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April 16th, 2015

Are we addressing research data management? Diverse skillset and mindset needed for era of digital data.


Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Blog Admin

April 16th, 2015

Are we addressing research data management? Diverse skillset and mindset needed for era of digital data.


Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

rbruceDeveloping and implementing a robust solution to Research Data Management needs to draw upon policies, processes and resources and must be relevant to disciplinary requirements with as few barriers as possible for researchers. Rachel Bruce reflects on the skillset required to improve long-term research management strategies. As each university grapples with this landscape, a shift towards shared services and infrastructure may be the next step needed.

No one who works in academic research today – from researchers, to librarians, IT specialists, research office staff, funders and service providers – can fail to notice that ours is a sector in constant flux. From speaking to the research data management (RDM) community we’ve found there’s a strong desire for research data to be given the same importance as outputs in traditional publications, which means incentive structures in research need to change to encourage the sharing of research data in ways in which it can be cited and re-used.

Within five years they expect the processes to be in place for research data to be routinely managed to a high standard, and for universities to have the appropriate technology in place to make this happen. Naturally this requires a fairly seismic shift both in how universities approach and manage research data, and with it comes the need for a new skillset.

9990024683_a37089e13d_zImage credit: data.path by r2hox (CC BY-SA)

What skills does a research data management professional need?

We have been exploring this question with our colleagues at with the Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA)Research Libraries UK (RLUK), the Russell Universities Group of IT Directors (RUGIT), the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) and the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (UCISA) and with those directly responsible for RDM in universities.

Our conversations have highlighted the need for a research data specialist at universities to support researchers in managing their data. As many UK universities develop their own research data management policies to ensure they can meet funder requirements, they are also seeking to identify staff with the necessary skills to implement these policies. Often drawn from library, IT, or research office backgrounds, staff taking on these role need to quickly get up to speed with a set of core skills, including:

  • Policy development to ensure RDM is part of the university processes
  • Business analysis so that cases for sustainable RDM can be made
  • Advocacy in order to promote RDM to often sceptical audiences across the university
  • Project management to develop the right actions and keep a range of complex interrelated activities on track
  • Metadata cataloguing so that research data from all disciplines can be re-used, cited and managed
  • Data archiving and preservation to understand the requirements and options and to advise on the best choices

jisc rdmRealistically, one person is unlikely to be an expert in all six. But they should have detailed experience in at least a couple along with a good working knowledge of the others so that they can co-ordinate the efforts of specialists from across the university, pulling in their expertise as is needed.

These skills alone are not enough however. Policy implementation process is often hard going and so they also need a range of softer skills and the ability to encourage colleagues along and find ways to remove obstacles. They should be able to bridge any gaps between colleagues in the library, academic departments and the IT function.

And lastly, they must have a good understanding of how their own institution works – particularly with reference to:

  • Data management planning advice and policies
  • Procedures, processes and personnel
  • Relevant legal and ethical issues
  • Researcher workflows and practice
  • The IT environment

As developing and implementing a robust solution to RDM needs to draw upon policies, processes and resources across the organisation and must be relevant to disciplinary requirements with as few barriers as possible for researchers; essentially it should be about better research.

Developing talent

Perhaps for this reason, most universities have so far preferred to grow their own talent for the role rather than trying to recruit an RDM manager fully formed. Where training is provided it is often almost exclusively ‘on the job’, naturally ‘on the job’ development is necessary in a changing area, but the report argues that this is not the best way to manage training in the future. To embed the necessary skills quickly and efficiently it is far better to develop a more sophisticated approach to training, with formalised training programmes such as those developed by the Digital Curation Centre (DCC) and online initiatives like RDMRose, and a range of training materials that Jisc are currently working to draw together as part of research at risk.

Fledgling RDM managers might also benefit from good quality shadowing opportunities if a register of suitable opportunities can be created and maintained. And of course, they would need properly defined career structures, with career progressions to strive for. We might make a start by building a wider shared understanding of the job roles and agreeing suitable job titles.

Next steps

Here I have focused on the need for a new skillset – but I should also add that this is only part of the picture with regards to the actions needed to address RDM there are numerous things that need to be addressed. I think there is also a need for a mind-set shift too; one which I think is happening but that centres on a shift towards shared services and infrastructure so there are more effective solutions covering active and long-term storage, preservation, discovery and re-use for example.

With our partners Jisc has published more detailed findings in a new directions in research data management report. It sets out key actions and requirements for the next five years and aims to spur debate and action at all levels of the research arena. Please do read the report and if you have any questions, or if you would like more information or simply want to share your thoughts, do get in touch.

This post originally appeared on the Jisc blog and is reposted with the author’s permission.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our Comments Policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

About the Author

Rachel Bruce is Deputy Chief Innovation Officer at Jisc. Her role includes overseeing Jisc’s research data activity, in particular developing a sustainable research data infrastructure for UK universities. She also directs library and scholarly futures activities where Jisc works with the sector to undertake innovation to meet emerging needs and take advantage of new technologies and related opportunities. Email : Twitter: @rachelbruce

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