Sudamih training workshop

July 30, 2010

Thursday, 22nd July. The day started according to plan – get up 6:15: check, get to station, 6:55: check, train to Richmond 6.58: check, 4 minutes journey to catch 7:06 to Reading…. boo….stupid tube. As we sat stuck at a red signal outside Richmond station, I watched as my train to Reading whizzed by, kicking myself for not getting the earlier tube. Now I would have to wait for 30 minutes at Richmond for the next train (which meant I could have had a crucial 30 minutes more under the covers :() and more importantly call the Sudamih team to say I was going to be late…umm luckily I wasn’t speaking till 10am but still, it was going to be a little tight and I would miss out on the welcome coffee and biccies :(  Arrived into Oxford at 9:20 and after a super speedy taxi ride, arrived at Oxford’s e-research building just as everyone was going in…phew..…

As promised, the workshop proved to be wide ranging with speakers from the Digital Curation Centre, the Research Information Network, Vitae (the national researcher training body), and projects at Oxford and King’s College London. All the talks were interesting and generated useful discussions on data management training from the institutional to the national level. I won’t go into all of them as further details of the workshop and copies of presentations can be found here.

But to highlight a few: James Wilson, (project manager of Oxford’s Sudamih project) kicked off the meeting with a talk on the findings from their scoping study to assess current data management practices in the humanities.  Findings were, reassuringly, similar to ours with researchers requesting guidance and training on a range of data management issues.

So how do they propose to address these? Well, in their view there is a clear need for both broad courses and more detailed technical training. This may take the form of an introduction to data management which will be integrated into existing courses, guidance on how to organise and link research notes with sources, support with how to prepare technical bids and the creation of a database service for the humanities.  Very interesting and I can definitely see an opportunity to collaborate/share resources.

I was up next, talking about Incremental’s scoping study, our findings and how we plan to address these in terms of guidance and in particular, training.

Finally some interesting thoughts from Eric Meyer of Oxford University who reported some early findings from a study that looks at information practices of those researching in the humanities.  Of particular interest was the finding that researchers are taught disciplinary biases very early on in their careers; for example, they develop clear views on which sources of information are deemed valuable and which are not.  When it came to citation practices, researchers and students cited lots of digital publications but then indicated that they had consulted the paper version as well!  Is the digital version seen as less trustworthy?

Eric also drew our attention to the first year annual report of a 3 year study (JISC/BL) tracking the research behaviour of Generation Y doctoral students (children of the Baby Boomers, born between 1982 and 1994).  The assumption that Generation Y would be early adopters and keen users of the latest technology applications and tools in their research was, in fact, not supported by their study. On the contrary, it would appear that Generation Y doctoral students, in common with others, are quite risk averse and ‘behind the curve’ in using digital technology, not at the forefront; and this despite the fact that the majority appear to be keen users of the latest technology applications in their personal lives.

The reason for this, they propose, is not due to lack of skill but is more likely to be because the students do not see the immediate utility of the technology within their research and their preferred ways of working.  This is an important finding, and one that Incremental should bear in mind when it points researchers towards the available web 2.0 tools that are out there.

Team building with buns

July 16, 2010
Incremental team

the Incremental team

Monday 12th July saw a jolting 5am start to catch the early flight down to London. Laura had been over in Vienna for the Planets project review so we met at Stansted for a coffee to bring us all round. A quick train ride, hotel drop and jaunt through Cambridge town centre got us to the Uni Library raring to go. So, the plan for the two days:

  • review the resources we’ve uncovered so far to identify gaps;
  • consider models we could learn from to produce clear, meaningful, easy-to-find support and guidance;
  • start to formulate the structure and content of the webpages;
  • plan evaluation and dissemination activities;
  • and a chance for Kellie to meet the rest of the team!

Most of the reviewing and initial brainstorming was achieved on day one, but it was on Tuesday that we got real progress – not least because we had a helping hand ;-) Morning sustenance came in the form of Chelsea buns, as recommended by Cambridge-beau Stephen Fry. Just look at the picture – mmmm!

Chelsea buns

Fitzbillies' Chelsea buns

We picked them up on the way in – just about managing to drag Laura from Fitzbillies before she pressed them for his address (they deliver his favourite buns direct). Fully charged, we ploughed ahead and agreed an initial structure, as well as the content and text for the homepage, allowing us to split up the next tasks. A first mock-up won’t be too long coming, so watch this space!

There was lots of useful discussion in-between on how to make sure what we develop really does match up with what users want. We’re mindful to check that what researchers have expressed and what we’ve understood matches in reality (cue ongoing evaluation through observation and iterative development). Spreading the word (and as you’ll see from Laura’s vocab post, quite what word(s) is a moot point!) both by engaging with users and reaching out to service providers through advocacy is key. Like the DCC, we’re trying to assume a bridging, mediation role in which we pull together and position guidance and support so people can utilise it to the full. We’re also keen to embed messages in existing training and make sure that training is available when and how researchers need it. There’s a lot of DCC training and Planets resources we can build on here.

So, lots to do. Better crack on…

Vocabulary/jargon/terminology: synonyms and specialist language

July 14, 2010

As a non-specialist in data preservation research, I’m finding that my ignorance about a lot of sector-specific jargon (or perhaps ‘terminology’ is a bit more friendly : ) ) can actually work in our favour on this project.  Whilst those who know their data preservation/records management vocabulary employ it – as in any specialist field – for its role in accurate and concise communication, and this is crucial in order to advance specialist research in the field, the Incremental project is all about making research data management make sense to the users, whose primary activity is researching, say, medieval manuscripts or heart disease or Caravaggio’s painting methods or deep-sea mammal life.

The uncomfortable truth is that a lot of people – including those who work in research in universities – don’t even know records management or data curation (or whatever we think it should be called) even exists as a field.  Given this fact, it should come as no surprise that terms in regular use across information curation, data management and related fields mean little or nothing to a lot of people who, nevertheless, need to know about the ideas, methods and processes these baffling terms describe, in order to have a chance of accessing their valuable research data now or in the future.

So we know we have to translate research data management vocabulary from specialist to non-specialist – but how?  We need to find words and phrases that at least have a chance of making sense to researchers who are not specialists in information management / records management / data preservation / data curation.  See?  Even trying to get across this simple point leads me into a linguistic minefield.  Archivists, librarians, IT specialists and other professionals involved in information preservation don’t have an agreed vocabulary for activities and roles in this area, so we on this project really have our work cut out trying to make sense to anyone else!

As part of work this month to scope out the existing data management guidance resources in UK universities, I’ve stumbled across an example: in a few UK universities, ‘research data management’ is used to mean how a researcher goes about gathering information in the first place, i.e the nuts and bolts of the formulation of questionnaires and interview schema, of which software to use to record and share this data, and how researchers can order and manipulate their information as they work on their project.  To me, a lot of this is ‘research methods’, not ‘research data management’.  However, that’s how quite a few UK universities use the term on their guidance pages.  In other institutions, the term is used to mean how one looks after the data after the work is completed, and how one takes care of its longevity, access, integrity and security.  Some other institutions include both these processes in their advice, but that’s rare.  The Digital Curation Centre, a prominent force in, well, digital curation, offers a useful (if slightly intimidating, the first time you see it) lifecycle model ( which supports this third, inclusive view, i.e. that data exists within a lifecycle, beginning with the creation or receipt of the data, and finishing with how to look after it in perpetuity (or until it should be disposed of).  One phrase: three related but distinct views of what it might mean.

There are probably researchers in UK universities with dozens of other ideas about what the phrase ‘research data management’ might mean or involve – and they probably don’t like the sound of any of them.  So how do we find vocabulary that makes sense to non-research-data-management-specialists, and actually makes them feel alright about engaging in good data management practices?  Is it all about sticking with an agreed established term and hoping that if we say it enough, users will eventually get their heads around what it means?  Is it about contextualising data management guidance and advice in researcher-friendly areas of institutional websites, alongside a whacking great glossary of what we mean by each of the terms we use?  Or should we proceed by enthusiastic promotion of the benefits to researchers of good data management, with the awkward vocabulary and frightening names for things tagged on – again with glossary – as unattractive but necessary addenda, like the copious small print at the bottom of loan adverts?

Scoping study and implementation plan released

July 2, 2010

We are pleased to announce that the Incremental project Scoping study and implementation plan is now available. This report describes our findings from interviews and informal conversations with dozens of researchers and technical support staff across the Universities of Cambridge and Glasgow and outlines our implementation plan for the coming months of the project.

Some highlights from the report:

Simple issues cause serious risks and irritation

Many researchers, across disciplines, are unaware of the best formats and storage media to preserve or share files, and many have no clear naming or file structure conventions. These kinds of relatively simple issues pose the risk of serious data losses in the short and long term, and frequently cost researchers’ time and frustration searching for data or trying to revive old files.

Resources must be simple, engaging and easy to access

Researchers were interested in guidance, simple tools, and support for data management, but this came with several caveats. Information needs to be clear, quick to understand, engaging, and relevant to their circumstances. They are often unaware of existing resources and training and don’t know where to look for support. Many complained that training is often inconveniently timed and not well-tailored to their needs, suggesting online resources, ‘a really smart little leaflet’ or someone to talk to face-to-face would be more helpful.

Language matters

Our study underscored the need to provide jargon-free guidance – most researchers don’t know what ‘digital curation’ is and humanities researchers don’t think of their manuscripts as ‘data’. Researchers and support staff tended to be suspicious of ‘policies,’ which sound like hollow mandates, but were sometimes receptive to ‘procedures’ or ‘advice’ which may be essentially the same thing, but convey a sense of purpose and assistance rather than requirement.

And so, here are our plans:

1. Produce simple, accessible, visual guidance on creating, storing, and managing data

This will include producing easy-to-navigate centralised webpages at each institution, pointing researchers to existing support and new resources created by the project. We’ll consider the format of guidance and move towards more engaging formats such as illustrated fact sheets, flow diagrams, checklists, and FAQs.

2. Offer practical data training with discipline-specific examples and local champions

We will work with enthusiasts within departments to embed slides and resources within existing training and inductions (i.e. train the trainer). We will also create brief online tutorials and/or screen-casts, and include case-studies from within disciplines wherever possible.

3. Connect researchers with support staff who offer one-to-one advice, guidance, and partnering

We will work with departments and the research office within each institution to make sure that researchers are referred to existing support staff for one-to-one advice during the proposal-writing stage of projects and beyond.

4. Work towards the development of a comprehensive data management infrastructure

This project is part of an overall effort to support data management and preservation activities at both institutions, and will be continued through the broader research data infrastructure and policy development at Cambridge and Glasgow.

Very exciting! For more information, have a look at the report.  As ever, we welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

Scoping Study Report and Implementation Plan

July 1, 2010

Our scoping study and implementation planning is now complete and we will be publishing shortly,  a report detailing the scoping study methodology,  the key findings that emerged from that study,  e.g. concerns and issues that researchers have surrounding the management of research data, together with our recommendations and planned activites to address those needs.

Watch this space!


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