Sharing Ideas (and sandwiches) in Manchester: the JISC Managing Research Data Workshop

We had an exciting and productive day in Manchester on 12th March, when we got to meet people from other JISC MRD projects and learn about the diverse approaches that they are taking.

The challenge of building researchers interest and enthusiasm for data management seemed a near-universal issue among projects, though the solutions for addressing this problem varied.  For example, the fine folks at ADMIRAL try to grab people briefly and repeatedly first thing in the morning to avoid disrupting their days. Some programmes are creating a discipline-specific infrastructure, incentivising researchers with honorariums for workshop participation, or are leveraging institutional support to encourage local participation. (The latter probably isn’t an option in the somewhat decentralised environs of Cambridge, but it has definitely been helpful for Glasgow’s scoping). For the most part, we are finding that in most others programmes, as in ours, there are very few sticks available, but plenty of carrots if you know how to spot them in the garden patch.

Some of the ideas that came out of the user requirements session were intriguing, while others seem a bit beyond our reach. One participant suggested that departments/universities use automatic classification systems to determine the relative value of data that users are holding. A nice idea, but we can’t see it working with our multi-disciplinary aims or the diverse and metadata-free systems of some researchers.

One idea that has potential is to gather anonymous anecdotes about risky behaviour and what can-and-has gone wrong. This could be separated by categories like storage, metadata, funding, roles and responsibilities, etc. We have definitely encountered those horror stories where a year of data is lost or half a lifetime of data is uninterpretable — but it’s more often a story about a colleague than about the researcher speaking to us personally.

In another session, Tom Howard of the ERIM Project produced some beautiful slides to get us thinking about modelling research workflows. This is something that we haven’t explored much yet here at Incremental, so it was exciting to see emerging approaches. If we do this, we’ll probably use fairly free-form and high-level boxes and arrows to help researchers visualise their processes and locate the intervention points with the most gain for the least pain. Crayons might be involved (just kidding).

In another session, we discussed data management plans. While we have made one of our own and will revisit it as the project progresses (hooray!), we find that this is atypical for the average researcher on the move. So far, we have found that it is a rare PI who shares this plan with team members (e.g. post-docs) or checks to see that it’s being followed. Other projects have had similar experiences. The key seems to be (a) to get university research offices on-board, and, even more importantly (b) connect the data management plans to the project outputs and anticipated uses of the research data in the near future.

Overall: a great day of meeting, greeting, and learning about each others’ projects. We’re excited to share progress in May and see how everyone’s next steps are going.

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