Scholarly Communications: Research Data Management
Why Manage your Research Data?
Research data are a valuable resource that often requires a great deal of time and money to create. There are a number of very good reasons why research data should be managed in an appropriate and timely manner. Here we will consider data management at a number of levels:
1. Basic quality assurance within the project
Increase research efficiency. Good research data management will enable you to organise your files and data for access and analysis without difficulty. Consider for instance what would happen if a member of a research team were to leave during the course of a particular project. Well managed research data helps newcomers to understand the nature and the extent of work done so far. Well managed data also helps individual researchers track the course of their own progress.
Facilitate data security and minimise the risk of data loss. Use of robust and appropriate data storage facilities will help to reduce the loss of your data through accidents, or neglect.
- Storage: back-up strategy within the project
- Organisation: data collection and versioning guidelines
- File formats: file formats that fulfill the needs of the primary research group
- Metadata & Documentation: Minimal documentation, e.g. sampling, variable and code labels
- Legal / ethical issues: informed consent for use of data within the project
2. Reproducibility of the research findings
Ensure research integrity and validation of results. Accurate and complete research data are an essential part of the evidence necessary for evaluating and validating research results and for reconstructing the events and processes leading to them.
- Storage: back-up strategy for storing data after the project (for 10 years)
- File formats: for keeping data & documentation accessible for at least 10 years
- Metadata & Documentation: metadata to describe the entire research process
- Legal / ethical issues: informed consent for data storage or making it accessible to others
3. Re-use of the data by other researchers
Ensure wider dissemination and increased impact. Research data, if correctly formatted, described and attributed, will have significant ongoing value and can continue to have impact long after the completion of a research project. Perhaps the most common reason to retain and manage research data, is to facilitate online sharing.
Enable research continuity through secondary data use. Good research data management will permit new and innovative research to be built on existing information. So the importance of research data quality and provenance is paramount, particularly when data sharing and re-use is becoming increasingly important within and across disciplines. Sharing well-managed research data and enabling others to use it will also help to prevent duplication of effort.
- Storage: plan submission to an archive for long-term preservation
- Organisation: standardisation, e.g. by employing licensed scales
- File formats: file formats that facilitate data reuse in the future
- Metadata & Documentation: detailed documentation & metadata for reuse
- Legal / ethical issues: informed consent for archiving and reuse
Additionally research data should be managed to ensure compliance with a funding agency’s requirements. An increasing number of funding bodies (for example Horizon 2020, Health Research Board, Irish Research Council) request or require that their funding recipients create and follow plans for managing data, storing or preserving it in the long term, and sharing some, or all data products with the public.
At a Glance
A Data Management Plan (DMP) is a document outlining how data will be managed within the research project and beyond. It can include information on:
- Data description and collection or re-use of existing data
- Documentation and data quality
- Storage and backup during the research process
- Legal and ethical requirements, codes of conduct
- Data sharing and long-term preservation
- Data management responsibilities and resources
Funding Body Example Data Management Plans
Funding bodies increasingly have policies on research data management or data sharing [link to list]. Funders do not usually ask for a lengthy data management plan; for example, the US’s National Science Foundation (NSF) policy states that as of January 18, 2011 all NSF proposals must have a supplementary document of no more than two pages labelled data management plan.
More information is available here.