larger research project and will need to be accessed after the completion of the students’ degree.’

To support the objectives of these draft policies, the Open Exeter project will offer an infrastructure to allow the following: deposit of data with thesis with a simple deposit mechanism; the repository will assign a persistent ID, linking the data to the thesis.  The project is also focussing on awareness raising and embedding cultural change in research community through a PGR focussed support network.

The Open Exeter Summary of Findings from the Open Exeter Data Asset Framework Survey, provides some interesting insights.  The overwhelming message is that the university cannot just provide an RDM service for those researchers with externally funded research.  In all schools and at all career stages, there is a substantial amount of research being conducted which does not have an external funder and is funded by the university itself.  Non-grant funded research at Exeter includes research involving commercially or personally sensitive data, and includes some post graduate research data also.  For an institution that endorses the view that ‘good practice in research data management is a key part of research excellence’ it is scarcely conceivable that an RDM service and infrastructure could be limited to those researchers and projects with external sources of funding.  The data produced by internally funded research is an institutional asset requiring careful management and, where appropriate, archiving, publication and dissemination.  However, the challenging conclusion from this observation is that ‘there could only ever be partial cost recovery from grants (via direct or indirect costs) for future staffing and infrastructure for research data management.’ [p.4]  Following from this, the report observes that ‘new responsibilities will need to be accepted into central and college teams’.  Sustainability models for institutional RDM services ‘are likely to include recommendations for additional dedicated staffing to help manage and monitor institutional research data management policy and practice.’ [p.6]

The Exeter report provides some grounds for the view that costs of an RDM service may be offset by indirect means: avoiding the loss of research income [p.16]; reducing data loss [p.32]; cost and efficiency savings through better management and more effective data disposal [p.35].  Most importantly, the costs of the RDM service might be controlled – and good practice made more effective – by providing ‘clarification regarding when to archive and what to archive (criteria for retention or disposal)’. [p.35]