The 15th Research Data Management Forum (RDMF15) was held in London on 27th April 2016, hosted by the Digital Curation Centre (DCC),. I went along to see how what we do here in Research Data compares to what other universities are offering, and to learn about recent developments in policy, including a draft Concordat on Open Research Data. The meeting was titled “The Compliance of Science? Data Policies, Expectations and Concordat”; which sounded promising - the all-important question mark perhaps recognising that science, and certainly scientists, is not traditionally associated with the dutiful quiescence implied by compliance!
RDMF15 was arranged in two parts, with talks from funders and data managers in the morning and breakout sessions for discussion and feedback in the afternoon. Highlights of the mornings’ talks included a clear consensus on the value of data sharing in maximising the impact of scarce funds. Interesting activities included the Open Science Prize, an international collaboration between the Wellcome Trust, US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; the Team Science Toolkit from the US National Cancer Institute; and a draft Concordat on Open Research Data.
Draft Concordat on Open Research Data
This Concordat was drafted by the Open Research Data Forum and developed by a multi-stakeholder working group, including RCUK, Jisc, the Wellcome Trust and Universities UK.
The concordat aims to:
"...help to ensure that the research data gathered and generated by members of the UK research community is made openly available for use by others wherever possible in a manner consistent with relevant legal, ethical and regulatory frameworks and norms”. The stated intention of the concordat is not to “mandate, codify or require specific activities” but rather to “establish a set of expectations of good practice with the intention of establishing open research data as the desired position for publicly-funded research over the long-term."
The final version of the Concordat is due to be published imminently, so watch this blog and we’ll post about it when it happens! Several universities (Cambridge, UCL, Nottingham) jointly reported back at the Forum on their experience when they sought feedback from their researchers on the draft Concordat, and here at Bath we’d also be interested in any opinions from our researchers – let me know what you think through this blog or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
A brief history of support for data sharing...
A historical perspective emerged from several talks and showed how much impetus there is behind the idea of data sharing, with influential reports authored by supra-governmental bodies (G7, G8, European Commission), international bodies (RDA, CODATA, Science Europe) and learned societies (e.g. Royal Society). At the European level there are several projects that could have a transformative impact on the field, such as the European Open Science Cloud which will “horizontally integrate” some existing infrastructure, such as EUDAT, and move towards a sustainable model for provision over timescales that are much longer than the current 5-year duration of typical project funding, under which such infrastructure has often been developed.
Encouraging Data Reuse (breakout session)
After lunch, RDMF15 had breakout sessions on:
- developing rubrics for consistent evaluation of data management plans
- building engagement with researchers
- encouraging reuse of data
I went to the Encouraging Reuse session since I am interested in how solid examples of data reuse, for example, new research projects that can be performed entirely on public data, can be used to show the value of data sharing. Themes from the discussion within the session included the need to show that if you ‘put in’ then you will also ‘get back’; the idea that some repositories add value to the data by aggregating it, putting it in context or providing tools that can analyse the data; the value of sharing negative results and of sharing data so that others can spot honest mistakes and help to correct the scientific record; the need for common metadata standards, including projects such as biosharing.org and a metadata standards directory (DCC and RDA); and, finally, the pressing need to recognise and reward data sharing in appointment and promotion processes.
Rubrics and Building Engagement
Feedback from the other breakout sessions revealed that work was already well underway on DMP rubrics and that a UK-specific rubrics, based on International Digital Curation Conference templates, might be available soon, and would be hosted on a Jisc community website. An outstanding question is whether such rubrics will need agreement with the appropriate funding agency or body, when the DMP is required as part of a funding application. Themes from the Building Engagement discussion included the need for a holistic approach across multiple services (Library, research office, IT, faculty etc); the value of embedding research data management services and training into the researcher and research data lifecycle model; the need for interoperable systems (e.g. current research information systems, institutional repositories, Researchfish and other databases); the paramount need to involve researchers in the design of services; and the desire to join-up open access and open data in a bigger move towards open research/open science.
Reflecting on RDFM15...
I enjoyed RDMF15 and Friends House provided a fantastic environment, peaceful and serene next to the bustling chaos of London’s Euston Road! It was very motivating to hear about how other institutions are addressing similar challenges, and real opportunities, to the ones we also work on at Bath. Research Data Management is a changing field that is maturing in some ways but also is unlikely ever to ‘settle-down’ as it is inevitably pegged to the cutting edge research that academic institutions do. As practices in research change, so all the support systems will need to adapt too – and when this can be done in partnership there will be the best match between research activities and the underlying support services.
Here at the University, I think that the impact of this Forum is, firstly, in understanding the wider climate – for example anticipating how the Concordat will impact on universities when it moves from draft to final form, and if compliance or adoption of it becomes an expectation (or something stronger?); and secondly, in continuing to develop a Research Data Service that is both fundamentally useful and valuable for our research and a means of promoting our compliance with external expectations when it comes to maximising the impact of research funding. As a research-intensive university, good research data management that is embedded into all stages of the research lifecycle is fundamental.